If you are like me and live with mental illness, you will know that it never disappears completely, that it’s something that needs to be managed. I actually edited the last sentence to say ‘live with’ instead of ‘suffer from’ because identifying one’s self with being a victim is just another way of perpetuating the positive loop mechanism for a negative feeling. We are entering an age where mental illness is becoming more understood and treatments options are broadening; the way in which you choose to manage it is the most important decision you will make on your journey to living a functioning life.
Yesterday and today have been difficult days for me with respect to my mind state, a lot of which is due to my undulating hormones levels. I have been experiencing both anxiety and depression simultaneously – it’s been a riot. The reason people living with mental illness might seem ‘crazy’ is because there is a genuine struggle to connect the logical mind to the reality of the moment, which is never as catastrophic as we might feel it is in the moment. The ability to process this is impaired and no amount of telling us to calm down will change how we feel during an attack, which is why it is IMPERATIVE that we do the work when we are able to so that we allow our body to step in while our brain is is having it’s melt-down.
During these episodes it is not uncommon to say things or behave in ways that don’t align with our values. I have learned from many years of making these same mistakes that it is necessary to follow this up with an apology. We need to let people know that we are trying our best and need forgiveness and compassion. By no means is this a green light for making excuses, nor is it okay to continue the same behaviours every time we find ourselves in the midst of an episode. We need to let people know that we are doing what we can to keep ourselves on the middle road, yet this needs to backed up with actual work; popping a pill each day and not doing anything else to access the root cause isn’t doing the work. Personally I have chosen not to take medication for several years now because that’s what is best for me. If you are taking medication, you still need to practice self-care to manage your symptoms sufficiently – no excuses!
Asking people to choose compassion and empathy when trying to help us during an attack is important, as it can be incredibly difficult for a person to understand what’s going on if they do not have experiential knowledge. For those of you reading this with a loved one that experiences mental illness, please understand that trying to explain that the way they are acting is ridiculous will only make the situation worse. It is not the time for that kind of intervention. Simply let them know you are there, you are not judging them, and you love them just as they are. If they are open to physical contact then a hug or a back rub can be the most helpful thing you can do; however, never force it upon someone that says no. Personally I love a tight hug when I have a freak out, but many do not!
I mentioned earlier that we can train our bodies to step in when our brains stop functioning properly and I have developed a method that works well for me, but it takes a little while practicing it regularly before it becomes an automatic reflex. When ever I am practicing yoga or seated meditation I always take a deep inhalation when I become aware that my focus has wandered (many times in a session!), which encourages my mind to associate an inhalation with present moment awareness. I have noticed over the last year that when I am off in lala land, my body will autonomously take a deep inhale, my mind then returns, and I realise that I wasn’t paying attention to the moment at hand. This even happens when I am in a state where I need to cry as a release; my inhalation becomes deeper and I am aware of what I am doing. This is a huge deal for me because it allows me then listen to someone if they are trying to help me and also to calm myself down rather than hyperventilating. It even occurs when I am not in a panic but have allowed my focus to be somewhere other than on what I am doing – like driving a car – so, you can see how important it can be.
I highly recommend taking as little as five minutes twice a day to practice this method, longer if you can; before you get out of bed and before you fall asleep is perfect. I guarantee you will see improvements in your life with this simply practice.