Before I begin: when I write, I write about my own experiences. Everyone has their own story; this is part of mine.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about some of the aspects of one of my illnesses, schizoaffective disorder: depression, mania, and psychosis. Those are but some aspects of that illness, and it is not the only one I have, however, it is my primary diagnosis.
How do I cope with having this mental illness? Perhaps obviously, perhaps not, it's not easy to cope with, by any stretch of the imagination. It has taken almost 40 years, and 14 or so years since diagnosis, to get to a point where I have started to really enjoy life again at all. To be fair, my psychiatrist seems to think that my case is fairly severe - I don't want to overly discourage people with the same diagnosis! And all the years and all the work I have put in have been so worth it.
Some of the ways I cope are:
- My Family: I mean both my chosen and my blood families here. My parents are very supportive and caring (even when they go on holiday for 6 months, I have them pretty much on tap by phone). I could not survive without the people I live with, either. T and S are the most loving, patient people I could hope to know, and I am amazed that we have all managed to support each other for the last 16 years. I also have extended family that I do not live with that are equally wonderful.
- Professional support system: My mental healthcare professionals are invaluable. It didn't start out that way - I've had professionals tell me to stop crying or get out of their office, or even mock me for crying, and other such horror stories. However, the small team I have now work with me, discussing medication, coping strategies, and other such things, and planning with me.
- Self-Care: For me, self-care can include very simple things. Candles, spa baths, cuddles, pats for the dog, a bar of chocolate. Anything that draws me into the moment in a positive way. Which brings me to:
- Mindfulness: Focusing on the present, while accepting the past and planning for the future without dwelling on them. Sounds easy when I put it all together in a sentence like that, huh? Being in the moment has been so hard, but so worth it. When I don't live in the moment, I can avoid all the negative emotions to some extent, but I miss out on all the positive ones, too.
- Distraction: Sometimes I just need to find a way to not be in the moment, in my reality. Then, I turn to books, movies, games, anything that takes me out of my current headspace. And I don't care how silly it might seem to anyone else! "My Little Pony" is as valid a distraction for me as "Skyrim" or "The Martian".
- Planning: As boring as it might sound, having a routine, for sleep hygiene, exercise, even making sure I factor fun into an otherwise stressful day, helps me to cope.
- Medication: Medication is not for everyone. I fully support anyone who chooses either route, medication or no. However, the medication I take works so well for me. I've had all sorts of adverse reactions to medications in the past, including Tardive Dyskinesia and Acute Dystonic Reactions (eyes rolling back into my head), but with the set I'm on now, the worst side-effect is weight gain. My medications help me to manage agitation (inability to settle to any task despite being bored), anxiety, insomnia, depression, psychoses, and too many other things to mention.
It's worth mentioning that I don't always cope. Sometimes I have to get T or S out of bed because I can't sleep and can't cope with my own company, for example. However, all the things I mentioned above lay the foundation for my ability to cope. And I have learnt that it's not all "upward and onward", but that that is okay. Even if there are bad times ahead, there will be good times to look forward to as well. And that feels very hopeful.