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The Mental Health Starter Kit

From Left to Right: Positive affirmation; medication; hydration; relaxation; more medication

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a mother of two. What I did not mention is that I’m a mother of two children, under 4, who are 20 months apart. That is enough to make anyone go a little crazy. And then to top it off, my second pregnancy was complicated, and then my son had heart complications, and then the cherry on top was me getting retrenched while on maternity leave, on the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. More on that in a later post.

And did I mention that I had been suffering, undiagnosed, for at least the last 30 years? I started on the road to recovery roughly 2 years ago, so I thought I’d start with a post on mental health.

Words of Affirmation

Now, here, I’m not talking about platitudes, or those messages you leave on your mirror to motivate you as you start your day. What I’m talking about are those words that speak deep into your soul. For all my life, I have struggled with issues of inadequacy and feelings of not being good enough. I need to remember that I am capable, and that I do not need to hold myself to anyone’s standards but my own. And also to remember why I started. My word of affirmation is tattooed on my arm, “Powerful beyond measure”, from the Marianne Williamson poem:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

Self-care

Hydrate. Eat your vegetables. Get a massage. Stay in bed all day. Get up and shower. Read. Watch a movie. Whatever is healing for you. We need to find ways in which to look after ourselves, and there is no one-size-fits-all.

Some days, self-care is about getting up and doing the things. And then other days, it’s staying in bed because facing the world is harmful. But the most important thing is that we take time out to look after ourselves. And heal. Whatever that looks like.

Be Mindful

What was your left hand doing while your right hand was brushing your teeth this morning? Not many of us can answer this. Because we are very rarely living in the moment. By the time we start getting ready for work in the mornings, we are already prepping for our 9am meeting in our heads. Mindfulness is something I am trying to practice, particularly with my kids. To be honest, I’m learning from them to live in the moment, while I try to parent consciously (also something I will chat about in a later post).

Something helpful that I was recently guided through, was paying attention to your body when you feel an emotion. Even if it’s a positive emotion, it just means that we are being more present. Once we can acknowledge our thoughts, our emotions and our physical reactions, we can start thinking about how to react, and what we need to do before we feel overwhelmed by the emotion.

I’ve got a squishy toy in my desk drawer, for when I feel tension, or stress, or the need to emotionally eat. And it helps me release the anger, or stress in a different way, if I’m not able to take a walk, or scream or exercise. All methods I use to manage difficult emotions.

In the moment, when you start feeling overwhelmed, try a grounding exercise. Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. What a grounding exercise helps you to do is to be take the focus off the emotion and focus outside of yourself.

And if you can, dance it out.

Medidate

Linked to mindfulness, is spending some time in meditation. I struggle to sleep, and I started using a meditation app, to meditate just before I went to sleep in the evenings. Just spending 5-10 minutes focusing on my breathing, did wonders for my insomnia. I managed to fall asleep quite quickly, and I have also been managing to stay asleep throughout the night.

What is also helpful, although I am the first to admit that I haven’t been able to, is to try and get a meditation in, in the morning, either before you get out of bed, or before you leave the house. Whichever is more stress provoking. And also, before you go into the office, spend 2 minutes in your care, focusing on your breathing.

I do a lot of meditation with my therapist, and in the mom’s group that I’m a part of, but outside of these, I have a meditation app. At the moment, I’m using Headspace, but there are plenty available in your app store. You can find one that works for you

Medicate

Sometimes, you just have to. (under the guidance of a licensed medical professional of course)

I will admit that I was very hesitant when my therapist first suggested using medication, but now that I’ve found the right medication, at the right dosage, it’s changed my life. For me, the medication, helps stabilize my mood so that I can face everyday life. And then I see a therapist to help me deal with everything else. Medication can fix today’s mood, but it cannot fix the past. How I see it, it brings my mood to a functioning level, just like everybody else, so that I’m better positioned to deal with life stressors.  It doesn’t mean I float about and never experience stress or anger, or sadness. It just means that these very normal emotions don’t debilitate me, like before.

Some tips from my journey. While a GP and a psychiatrist can both prescribe medication, my preference is a psychiatrist, because it’s their area of specialty. And they will be able to assess why the medication is not working, or maybe it is working and the real reason you’re feeling down is PMS (it’s happened to me), or other such things. And also, if you have a good one, they won’t just look at the diagnostic criteria, they will look at you holistically, and consult with you on how you are feeling, what is happening in your life etc etc. Generally because they spend their entire day working with mental illness, I feel like they are more equipped for when you bring your concerns to them.

Also, you may be wondering how it works. And that is what most people worry about, is that taking psychiatric medicine messes with your brain chemistry and who are you. So I am not equipped, to explain it, and also I am not a qualified medical professional so cannot be dispensing medical advice, or explanations. What I will explain here is how it happens from the patient side.

Once you are diagnosed, your psychiatrist will prescribe medication that she/he feels is right for you based on a variety of factors. For example, when I started medication, I was still breastfeeding, so that had to be taken into account. And that medication is the only medication I am on, so I didn’t have to worry about interactions with other medication. You will start taking your meds, but you won’t necessarily feel a change for at least 4 weeks. Which is why you will need to go back and meet with your psychiatrist. If it works –  great, then you will stay on those meds for a period, determined by your psychiatrist. And so it will go. Sometimes, you’ll be fine for months, and then it won’t work, or something will happen and you need to adjust your meds, but your psychiatrist will keep a close eye on you, and also, if you do feel changes that are concerning, contact your doctor. On one type of meds that I was on, I felt numb, which is kind of a feeling I was struggling with, as part of depression, so that was defs not working for me.

And a final note on treatment, I am currently seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, for an holistic treatment. Together they deal with all my stuff both inside and out. Like I said before, medication helps stabilize your mood to “normal” levels, and then a psychologist will help you with other factors which lead to you seeking help.

Talk

You may be one of those lucky people with a large support group, but if you are not, there is a host of therapists out there. You may need to search for a while to find one that you have rapport with. I went through 3 before I found The One. Also, if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who are good at dispensing advice and providing support, that’s great, but sometimes professional help is what you really need, particularly if there is trauma or mental illness involved.

One last note on my starter kit, my disclaimer on the above is that I am by no means a mental health professional, these have been my experiences, and you may have completely different experiences. What I will urge you to do though, is if you are feeling big emotions, that are overwhelming, or are causing you to not be able to manage your everyday life, seek help. You do not need to suffer alone.

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