It is NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) and I am going to participate by blogging every day of November in response to the official prompts. It is more of a blogging exercise for me than anything else, but please read away …
When you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?
This is a situation I’ve worked really hard, especially over the past several years, to develop a set of strategies and coping skills for the hard days. For me, a bad day is usually feeling a lot of anxiety and/or feeling depressed. But there are also the days when I feel myself veering into hypomania and getting that buzz or edge feeling. It can be a thin line between having a productive day to buzzing into too much energy/buzz/mania.
Fortunately, the tools are pretty similar to bring myself back into an even keel of sorts.
First, I have to acknowledge what’s happening. It is a set of symptoms, not a reflection of my value as a person or my success or failure in completing my tasks. This is like a “deep breath” moment. Shit is getting real and I need to adjust course. Usually, I make a point to reach out to my partner, Ledcat, and tell her what’s going on so I can say it out loud and also get her always supportive response that knowing myself is an important part of recovery.
Second, I have a few coping techniques that I will use to shut down those negative thoughts.
- Meditation – I use phone apps so I can do anything from a full 30-40 minute session to a quick few minutes if I’m not at home. I’ve definitely used this app in my car in a parking lot before I have to face some anxiety causing situation.
- Distraction – I turn on Netflix or open a book. I close the tabs on my browser related to work or the news or other sources of stress. If I can’t find something new to watch, I go back to “The IT Crowd” which never ceases to make me LOL even just a little bit.
Third, doing something constructive, no matter how small, can help a lot. I’ll unload/load the dishwasher, put in a single load of laundry or even organize the basket of dog/cat toys. A task that has a beginning and an end and that I can stand back and literally see in its accomplished state. Last week, I finally sorted and organized the tote bag filled with extra phone charges and cables. It didn’t revolutionize the world, but it reminded me that I can accomplish things that matter even when I’m struggling.
Fourth, is the ubiquitous concept of ‘self-care’ which can be a little precious, but still useful. Dehydration is often a factor in my welfare because the medication I take impacts my kidneys. By the time I feel thirsty, I’m already past the point of needing a good drink of water. So I will sit down and force myself to drink a glass of ice water. I never flinch at purchasing bottled water, but I do tend to carry an aluminum refillable bottle with me everywhere. I’ll get myself something to eat – crackers, cheese, pita, hummus, etc are good staples to keep on hand. I’m often not actually hungry, but I know intellectually that I need to eat. So it is a rote process rather than one inspired by culinary greatness.
Another trick I learned from a former therapist is to wash my hands in nice warm water. It is a grounding technique that helps me stay in the moment and relax a little bit. And, of course, there are naps.
Fifth is a tool I borrowed from the recovery movement – day by day. Sometimes, I have to go hour by hour when I’m struggling. If something really upsetting happens, for example, I just focus on what I’m doing right now and literally do not allow my mind to wander ahead (or back) to other things. Right now, I am making a cup of tea. Now I am going to drink the tea. Now I am going to turn on the television. Now I am going to unload the dishwasher. Now I am going to let the dog outside in the backyard and stand in the sun watching her. Now I am going to reheat the tea.
It seems very simple, perhaps too simple. But that’s the beauty – I am in this moment and this is the moment I can control. I know my symptoms will pass. Sometimes I can power through them and still get life done. Other times, I have to bide my time and get back on the horse after they subside.
I am fortunate that we have a pantry filled with tea, subscriptions to Netflix, Internet access and a backyard filled with sunshine. It has taken me a lot of work to realize what tools we need and what luxuries aren’t absolutely essential. It is still a lot of hard work on top of those resources, work that occasionally feels redundant or ridiculous. But I’m still here and still working, so something must be going right.