Hope in self-management of mental illness
Reprinted from "Self-Management" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, 1(18), p. 20
It seems like a long time ago and so far away. I am speaking of my near breakdown and diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or manic depression. I say near breakdown, because successfully breaking anything nowadays usually would spell its end. We may live in a fast-paced world of disposable goods, but I am one good that won't easily be tossed.
Not so many years ago in the history of psychiatric treatment, our role as being a part of 'the team' would have been scoffed at and universally resisted. In more recent times, success stories are validating today's growing evolution toward psychosocial rehabilitation practices, where consumers are being drawn into active participation, becoming an integral part of our own treatment plans. There are still some of the 'old time thinkers' in positions of authority, but thankfully there is a new wave of belief, knowledge and hope arriving on each morning's tide. I believe that with each flooding tide comes natural erosion for a positive change. I recognize milestones regularly within my own recovery and there can be no doubt that I am self-managing my illness.
I needed to know my illness and get reacquainted with myself on very intimate terms. I had to identify triggers, learn to recognize and monitor how I felt every day. This led me to an understanding that my triggers were all related to stress. Extreme stress had been a very dangerous element in my life. I am stuck with a mental illness, but I can do something positive with my stress. I began to research stress management. What did I find out? Don't let anyone tell you that you can resolve stress with one pill, or that you will be freed by laughter; it's more complicated than that. While researching, I was also impressed by the apparent influence that stress seems to have over many different mental disorders. Effectively managing stress hinges upon a healthy lifestyle makeover.
I have since discovered that by effectively managing my own stress, the effects of my illness have diminished significantly. I will be honest and admit that self-management is plenty of work and it is timeconsuming. It has involved my complete commitment to the following life changes:
Like anyone else initially caught up in the psychiatric soup, I had to experiment with new medications. I remember that these were the bad times, and I endured many setbacks before finding the right mix, at least the one that is working for now. After all that work, it only makes sense for me now to stick with the program. I have had to accept that I will be taking pills until the day that I die. Maybe then, I'll be afforded the time for a break from routine!
Stress pumps us up with very powerful agents, giving us the abilities to fight and/or run for our lives. These stress hormones are produced with the intention that they be used, so to do nothing with them will leave them in our systems for too long, where they will become unhealthy and eventually toxic. I now vigorously exercise two to three times a week so that I can burn off these chemicals in a socially acceptable manner - because fighting or running away is usually inappropriate these days. My re- wards have been fairly simple, too. I end up feeling pretty good afterwards, both physically and emotionally.
I have found that deep muscle relaxation, visualizations, and meditation allow me to attain a relaxed state very quickly and, most importantly, on demand. Learning to relax was essential for me. I have become skilled at taking the '10-minute vacation.'
Eating good food has made a real difference for me as well.
There is a moment in time between any stimulus and our reaction to it. We can learn to recognize that moment and use it to our advantage. We can change our interactions with the things that are bothering us. Now that's enviable control!
Strong, Individualized Support Networks
The people in my network are those who I can trust and confide in completely. They know me when I am well and outwardly recognize changes in me that might be signaling early trouble. In my old life, I was ill prepared for the toll that stress takes. I have since learned how to harness that stress and in turn, selfmanage my illness. I am once again happy and gainfully employed. I am now able to reach out and offer help to others seeking change; either before or after their own near breakdowns.
About the author
Scott worked for the RCMP, where he served as a constable for 23 years. In BC, he was stationed in Quesnel, Fraser Lake, Alert Bay, Fort St. John, 100 Mile House, Prince Rupert, and on the PV Pearkes, a patrol vessel working on BC's West Coast. He retired to Prince George, where he now works as Education and Projects Coordinator for CMHA Prince George branch