Anyone who lives with a mental health condition is aware that there are times when you are surfing the highs and lows and also times when the waters are calm and the emotional seas are not so scary. I’m relieved to say that for the first time in quite a while, I am floating on calm water. I’m stable on my medications. We’ve seemed to find a good combination and I’ve been compliant with taking them as scheduled. So now what? Well, if you’ve had a particularly rough time beforehand then the inevitable repair and reconnect process begins. The pieces must be picked up, consequences for past behavior need to be addressed, and the process of rebuilding relationships begins. I’m lucky that I wasn’t at that point this past time around so the transition to stability hasn’t come with an aftermath of cleanup. But it does leave me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. So here’s what I’ve discovered…
First, for the first time in quite a while, I feel like I can address aspects of my life and/or behavior that are better left to be sorted out in therapy. Now that I’m not struggling so hard just to survive, I have the capacity to invite more introspective thinking into my life. What do I want my relationship with my husband to look like? With my children? Parents? I can finally focus on fine-tuning myself. Medication should only be ½ the picture of any sort of recovery. Therapy is really a backbone for helping identify triggers and the dysfunctional thinking that could be creating those triggers in the first place. It can take some time to find a therapist you click with but don’t get discouraged. Keep looking until you find one. I’ve had a few truly great therapists in my life. Each of them had the amazing ability for helping me untangle what was driving my behavior so that I could see it for what it was. The work is hard and not without tears and pain but was always pivotal in shifting my outlook, which in turn changed my thinking and behavior. And if all else fails, they are another set of eyes on you to let you know if you need to check in with your psychiatrist due to mania / depression / anxiety / psychosis.
Second, what isn’t working for me? What is contributing to medication non-compliance, triggers for episodes, self-destructive behavior or general unrest? A lot of time it’s stress – that’s not so hard to name but it’s much harder to figure out what needs to change and how to change it. For example, when financial stress keeps coming up again and again for me, it’s time to look at the budget or work hours, etc. to figure out how to ease some of the tension. It’s rarely that cut and dry but the intention must be there to figure out what’s not working and make a change. Simply wondering with no action is not going to do anything either. Find a way to make goals and take the steps needed to complete them.
Third and most importantly is Grace. Bringing compassion to yourself when setbacks happen. Bringing compassion to others when they aren’t at their best. Having a spirit of calm curiosity about yourself and your problems so that you don’t fall into the trap of self-blame, anger, and shame. Shame and mental health disorders tend to go hand in hand, as most of us know. Embarrassment over our own behavior when we finally come back to ourselves again is a terrible burden. We are forced to pay a high price for mental illness. The loss of relationships, family, jobs, wealth, etc. is all too familiar for us. But if we can start to make room for just a little bit of grace in our lives, I believe things may slowly change. Others will begin to have grace for us too. Shame will slowly wash away leaving compassion in its place.