It's Mental Health Awareness Week! Today I wanted to talk a bit about my own experience and my routine to keep balanced and healthy.
I'm pretty open about my battle with mental illness. For the longest time, I kept my problems to myself until I realized it did more damage holding it in. I talk about it candidly in the hopes that other people struggling don't feel alone and can feel comfortable enough talking about it and will eventually seek help if they need it.
I mainly deal with Anxiety, Depression, and Excoriation Disorder (or Dermatillomania) which is the fixation of picking at your skin. That means I fixate on small things like bumps, pimples, or scabs and will absentmindedly pick at them even if it hurts. This can lead to scarring, bruising, and infection if the wounds aren't treated. Unfortunately for me, I tend to fixate on my chest and shoulders and so I have a lot of scars there.
It wasn't until recently that I got medical treatment for the Anxiety and Depression due to being mugged, but for years I had a careful routine to keep myself stable and in check. The fear of being on medication was larger than my fear of my illness, but over time I've realized that there is nothing wrong with medication and finding help.
This past October I overdid myself with events and ended up completely exhausting myself to the point where I got severely depressed. I did three events in one weekend, went to Seattle for a week, left my job and started a new one, and did two galleries along with attending a bunch of different events and having art everywhere. Plus Halloween.
I crashed. The main things I realized was A, I didn't stick to my routine and thus became severely unbalance and B, this wasn't me being sad but a chemical imbalance and my body trying to figure out how to cope with said imbalance.
It took a few months to get okay again and sort myself out but I'm healthy and know that overdoing it can set me back a lot more than just taking a break. Breaks are easier to deal with.
So what are the signs that I may be going through a depression fit? They differ for each person but these are the ones I experience most and help me identity when my mood is turning:
- loss of motivation
- lack of hygiene routine
- lack of appetite due to loss of motivation
- not wanting to socialize
- increase picking at scabs or any bumps on my skin
- feeling alone or like a burden on friends
- not wanting or seeing no point to working on any of my projects
My anxiety is an ongoing thing. I don't get days off from it though the medication has helped to tone it down. I don't have panic attacks anymore but new situations still makes my heart rate shoot up like crazy and sometimes I feel like I have trouble breathing. Phone calls are the worst.
How do I manage it?
Routines are the best for me, but sometimes I still get occurrences of depression. But if I can at least know the signs that it may be happening, I can do what I can to re-balance before it gets bad.
- Don't overbook myself.
- I give myself at least one weekend to do nothing and try not to plan too much during the week since I do have a day job. We dog sit but we tend to keep it to one dog a week and will have breaks in between them. Besides that, I try to only do two events a month.
- Eat healthy and regularly
- Sometimes when I get busy or if I'm working on a project, I forget to eat or take breaks. Rony will help me remember or make me food or I'll set an alarm to remind myself to walk away and make myself food if he's not around. Cutting down on junk food has helped too as I've realized the more junk I eat, the less good I feel about myself and too much junk can actually make my mood crash
- Allowing myself to take naps and get a good nights sleep does wonders. I have this thing where I feel like I'm wasting time if I sleep and will run on very little if I'm busy. It's good for you though and I'm actively trying to change the way I think about naps! Turn your phone off or put it away an hour early and try to get some extra shut eye every now and then!
- Get sunlight
- If your house or room is dark, open the curtain and try to get as much sunlight as possible. Go to the park or go lay in your backyard for a while. Just five minutes of sun can do so much for you
- Do what you can. Go on a walk, jog, run. Do some push ups or crunches or yoga. Your body has a lot of pent up energy that is pooling inside of you. Getting your heart rate going can release that while also releasing chemicals to lift your spirits a bit. If I'm feeling really awful or frustrated, I work out
- Try to talk to a friend somehow once a week
- I am awful at keeping up with friends and family. I get busy and I forget and I stay in my bubble until someone makes sure I'm alive. Even if it's only to touch base, make a point to send someone a text or Facetime someone at the least. Getting out of the house is even better. People need socialization even if sometimes you aren't in the mood
- Spend 30 minutes working/reading/relaxing
- If you have a passion project but are starting to lose motivation or feeling lethargic, force yourself to spend at least 30 minutes on it every other day. If you have a hobby, do it for 30 minutes. Depression is weird in that the things that help you the most are the last things you want to do, but if you want to get better you got to push through. It's incredibly hard
- Let yourself have time
- Sometimes my fits come because of exhaustion. And so I let myself experience it and live it for a week. I'll lay on the couch and take baths and sleep and watch TV and not do anything for a week. That's okay. But if I do that, I make myself a deal that at the end of the week, I need to slowly start doing things again. I won't be 100% instantly but if I ease into my regular routine it's a lot easier and doesn't seem overwhelming
- I have a checklist on my fridge that I get to color in when I do basic things that are good for my health. Brush my teeth, drink water, take my medication, eat something. It's good to have this list as a goals list. If I get almost everything colored in, I can treat myself. The goal is to eventually consistently filling in every thing for days in a row until I don't need it for a while.
- Logging your moods and thoughts is a good way to think over what you're feeling and sort through them. Self-care is all good but getting your thoughts in order and working on it goes a lot farther than tea and bubble baths. Write out all the negative thoughts and then think of things you like about yourself and your life.
- Meditation/Breathing Exercises
- If my anxiety is growing, there's a few meditation and breathing apps you can download on your phone that help me calm down. I've even found this GIF to be really helpful
- (For Picking)
- If I'm starting to pick at my skin more, I first make sure to trim my nails which makes it harder to find edges on scabs. I'll put Neosporin or Lotion on any scabs or scars and if there's one I keep messing with, I'll cover it with a Bandaid. Any scabs on my head I'll put my hair up tight where I can't easily get to them. It's not easy and I feel stupid covered in Bandaids, but it'll keep me from messing with it and risking infection
- If the urge is really bad, I'll get hot glue and glue droplets onto cardboard or something stiff and will pick at it while I'm working. It's something I do without realizing it and this way is healthier than tearing off scabs. Backup idea: I pick apart stress balls. It's very satisfying.
Of course, there's the self-care you see all over the internet. Bath bombs and pajamas and cuddles and all that. There's a place for that and it's good in small doses, but the things that actually help you are a lot less glamorous. Mental illness is ugly and hard and can feel like this invisible disease eating away at you. It needs treatment just like any other illness, but there is a way to feel better.
Don't be ashamed of what you're feeling and your mental illness. It's not easy living with this and it's not easy taking care of yourself. You can do it though. There's help out there and there's people going through the same thing.
What are the routines you do to help deal with your own mental illness?