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. 🙂  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.  🙂

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors – the 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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Bipolar Triggers

There are external stimuli that trigger my bipolar symptoms. Strict schedules, time constraints, too much time out of the house, and extended family gatherings all wreak havoc on my mood stability. My anxiety sky rockets and, if left too high for too long, it triggers a major depressive episode.

Seasonal changes affect my moods as well. Each spring, without fail, as the grass turns green and tree buds bloom, so does my hypomania.  It lasts for about four to six weeks, fading out as the end of the school year approaches, which brings me to another trigger: change.

Each summer when my young children start summer break and each fall when they return to school, a mood shift occurs. Summer is unpredictable. It could be a return to stable from the hypomania of spring.  It could be a dip into depression.  In the fall, it is always a fall into depression. 

I’ve learned to manage my triggers by avoiding them whenever possible or at least by limiting them when appropriate. I say no to, not all but, most volunteer work. I limit my social commitments.  I get extra rest when pushed beyond what is comfortable for me.

I have to protect my mood at all costs. Does it always work?  No. Some things in life are just unavoidable. I have to cook and clean and run my kids places and show up for some commitments.  Sometimes these things all fall on the same week or day, and that’s when things get scary. That’s when I close my eyes and hope for the best while using the skills I learned in DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) as best I can. 

If my mood doesn’t bounce back after my external world settles down, that’s when I talk to my doctor about a medication change.  It happens a lot, and that’s Ok.  I have to stay on top of this bipolar thing. It’s a matter of life and death.

What are your triggers?  How do you deal with them?

Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Afraid To Fail

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We are afraid to fail so instead we don’t try. How many things do you not try because you are afraid of failing?

Right now I am trying to stop smoking, and while a part of me feels like it is a lost cause because I have tried to quit several times in the past unsuccessfully, another part of me thinks, “But what if this is the time it works?”

Write about something you have tried and failed at, and then write about something you have tried and succeeded at, realizing that in life there are both failures and successes. The important thing is that we always try.

Make sure to link back to this post or comment below to share your response with others.

Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Fathers

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In honor of Father’s Day, the writing prompt this weekend is none other than – fathers! Write about your father or grandfather or someone who was or is like a father to you. How did he shape you into the person you are today? In what ways, both positive and/or negative, does he affect your mental health? What is a good memory you have of him? What else would you like to write about him?

Link your response back to this post so others can find it or feel free to comment below. And Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there!

Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Travel

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Travel. Write about a memorable trip you took. How old were you, where did you go, who were you with, etc? How did this trip affect your mental health? What would be some of the ups and downs of this type of trip for someone with your type of mental illness symptoms?

I’ll be doing some traveling of my own this weekend and will tell you all about how it affected my mental health when I return.

In the meantime, link your response back to this post or reply in the comments below.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Friendships

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Friendships. Write about what they mean to you. How do they play out in your life? How does your mental illness effect them, etc?

What qualities do you want in a friend? What qualities do you offer as a friend? How satisfied are you with your friendships? What changes could you make to better them?

What were your childhood friendships like?

Link your response back to this post or comment below. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend, my friends! 🙂

Weekend Mental Health Writings – It’s Good to Know Me

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Each weekend I am going to post a mental health writing prompt. Feel free to participate by writing your response privately in your own journal at home, or by posting your response in the comments below, or by posting on your own blog and then sharing the link to your post in the comment section. Please visit those who share their links here as well. Here is this weekend’s prompt:

Name two people whose lives have been improved by knowing you and explain why.

You can also follow responses to this prompt on our Facebook page.