Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Creating a Mental Health Team

       I have been using a wellness technique a great deal this past week, and I realized I haven't covered it yet. Sometimes the most obvious things are the ones we forget. This is one of my favorite strategies, and it's crucial to my well-being when things are stormy in my life. 

       Things were quite stormy recently. Two weeks ago my doctor and I decided to change the dose of one of my medications, due to headaches I was getting. That slight medication change turned out to have a significant impact on my mood and overall well-being. Then I found out I had bronchitis, which means I haven't been able to exercise like I normally do. Needless to say, the past week was tough.

       My emotions were all over the map. I was scared when we made the medication change because making any changes to medications can get ugly. I was depressed. I'm sure it had to do with my medication levels being slightly off, lack of exercise and anger. I've been angry because I'm doing my best and I'm still getting knocked down. 

       Helping others and reducing stigma means being honest. And that's what I'll always be, honest. I took my medication as prescribed; I ate healthy foods; I exercised as much as I could; I meditated, painted and helped others. Still I was scared, depressed, anxious and mad at the whole situation.

       Even though I do my best, sometimes I still get the wind knocked out of me. That is the truth of mental illnesses. If there were a cure, we would all be better by now. What I want to point out is that I didn't lose hope. I knew I was experiencing a temporary dip and that I would come out the other side stronger and wiser than I was before. My focus stayed on mental health, not on managing temporary symptoms. If I had focused on the symptoms, I would have gotten more symptoms.

       My point is, if your wellness journey isn't always sunshine and rainbows, I hope you will realize that you are not alone. The symptoms that accompany having a mental illness can make life seem difficult, but those difficulties can also bring a great deal of compassion, love, strength and joy. The key is to hold on, to get back up and try again. When things seem hopeless and I feel I've tried everything possible and nothing is working, I like to remember what Thomas Edison said: "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven't." How true. In a world of infinite possibilities, there is always another opportunity, another chance. I'll never give up because there's always hope! If there's still breath in me, there's still hope for me. 

       This past week was nothing more than a learning experience. I have already turned the corner. I feel considerably better than I did a week ago. Depression, anxiety, anger and fear are no match for a fantastic wellness plan. The research is clear, in the vast majority of cases, healthy foods, exercise, wellness activities, and medication can allow those of us with mental illnesses to live a wonderful life. This blip on my radar was not some sort of personal failure in my wellness journey. It was a sign that I deal with mental illnesses. I did my best, and thus will walk with my head held high!

       With that being said, the wellness technique that helped me so much this past week was calling forth my mental health team. Obviously, this is not a team in the traditional sense of the word, but a team that comes together in my mind. I call on my heroes to help pull me through. I call on amazing authors who have written inspiring books. A few that I turn to can be found in the Bibliotherapy post (here). I call on composers who have written music that moves me. I call on poets, athletes, coaches, leaders, etc. These are people who I respect and who inspire me. I look to their life's work to guide and direct me. For example, I have read Maya Angelou's work so many times that I feel like I know her. I can ask myself, "What would she have had me do?" I can do that with most of my heroes. I read their work, listen to their speeches, watch their clips, and I find strength.

       When I call forth my team, it's important that I can get to them. Having amazing books, music, clips, articles, etc. readily available is a necessity. It wouldn't do me much good to try and assemble a team if I was already experiencing symptoms. I keep them on call, ready for action as soon as needed. I have my favorite inspirational authors set aside on my bookshelf. I have inspiring articles bookmarked on my computer and phone. I have all sorts of playlists of music saved for different situations. To read The Amazing Effects of Music post click (here). 

       I also have playlists on YouTube full of inspirational clips. Different things inspire different people, but I'll give a few examples of what's on my inspirational playlist to illustrate what I am talking about. I have an enormous number to choose from. Different situations call for different members of my mental health team. Here are four I picked at random.

Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night 
I like to imagine that the light is my good mental health. I will rage against the dying of the light!

Maya Angelou: Still I Rise
I like to pretend she is speaking right to my illnesses when she recites this poem. I will forever be in awe of this woman.

Stephen Fry: Speaking about self-pity
Sometimes I have to remember that a best friend is someone who will tell me what I need to hear, not necessarily what I want to hear. As a man who also deals with mental illness, he delivers beautifully.

When I want an instant fix or wish some grand act would solve all my problems, I have to remember that small positive steps each day lead me to where I want to be. I often use this clip to remind myself of that.

       When I realize that it's time, I like to walk in front of a mirror, look at myself and loudly announce that, "It's time to call forth your team!" Instantly, I'm not alone. The greatest minds, athletes, coaches, leaders and writers gather beside me, ready to do battle. Again, because I am NOT my illnesses, I am not battling myself. I am gathering a team, the likes of which the real world will never see, to slay the beast that I am facing. With exercise, healthy foods, wellness activities, medication and a mental health team like mine, depression, anxiety and/or mania don't stand a chance for very long.
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       As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
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