It’s been a little less than two years since I checked into a behavioral health hospital. Since that time I’ve been on three different medications, stopped seeing a psychiatrist, stopped medication altogether, and have been managing my mental illnesses with CBD (but that’s a whole other story).
Right now I’m in the best state of mind I’ve been in I don’t even know how long.
I owe a lot of my progress to the two weeks I spent with various counselors, health professionals, and support groups. They helped me tap into optimism I didn’t know I had and made me realize a lot of my negative thinking was unfounded. I’ve developed a new sense of self and am learning to let go of my idea of perfection. I don’t want to call what I’ve learned “coping skills.” What I do is not coping; it’s combating.
Halting Negative Self-Talk
Stopping negative self-talk has been the hardest technique to implement. The horrible cycle begins when I start to have one negative thought. Then I construct another negative thought based on my previous thought. I keep building thoughts upon themselves until all of them are circling around my head like those little cartoon bird characters that swirl around someone’s head when they get whacked. It’s dizzying and, more important, time consuming.
It wasn’t until a therapist talked about negative thought processes when I realized I engaged in that behavior.
I know it sounds so simple (or obtuse), but the only way to stop the thoughts was, well, stop. Stopping those thoughts gave me time to name to what I was doing, and I learned to recognize when I was participating. It was hard at first, but now it’s one of my most-used skills.
I still have negative thoughts, but I don’t let them stay. I can recognize when I start to go off the deep end. Once I realize the negative thought, I literally tell myself “stop.” I turn my attention somewhere else. I find that if I don’t do something active, those thoughts will linger. I always push myself to find a distraction.
I’ve never been a fan of cliches or self-help books or relying on good vibes. But I will say, since my newfound optimism has come into play, I’m open to any cheesy line that’ll make me feel better.
One therapist suggested writing sticky notes with positive character or self-image affirmations and sticking them to a mirror. I thought it was a good idea, but the thought of having loud colored paper plastered all over my bathroom mirror gave me anxiety.
Instead, I started following Instagram accounts that posted affirmations. I read through them throughout the day and if one resonates with me, I post it to my Instagram story. So in a way, it’s like a virtual Post-it note.
I know how hard it is to think positively of yourself when in the depths of mental illness. If you’re reading this but have a hard time coming up with positive characteristics about yourself, there are people around you who would love to do that for you. Reach out to them.
Self-care is such a tired word, but it’s a tried-and-true activity. What’s good about self-care is it’s not limited. My self-care is different from what your self-care. Let me be the one to yell this from the roof: SELF-CARE IS NOT SELFISH. Reading is not selfish. Shopping is not selfish. Doing nothing is not selfish! Anything that contributes to your well being is nurturing your mental health. Even when I’m broke I find a way to make myself feel good, even if I’m not depressed or in a bad mood.
I recently got a library card and have been checking out books left and right because one thing that depression did to me was take away my love of reading. Yes, it takes me more than a month or two to read a book, but the reward is still the same: I pause my life for a bit and indulge in an activity that makes me happy.
Shopping is also therapeutic for me. When I find a piece of clothing I like, I feel confident. The feeling of owning something new makes me happy when I wear it out and about. It’s not just the purchasing; it’s the days after filled with anticipating to see when I’ll wear it first.
Also, not doing anything is one of my favorite things to do. When I can take a nap or scroll through social media, I’m happy. Self-care does not have to be grandiose or expensive. Sometimes all I need to do is ask my mom for a hug, and I automatically feel better. That is self-care.
There are a lot of other skills I’ve learned over the course of my mental health journey. Overcoming self-doubt, letting go of control, setting goals, journaling, and family support have also been really helpful in getting to the point I’m at now. Therapy has been good to me, and I see myself seeking a therapist in the near future once I have the resources. I recommend everyone get a therapist, even if things are going well. There is no shame in taking care of yourself. Now more than ever it’s important to remind others of that. Getting help is the best thing you can do.