Content warning: mental health
Living with multiple mental health conditions, it can be challenging to identify what’s contributing to how I’m feeling and behaving.
Sometimes, the distinction is unimportant, such as when I realise I can’t recall what I’ve been doing throughout the day. I know, regardless of which condition is contributing to this, that I need to take a step back, slow down and engage in mindfulness practice – a quick body scan and a few minutes of mindful breathing repeated throughout the day are often enough to keep me in the driver’s seat.
At other times, like when changes in my thinking and behaviour likely indicate an impending mood episode, the distinction is important because my response includes involving my doctor and following the safety plan we’ve developed to prevent a crisis.
There exists a lot of overlap between various mental health conditions and regardless of which particular condition is likely affecting how I’m going on a bad day, there are a few tools I can use so that I’m able to be as regulated, grounded and safe as I can.
These are things we’ve all heard many times before, but if you’re anything like me, you might need to hear them a few times before it sinks in. And if you’re really like me, when something sinks in, it doesn’t necessarily stay there, and you still might need it repeated!
- 1. Stress reduction.After years of taking on more than I should, I’m starting torecognise and honour my limitations. This often involves declining invites and being flexible with my to-do list – what might seem achievable today could feel overwhelming tomorrow. I modify as necessary to meet myself where I’m at, in the moment. This requires flexibility and self compassion, which brings me to the next thing on my list…
- 2. Regular mindfulness practice.This has been essential to increasing my ability to remain present and grounded in daily life.This practice has helped me further develop self-awareness, so that I’m more likely to notice when I’m not coping well or am heading towards crisis. It’s also helped me develop flexibility; I’m better able to adapt to changing circumstances and changes in my own mental state. And through mindful self-reflection, I’m slowly learning self-compassion. This is very much a work in progress, as my level of self-compassion waxes and wanes on any given day.
- 3. Regular exercise.My definition of “regular”is that when I fall out of practice, I jump back in – and try not to beat myself up about it.
- 4. Good sleep hygiene.This can look different for everyone, but for me involvesprioritising rest, allotting time for winding down before bed, and no screen time an hour before sleep.
- Connection.In better times, maintaining connection might involve catching up with a friend. However, there have been times that my capacity for connection has been limited to calling Lifeline. Meeting myself where I’m at means if that’s the best I can do to remain connected to others, that’swhat I do, and I try not to give myself a hard time about it. The goal here, for me, is to avoid isolation in whatever way I can.
There’s so much in my life that is beyond my control. I can only do what I can, when I can; but more often than not, that’s been enough to keep me here, to keep me moving forward, and to keep me living a full, rewarding life.