Recovery has always been and likely always will be, out of my grasp, as is the case for many others who suffer from major mental illness. It’s this goal we all want to reach, recovery, but it isn’t always ours to obtain. To one day be able to say I’ve recovered is something I have spent my lifetime striving towards. Every moment I spend wanting to live is spent desperately searching for that road to recovery. But does such a road exist? I have instead come to be a believer in managing over recovery. Recovery assumes that your mental illness will someday dissipate, as though it were a cold that you just see your doctor for, take a couple pills and you’re all better. Although quality of life may improve, for many with major mental illness, they will always have their diagnosis, they will always have their symptoms, and they will always have to endure. But this doesn’t mean you must perpetually suffer. There will always be that day to day struggle, but with treatment comes options. You can learn to manage. Managing is essential to functionality. If you don’t learn to manage your symptoms, life can be particularly treacherous. So how can one manage symptoms? Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Creating a routine for yourself can make waves in improving your mental health. Setting alarms, making a calendar, and developing routines that vary hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and even annually can help you stay calm and focused.
2. Goal Setting
If you find yourself struggling, give yourself a list of goals to achieve. Start small with daily goals such as getting an assignment done, going to work, going to class, and so on and so forth. Then you can build up into larger goals like studying abroad. Goal setting is super important for finding the will to live for those of you who struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings. Having something to look forward to, something to strive towards, to work towards - it makes a world of difference. It keeps your “eye on the prize”, so to speak, which can mean life or death for some. When the world seems like nothing but a dark place, you are reminded that maybe there is something out there for you after all.
3. Physical Health
This is one I personally need to work on. Eating healthy (you’re allowed to splurge, but generally take care of your body) and getting exercise have been proven time and again to improve mental state. Just going for daily walks, biking down the road, and choosing vegetables over red meat can seriously help with your general mood.
4. Staying Prepared
You’re going to slip up. You’re going to have your moments. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose control. Keeping your loved ones and the people close to you in the know about your needs can help them be prepared for your breaks and can also help maintain your personal relationships. Develop coping skills like relaxing your stomach when you’re panicking, deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, distraction tolerance and mindfulness are all useful practices for coping.
5. Prioritizing Yourself
I don’t mean selfishness. I mean taking care of your needs before jumping onto someone else’s mess. Make sure you’re okay before diving into anything. Do self checks and ask yourself questions such as, “How have I been managing lately?”, “Am I breathing okay?” and little things like such. Not everyone can always be there for you, so you have to learn how to calm yourself down in a safe and effective manner where no one, not even you, gets hurt. Refer to coping mechanisms to get to a safe place.
6. Surround Yourself With Positivity
Unfortunately, you can’t choose your family. You can’t always pack up and ditch them either. So how do we manage negative people in our lives that we can’t just drop? This goes back to taking care of yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who are positive influences can help outweigh the negative influences in your life. An unsupportive family is truly a terrible affliction, but it’s not always avoidable. Learning to manage your family is essential. Learn to communicate with them effectively and if they won’t budge, accept it. It’s likely not going to change and it’s best to move onto things that you can control rather than lingering on what you have no power over.
7. Get A Hobby
Seriously. Get a hobby. Find something you love from writing to sports, from painting to hiking. Just finding that something in your life to motivate you and give you some distraction from your symptoms, some peace amidst the chaos - it’s absolutely essential. My hobby is writing and hiking. Getting a job has also helped with my “will to live” quest because having that obligation forces me to keep my head above water. Give your life some spice. Find something to do that will give you that extra push and make you happy. Your happiness is more important than you think.
8. Look Nice
It may seem like such a small thing, looking nice, but it can be a game changer. Put on makeup, wear nice clothing, do your hair, put on deoderant (please), do something so that when you look in the mirror, you’re satisfied with the result. Although you may never be perfect in your eyes, you can find confidence in making yourself presentable. Do it for you. Then when you have those days, and we all have those days, you don’t have to feel bad for dressing down knowing that every other day you keep yourself together. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but confidence is a shining quality that needs to be more sought out in our society. Wear those nice shoes. The only one stopping you is you.
9. Eliminate Stress (Where You Can)
Taking 18 credits? Doing 12 different volunteer programs? Participating in every club and losing free time? Stop. Just take a step back and reevaluate what it is exactly you need and what is unnecessary. Don’t take on things that could eliminate “you” time and don’t unnecessarily stress yourself out. Taking on too much at once will only make things worse. Don’t be afraid to not overachieve for once.
10. Change Is A Good Thing
Do not fear change. Change can sometimes be for the better. Make changes to your life, switch things up on occasion. Although routine is essential, so is change. Having an even balance of change and routine can help keep that juggling of chaos and peace much smoother. If something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to change it. Don’t be afraid to change your style, some of your bad habits. Just because you’re used to it doesn’t always mean it’s good.
Take care of yourself. Love yourself. Embrace yourself. Manage your life. Stop looking to be cured and look instead to be you. You are not your mental illness. It doesn’t have to control you. Inevitably it will impact and be a part of your life but you can do that and be healthy at the same time. You may never be completely okay, but you can be happy.