Occasionally, because of my conditions, I can become overwhelmed, filled with anxiety or so depressed that I can barely lift my head off the pillow. A month ago, in Creating A Mental Health Team1, I talked about how a medication change and bronchitis had knocked me down. Despite my best efforts, sometimes I run into problems. I don't care what any self-help guru or new age philosopher says, that is the reality of mental illnesses. Doctors and scientists agree that, as of yet, there is no cure, but many effective treatments do exist.
I have found that overcoming the symptoms of my mental illnesses, and keeping them at bay for prolonged periods, boils down to taking the next step, whatever that may be. It is so easy for me to focus on the symptoms I'm facing that I can become immobilized if I'm not careful. That is a dangerous situation for me to find myself in. Slipping into the dark hole that can develop from the symptoms of my illnesses is scary. I must fight my way out of the darkness by taking action, however small that initial action may be.
For many years, I had no idea what to do. The thought of taking an action step was terrifying because I never knew, for sure, what the right action was. The funny thing is, most of the time, I still don't. I've found that the actual step I take isn't nearly as significant as the fact that I forced myself to take one. Making myself take action, particularly when I don’t want to, is what creates the magic. Contrary to what I had been led to believe, I can't wait until I feel like doing something to do it. It's simple. I can't feel my way into action; I must act my way into a feeling. In other words, if I wait until I feel like taking action to work on improving my situation, I may never take any action at all. I feel better after I take a positive action step. I don't feel better and then take the step. The notion that I should rely on my gut to tell me what to does not apply when I am experiencing symptoms. I don't think or feel rationally when I am chemically imbalanced, so I can't trust every thought that goes through my head or every feeling that tugs at my heart. I MUST TAKE ACTION!
Taking that first step is what gets the ball rolling for me. It may be as simple as writing down something I'm grateful for while lying in bed (see Gratitude and Mental Illnesses2). Sometimes it's forcing myself to get up and take a shower. I'm a big fan of humor, so many times the first step involves watching a funny clip on YouTube (see Humor and Exercise3). Other times I am able to get out the door and go for a walk or run. I have an extensive list of wellness activities and exercises to choose from, some of my favorites are already on this site (see Wellness Activities4 or The Benefits Exercise5 pages).
The point is, when I am facing a problem due to my illnesses, I break that problem down into workable pieces by putting one foot in front of the other. I do it by taking small positive action steps. I don't have to know that what I am doing is the exact right thing. I don't have to figure anything out before I make my move. I love the saying, "Make your move before your ready." I repeat that to myself frequently if I am experiencing symptoms. I have to. If I don't, I can think about what I should be doing all day long and end up doing nothing at all. And whether I like it or not, I've come to realize that the dream of improving my mental and physical health is free, but the reality, the hustle, is sold separately. If it's to be, it's up to me. Others can certainly help, but no one can do it for me.
One of my favorite things about forcing myself to take action when I am experiencing symptoms is that, no matter what activity I choose, something powerful always begins to happen inside me. I don't always perceive it at first, and I don’t know exactly what it is. Alexander Graham Bell explained it perfectly when he said, "What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists, and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it." Something is moved inside of me when, despite overwhelming odds, I fight back. The beautiful thing is, I don’t have to understand it to love and appreciate it.
To start fighting back, sometimes it helps if I get angry at my illnesses. I love to scream obscenities at my symptoms when things have gotten bad. "You will not beat me you *** ****** ******* ********. I will show you what I'm made of. You picked the wrong person to mess with today!" [Your imagination is much better than anything I could write there]. When I get to that point, I am able to call forth my mental health team. I've got my symptoms on the ropes at that point. It's just a matter of time. I always like to point out when I talk about using this type of technique that I am NOT mad at myself because I am NOT my illnesses. I am also perfectly fine with using anger as a motivator so long as I use it correctly, as motivation to do the next right thing. Dr. Wayne Dyer said it best: "There is nothing wrong with anger, provided you use it constructively." Absolutely!
Of course, that first step is the hardest. I've found they tend to become increasingly easier as I go. The gorgeous part of this equation is that each step I take begins to multiply on the others in ways that I could have never dreamed of when I began. But, I have to remember; I can never get to that dream if I don't take the first step. I remind myself of what Martin Luther King said about this. He said, "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." I have yet to come across any truer words in my life.
What Dr. King's words mean to me is that I don't have to have things figured out through step 1,000 before I take action to treat my illnesses. In fact, I've found, if I’m focused on step 1,000 when I'm on step 1, I tend to trip over that first step. How could I not? I’m not focused on what’s right in front of me, so things go poorly. Besides, by the time I do get to step 1,000, it is always entirely different than what I had imagined it would be. I can’t tell for sure what’s going to happen in step 2, much less in the final step. The solution for me is simple, it's not always easy, but it's definitely simple. I take one step at a time, one day at a time because the next step is the one that matters.
I’ve posted this YouTube clip before. However, there is rarely a morning that goes by when I don’t watch it, so it seems fitting that I post it again.
I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It is one of the few that I carry with me everywhere I go.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”
–Henry David Thoreau
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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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