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


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.

What to Do About Bipolar Disorder and Stress

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.)😉

What helps you deal with the stress in your life?

Bipolar and Perseverance

board-928392_960_720Perseverance is defined as “steady persistence in a course of action…especially in spite of difficulties (or) obstacles.” The fluctuating moods of bipolar disorder often hinder one’s ability to persevere through various tasks in life.

Take this blog, for example. I haven’t posted in over four months for various reasons, but one has to do with lack of perseverance. There have been great difficulties in my life and other obstacles that have kept me from steadily posting, and I don’t particularly appreciate that. I like posting. I miss posting. Bipolar gets in the way sometimes.

The medications I take for my bipolar disorder slow down my thinking processes. This makes it difficult for me to write blog posts. This is one of the reasons I took to reporting on research articles more than writing essays. It is one of my strategies for persevering in spite of my bipolar disorder.

There are many other areas in my life where perseverance is an issue due to my bipolar disorder. I have half finished projects all around my house: Artwork started and then forgotten; shelves that I am in the process of repainting that should take a few days to do, might get finished in a month if I am lucky; exercise routines initiated and within a week abandoned; writing projects started and left to collect dust, and the list goes on and on.

There is a lot of research on impulsivity and distractibility in bipolar disorder. I think these play a role in the lack of perseverance some with bipolar might notice in their life. Starting projects on a whim then not being able to stay focused, both of which are common occurrences during hypomania and mania, would definitely lead people to abandon their goals. Starting projects while stable then becoming depressed would yield the same results.

So, you can see that lack of perseverance in people with bipolar disorder is not necessarily a character flaw or laziness. It is often times merely a symptom of their disorder.

Calling for Submissions on Homelessness and Mental Illness

Hello! I have been super busy living life!


Living life on life’s terms, that is. My children are not well, one physically, the other emotionally. My husband isn’t well physically either. As a result, I have had to take on a lot more responsibilities than I am used to around the house and a lot more outside of the house as well with doctor and therapy appointments. Fortunately, my medications and coping skills are working to keep my bipolar symptoms to a minimum.

It really is possible to live in a “recovery state.” Not that I will ever be cured of bipolar, but I can function for an indiscriminate amount of time without symptoms interfering with my daily living. It is possible for you, too!!!

By the end of the month, I hope to have a new issue of the Turtle Way Journal published. I have received a few poems on mental illness and homelessness already, so I am going to make that this issue’s Special Interest Section. If you have any poems, articles, or essays you would like to submit, please do so as soon as possible by emailing them to me at writeintothelight [at] live [dot] com

Thanks for your support! Please spread the word.

Are You Addicted to Chaos?


Today’s post is by Laura Wills. She writes about addiction, which I have stated before is a form of mental illness. After one is no longer using his drug of choice and life is not as chaotic, he may feel uncomfortable with this calmness. I felt this way after I stopped drinking a long time ago. I sometimes feel this way when my bipolar symptoms are at bay. While I am glad that my symptoms subside, life can become a bit boring without them. “Chaos Addiction” may be the reason for this, which Laura explains below.

Falling Out of Comfort and Into Chaos..?

Recovering from addiction isn’t a case of “just” weaning yourself free from substances, alcohol, smoking – or even gambling or shopping. It’s a multi-layered and complex approach that in itself can reveal more about the hidden problems and associations lying underneath.

Very often, people who are in recovery report that as their lives settle down and they begin to take stock, they don’t like the feeling that everything in their world feels as though it is going well, or too smoothly. Many say that they find it difficult to let go of the chaos and dysfunction that surrounds their addiction and therefore seek to try and find it in other areas of their life – such as possibly creating rows with their spouse or partner or keeping troublesome or worrisome situations in their working lives going instead of actively trying to resolve them. This kind of activity has a name – Chaos Addiction and it is something that psychologists are becoming increasingly interested in, in terms of addressing addiction issues.

Many people who find themselves falling into such a problem can usually find at some point in their lives they have been victims of it themselves, perhaps through dysfunctional parenting, constant arguments or even being exposed to addictive behaviors in the home. When they reach maturity they may find themselves adopting the same patterns – especially if they fall into an addiction (however, it does not necessarily mean they will fall into addiction, merely carry on the dysfunctional behaviors they have known all their lives.) For more information on this fascinating subject, you can read on here.

Are you addicted to chaos? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

Call for Submissions

Turtle Way Logo

I am calling for submissions to Write into the Light’s literary-art emagazine, Turtle Way. A new issue will come out in April, so send in your work (i.e., poetry, photos, art, essays, opinion pieces, meditations, quotes, jokes, prose, and stories) asap. Click here for submission guidelines.

Meditation: A Cure for Depression and Anxiety?

Neuroscientists now have evidence proving what meditators have been saying for years: Meditation can improve people’s physical and emotional health.


Imaging studies show that meditation increases certain areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. “Also the parts of the brain that respond the most to stress gets smaller with meditation. This means that anxiety and depression naturally fade with a meditation practice,” according to researchers.

I’ve been doing mindfulness and guided meditations using an app called “Insight Timer” on and off now for about a year, and I definitely notice a difference in my anxiety levels on the days that I meditate versus the days I don’t.  Although on many of the days I meditate, my anxiety level is already low because I tend to have trouble focusing long enough to meditate when my anxiety is high. Go figure!

I do believe the effects of meditation last me a few days and are somewhat cumulative in that sense. So, even when I meditate on a low anxiety day, it could be helping me avoid a super high anxiety day the next day or the day after that.

Meditation hasn’t had an effect on my bipolar depression levels, but maybe it would if I practiced it more consistently since one of my depression triggers is anxiety.  It’s probably worth a try, but to be honest, I have my doubts.

What about you?  Do you meditate?  What benefits has it brought to your health?  Or in light of this recent research, would you consider trying meditation?  Why or why not?