Tuesday, 29 September 2015

How to Enjoy Recovering from Mental Illness.

None of us ask for mental health issues, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t exactly go seeking it out. The diagnosis or various labels stuck onto us may also be quite unwelcome and often, we’d do just about anything to shake them off.

What we can all choose to strive for once we’re aware of the issue, is recovering fully and living life free of the illness.

Of course, it doesn’t just go away, let’s remember that it didn’t just arise overnight, so it takes a pretty hard grind to get rid of. With the mind being the core solution to helping ourselves out and ironically where our negativity has also taken prime place, we have a significant task ahead to change old thinking patterns and replace them with new positive perspectives.

So it’s a journey, a unique, challenging and transformative journey.  

And it can be a pain in the ass.  It can be tough, overwhelming and irritatingly slow. The roots of the problem are deep and they’ve taken a hold, so we need to both uproot them and plant new seeds whether we like gardening or not.

Getting started with recovery is a scary and exciting time, but that initial enthusiasm can start to wane when we realise how much we actually have to do. We get told of all the many wonderful benefits of seeing it through, but the journey itself can start to feel like a bit of a drag.

I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. You can, and I have found ways to enjoy the process. It’s not just rewarding at the very end, it can be an enjoyable process throughout.

Here’s some suggestions I’ve found helpful in my recovery:

1.  See it as a journeyHow we view it is very helpful. If it’s a pressure, an inconvenience or just a means of becoming ‘normal’, it’s not exactly set up in our heads as something fun is it? But it is a journey, it’s an exploration, a beginning of discovery, the path to change. You know how people like taking road trips or going travelling? It’s not all about the final destination, it’s about what you’re seeing along the way. This is the same so stick your head out of the window and feel the rush of air, life is happening here and now.

2.  Let go of shame. This is not an embarrassing process, there’s no shame in it at all. Deciding to recover from a mental illness and sticking to that decision is admirable, courageous and worth being proud of. Take pride in what you’re doing for yourself. Embrace the new learnings and let go of any guilt. Shame keeps us stuck, courage sets us free.

3.  Take actions. One of my favourite parts of my recovery has been challenging my fears and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Taking actions that challenge our negative thinking are crucial and so much fun. I’ve been to gigs, movies, shows, on my own and otherwise, I’ve started new classes, I’ve gone to new places, I’ve tried new things and I’ve discovered a newfound love for so many of life’s little pleasures. And I used to refuse to leave the house! Putting yourself out there means breaking out of the bubble of fear and negativity that we can get stuck in. Pop that bubble and step on out into the world, that’s where the real fun begins.

4.  Embrace Personal Development. This is essentially a journey of personal development and growth. I really and truly enjoyed this aspect of it too because there is so much to each and every one of us that we don’t even realise. We’re way more than a label or illness. Our identities are incredible intricate stories about ourselves that we get to delve into line by line. And do you know what you get to do when you find out what you like and who you are? You get to nurture that person and fill your life with all the good stuff that you, the person, actually want. The diagnosis can’t compete with that, this stuff is real and substantial and oh so satisfying.

5.  See Yourself Grow. There isn’t just one magical moment at the end of this process where everything is suddenly okay, and that’s a brilliant fact. Because that means that there are loads of magical moments. When you start to notice the change in yourself, regardless how small, it’s a really uplifting experience. You can look back and see how much easier life is now or see how you’ve changed some part of your own life. Looking back for me now is fun too because I can see the distorted and irrational things I thought and did and take such pleasure in the fact that that’s all in the past now. That’s enjoyment, that is satisfaction and that is part of the journey.

6.  Becoming Aware. Going through this process kind of forces us to wake up a little. We get out of own little worlds and into the real world. It’s hard to put a word on how much joy I have taken from becoming aware of the world around me. My world used to be confined to my mind, or the four walls of my room. I didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything or look around. Bit by bit throughout the journey, I’ve fallen in love with sunsets, flowers, nature, and the beauty that is everywhere that I ignored before. I’ve become aware of the great people, experiences and sights in the world that are open to everyone. When you’re training your mind to look for the good, it’s pretty pleasing to the eyes and your environment quickly becomes full of it.

7.  Building Self Esteem. A great part of the journey for me was learning to take compliments and give myself credit. In typical Irish fashion, compliments were brushed off, my achievements were never enough and I’d quickly try to change the subject if anyone tried be nice to me. But along the way, I had to learn first to notice and then to take compliments. I had a little notebook to write them down and all. It might sound weird but making a point of accepting the nice things people say to us, is really enjoyable. That’s probably why people say them in the first place because they’re not deluded or wrong or anything, they’re just sound. Giving myself credit now and taking it where it’s due just makes everyday tasks more enjoyable. It’s rewarding and it’s enough. I can notice that what I’m doing counts and give myself a pat on the back.

There are so many parts of the journey that make me smile. There’s so much that I’ve done, learned and challenged that made it enjoyable. It’s not a tick the box process, it’s one we need to live, breathe and own.

The fact that you want to do this means you’re determined, don’t let apprehension deter you, there can be fun along the way. It's not all the time (cos that’d just be to easy for someone so determined ;) ) but it definitely doesn’t have to be a struggle the whole way.

This list isn’t extensive, it’s just some of the top ones I thought of, but everyone’s journey is different so seek to find your own source of fun and enjoyment. There’s plenty there, we just need to look for it.





Tuesday, 15 September 2015

More Passion than Patience.

Life can be a bit of a hamster wheel on occasion. Each pace steadily exhausting us yet we seem to have nothing to show for it. Dizzied with monotony, when we do manage to step off we might just fall over initially,  our feet so tired of stepping aimlessly one in front of the other that the only option seems to be to go on strike altogether. But at least then we can choose to either pick ourselves back up and walk away or crawl back into the dizzying discomfort. We never have to stay on the hamster wheel.

My hamster wheel felt like it was on fire sometimes and I was running but going nowhere, matches firmly within my grip unable to really say why I kept it alight. But I got out of that one and I discovered the world that exists outside of it and the potential and opportunity open to me, tumbling out in all directions.

I discovered that I am bursting with passion for life, the wonderful, messy, uncertain and exciting place that exists beyond that little wheel of spiralling negativity. I realised that I love to create, that I want to write, speak, move, share, learn and continue to grow. I want to embrace my dreams and follow my passions and really take off.

Maybe it’s just me - as someone who inundates herself with inspirational quotes on the daily - but I feel compelled to get acting on all that stuff that nourishes the real me, as soon as I possibly can.

But then I found myself in another little wheel rolling from 9 to 5. A Monday to Friday staring contest with a screen, shoulders hunched with the stress of knowing I want so much more. I felt stifled by the sedentary passing of my time. A boxy alternative to the flowery swirls of my dreams.

Funnily enough, that was exactly what I wanted and asked for about a year or two ago – structure, security, routine. But with a renewed zest for life, it’s simmered from ideal to too mind numbingly real. It feels like an obstacle. All the energy I have for what I want is churning under my skin as frustration because it’s not being released. It’s wheeling its way round and round suppressed beneath spreadsheets and clockwatching.
It’s all well and good getting passionate, and discovering that side of ourselves is so exciting, but until we are ready to actively pursue our passions, it’s helpful to learn a bit of patience.

Here’s what I’ve found helpful in pacing the pursuit of my passions:

Perspective: 

I’ve got to turn all my begrudging, frustrated attitude into gratitude. I’m extremely lucky to have a job and it could definitely be much much worse. It’s helpful to shift our perspective from the idea of ‘obstacles’ to stepping stones. This isn’t my only option, I can look around, leave, move or choose to look at it differently – regardless, it’s not a permanent situation and it does have many positive points. I just have to focus on them.

-    Outlets:

     I can make a point to channel my passions into every single minute outside 5pm plus the weekends too. When passion is strong and consuming, we’ve got to let it out somehow. Be it movement, writing, sharing, music, hobbies – any way that connects us to what we love is crucial in breaking down that frustration. It’s akin to the slow release of air from a balloon as opposed to letting it just burst. 

-    Use it: 

     In any situation, we can aim to discover what purpose it serves for us, if we decide to take a good look. Maybe we’re developing skills, learning how to deal with challenging people or even just getting adjusted to structure. There’s always something to be learned and we can choose to use those learnings to our advantage. Personal growth doesn’t always take the form we expect it to and we could be quietly building our confidence without realising it. Some unexpected situations can be the exact ones that build our character. Even if it’s not what we really want, we can find the value in each mundane task - the worth that comes with seeing it through and the experience you can gain. Everything serves a purpose.

-    Enjoy: 

     When enjoyment turns into pure reluctant endurance, it’s time to change something. Even if it’s ticking things off a to-do list, connecting to a sense of achievement can make our efforts more enjoyable. Find the little things that aren’t so bad, the bits where we get to interact or laugh or learn something new. There’s always light to be found, we just have to seek it out, regardless how very dim it may seem!

It’s important not to let go of our dreams but to realise that now and then, we need to simply trust the timing of our journeys. Certain things need to fall into place first or we might need to cement our own personal development before taking that leap of faith.

There’s a reason why we are where we are and even if we don’t figure out that ‘why,’ we can still find a way to make the most of it.

Negative energy will fuel that hamster wheel for as long as we let it, spinning us round and round into a whirl of disappointment.  But energy can be converted into any other form, so if I want to achieve my passions, wasting my energies on disappointment isn’t going to help break me free. 

One of these days, I know for sure that the passion burning in the soles of my feet is going to propel the change in my life that I’m screaming out for, but until then, it’s going to walk me upstairs to my desk with a spring in my step ready to make the very most of my day.