5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. ūüôā¬† Then she asked me if I loved myself.¬† My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:¬† I love my¬†true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully,¬†she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.¬† It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.¬† She looked at me like I was¬†crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.¬† ūüôā

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors Рthe depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.¬† A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.¬† For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”¬† If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.¬† Don’t stress over it.¬† Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.¬† In a second column challenge those thoughts.¬† For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”¬† She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.¬† Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.¬† It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.¬† I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!¬† Keep trying.¬† Have faith that it will work and that your¬†joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

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What to Do About Bipolar Disorder and Stress

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Bipolar and Stress

We all have stress. Can’t avoid it. Can’t get rid of it. Might as well learn how to deal with it. Right? Wrong. Let’s make a list of our stressors. Pretty long list, eh? I bet we can avoid or get rid of at least a few of them if we really wanted to. It may take some finagling, help from others and a lot of courage, but I bet we can do it.

The problem is we may be too worried about what other people think or hurting someone’s feelings or feeling too guilty to make the changes necessary to reduce our stress. We may be too proud to ask others for help or too embarrassed to let others see how we really are, so we put on our masks and act like everything is fine, thereby increasing our stress.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, this is especially dangerous because stress can trigger mood episodes. According to an article on PsychCentral, “people with bipolar disorder are more prone to stress than the average population.”

Along with the danger of triggering mood episodes, chronic stress can over-produce stress hormones resulting in “chemical imbalances and physical changes in parts of the brain already vulnerable due to bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex shrinks, leading to emotional instability, self-regulation problems, and mood changes.”

So, you can see how important it is to reduce the amount of stress in your life! My doctor told me just that and my response was: “Yeah, right! I’ll just get rid of my kids then.”

There are some stressors we obviously cannot eliminate. However, I have made changes to reduce my stress, even with my kids like making them do more for themselves and not saying yes to every activity they want to do.

I go to support group meetings for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In one meeting, there is this one lady in particular who causes me a lot of anxiety whenever I see her. So, I now avoid that meeting even though I like the other people who go there. The stress is not worth it to me. There are too many other meetings I can go to where I don’t feel stressed.

I say “no” to seventy-five percent of the parties I am invited to because of my social anxiety. I know I offend some people because I say no so much, but I don’t care. I used to force myself to go and then get panic attacks while there and sick with anxiety and migraines for days afterwards. I have to eliminate the stress that I can from my life in order to stay balanced and healthy.

Let’s not forget about positive stressors, too. A recent weekend trip to see friends, while fun, left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I came home and crashed for two days straight just to mentally and physically recuperate from lack of sleep and over-stimulation. Fortunately, my husband helped around the house so I could do this.

Before I understood how bipolar works, I would have continued trying to do everything for and with the kids until I crashed into yet another severe depression. I also would have returned from that weekend trip and went on with my week like any “normal” person would have. Only unlike a “normal person,” by week’s end, I would have been in full manic irritability and dissociation. This would have lasted for a week or two followed by a depressive episode lasting for who knows how long. Now, I know good self-care is the key to managing my stress.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to play shrinky-dink with my brain, so

My basic plan when dealing with stress is this:

  • Identify my stressors
  • Get rid of them when possible (e.g., say, “No.”)
  • Avoid them when possible (e.g., remove self from situation)
  • Ask for help
  • Practice good self-care (eat well, sleep well, take meds, have routine)
  • This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – when I am stressed I write.¬† (Guess you know how I am feeling right now.) ūüėČ

What helps you deal with the stress in your life?

Unexpected Moments- A Meditation

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So many things in life come to us unexpected – sickness, heartache, disappointments. Many good things come as well like surprises, laughter, and joy. In each unexpected moment lies the essence of life. These are the moments that cannot be planned or constructed in any way. These moments are gifted to us by the sheer forward propulsion of living, of being alive.

When entrapped in the snare of mental illness, we are still within an unexpected moment of life – a moment of sickness. We are still in the forward propulsion of living because mental illness is not static. It is a dynamic phenomenon that must be ridden out like a surfer on an ocean wave. With treatment and time, a solution may be but a moment away.

In those unanticipated moments of darkness and despair, I will keep an open mind so that I may hear an unexpected message of hope and I will know peace.

Going with the Flow – A Meditation

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Like a raft floating down river, allowing the current to take it along nature’s path, life has a natural flow for us. To fight it is like trying to paddle the raft up-stream. It will be difficult, tiring, and non-productive.

If we let life lead us along the natural flow of events as they happen, we will have more energy and peace. We will experience a new freedom in not having to fight against the will of others and the situations of things we can’t control.

We will know the true meaning of serenity in loving others right where they are and just as they are whether we agree with what they are doing or what they are like or not.

We will clearly see the ways in which we can change things about ourselves and the situations we are in, for these are the only things over which we have any power.

Today, I will go with the flow of life and let people and things be as they will. I will accept that the only thing I can change is me and I will know peace.

Balance – A Meditation

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There’s a lot of pressure from all around us to work, be productive, be healthy, be great, be creative, be fantastic, and to do, do, do! It’s no wonder we end up feeling stressed out, depressed, exhausted, and irritable.

What if we were to look at life as a series of choices? For example, when working we make a conscious choice to stop for a while to play. Likewise, when being productive we make a conscious choice to take time to rest. Furthermore, while we eat our fruits and vegetables, we also have a piece of cake every once in a while.

Balance is the key, but you have to choose to pick up the key and use it. Otherwise the door to a joyous and fulfilling life may remain closed to you.

Today I will pick up the key of balance and I will know peace.

Acceptance – A Meditation

There are many things we have no control over: people, places, things, events, the weather and time passing. This can be frustrating, depressing, and even scary.

There are many things we do have control over: how healthy we eat, how much we exercise, how we respond to life events, to people, places and things, and how well we take care of our health – physically, mentally and spiritually – by going to the doctor, taking our meds, meditating and/or praying.

The key is to accept the things we cannot change and to change the things we can. Acceptance does not mean we have to like them. It simply means we need to acknowledge they are reality and we do not have control over them.

Acceptance does not mean we accept unacceptable behavior from others. We have the right to defend ourselves. We are not meant to be doormats, but we must realize that ultimately, we have no control over the behavior of others, only our own.

Acceptance means letting go of tension, worry, and fear. Acceptance is the relaxing of our shoulders, the unclenching of our fists, the releasing of our jaw, the softening of our eyes, and the slowing of our breath. Today, I will accept the things I cannot change and I will know peace.

Suicide – A Meditation

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Part of having a debilitating mental illness often includes thoughts of suicide. They are thoughts that come of their own accord. We do not wish them upon ourselves or create them of our own volition. They seem to appear out of no where, haunting our minds and our emotions; taunting our very existence.

Others may not understand these thoughts, but we know they are just another symptom of our depression. Just like sleep disturbances, appetite changes, loss of concentration, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts are another sign, although the most serious sign, that our depression is present.

When we are having these thoughts we must tell a professional or family member or friend about them. We must not keep these thoughts to ourselves. They are like poison and can be lethal if left untold and untreated.

Today, if I am having suicidal thoughts I will tell someone about them and seek profession help. The peace I long for is to be had in this life. I will fight for it. I will find it. It will be mine!