Regular readers of this blog probably know I have some mental health challenges. These issues have shaped my life in many ways – some good, many bad. My mental illness symptoms vary but can be quite severe. I experience a number of issues – psychosis, depression, elevated mood and anxiety are the main ones. A lot of my thinking goes into working out how to manage my illness.
Recently I co-wrote a book on Autism and mental health – The Guide to Good Mental Heath on the Autism Spectrum I suppose now I am an ‘expert’. Actually all people with mental illness are experts on mental illness to varying degrees. I just got back from Melbourne where I went to deliver a presentation at a conference. I was the keynote speaker so was quite keen to attend! The conference was on Friday. I have been under a lot of stress lately for various reasons and on Tuesday – three days before the conference – I needed to go home early from work as I was really depressed and not helping anyone very much. I thought I would return to work on Wednesday but I felt awful so stayed home then as well. I was faced with the very real possibility that I would need to cancel a speaking appearance due to my stupid mental illness.
At this point I did something which I will need to save and use again in the future because it was good. I said to myself ‘I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow or Friday or even in an hour’s time. I will do as many helpful and positive things as can to improve my mental health. If it is effective I will be able to give my talk. If not, I will have to cancel the conference talk.’. Basically I practiced mindfulness. On Thursday morning I awoke feeling well enough to fly to Melbourne. I got to my hotel in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and felt quite isolated. I started to dwell on these feelings but thankfully at this point a friend asked me to Skype with her. We Skyped for a while and I felt connected again. Then I made u some memes for my social media – I post one a day -and watched a stand up comedian on Netflix
The next day was the day of the conference. I felt up for it.I had a significant radio interview to record with Neurotribes author Steve Silberman and that went really well. I still felt fragile but I also felt more confident than I had earlier in the week. I got to the event about thirty minutes before my talk. I set up a table of books and went to the auditorium. When I got on that stage I was prepared and in the ‘zone.’ If I had’t mentioned it at the start of my talk I doubt audience members would have had any idea I had struggled with mental illness symptoms so very recently. I had’t planned to see any friends in Melbourne but I felt so good that I contacted a friend and invited her out. It was lovely and I think it was exactly what both of us needed.
Here are the main strategies I used – most of which are not things I have dreamed up but tried and tested measures to improve mental health:
- Mindfulness / being ‘in the moment’. I didn’t worry about the future or dwell on the past. This is a very difficult thing to do but I find it helps avert a lot of self-fulfilling mental health prophesies and talking myself into a worse situation.
- Seeking help. When I was really struggling I called the mental health crisis team (who I know very well) and told them what was happening because I was concerned my health may deteriorate and I wanted a record of it on the file which would be accessed should I need to go to hospital. I also sought support from my lovely friends
- Setting small, achievable goals. I really wanted to give my talk and it was something to aim for. Having this in front of me gave me a positive focus on what I wanted to work towards.
- Positive self-talk. I had some moments where I thought self-destructive activities might be an acceptable course of action. I knew this was dangerous thinking so I reflected on all my protective factors – Mr Kitty, the fact I have co-written a book on mental health and self destructive behaviour would be a poor example for such an author to set.
- Having some pet therapy with Mr Kitty – a purring cat has actually been found in peer reviewed studies to provide a lot of health befits including reducing anxiety. Plus cats are awesome!
- Stayed connected with friends and family. I know this is hard because I struggle with it, but when feeling isolated, often the most helpful thing to do is to connect wth others in whatever way you can.
- Being kind to myself. I didn’t berate myself or criticise myself for being ‘weak.’ I told myself whatever happened it would be ok.
If you are interested to hear more about Autism and mental health, Dr Emma Goodall and I were interviewed on the topic on ABC Radio National ‘All in the Mind’ program Radio National Interview
Me selling mental healh books