Most people who read this blog regularly know I have a mental illness which makes my life rather challenging and difficult from time to time. It is doing so at the moment in fact, hence my perceived need to write this blog. Don’t worry – I’m not going to whinge about my errant brain chemistry. Instead I will use the experience of my errant brain chemistry to share some things which are helpful to me and which others can benefit from too (hopefully).
I have had the crisis team call me every day for over a week. They called me twice tonight. Anyone who has used public mental health services in Australia will know there is only one step between that and me going to hospital – that of the crisis team visiting me. I have no intention of that happening. I am an empath so being in hospital with all he other people’s misery crowding in with my own misery is very unpleasant. I will resolve to be miserable at home if I can.
There are a few things going on that will enable to me to remain at my beautiful home Whimsy Manor rather than what the French so poignantly used to term ‘l’hotel Dieu’ (literally ‘God’s hotel’).
These things are keeping me able to manage:
- Mr Kitty. My black feline friend has a number of useful functions other than being his beautiful and naughty self. He is protective factor in terms of logistics, If I did need to go to hospital, I would need to find cat boarding at very short notice for an indeterminate period of time. I wouldn’t want to do that to Mr Kitty – or my bank balance. I just think ‘not an option’ to myself and keep going. And of course the furry boy is incredibly cuddly. Every time I pick him up – whatever he is doing – he goes in for a snuggle. He is the most affectionate cat I have ever had. Cats are ace!
- The fact that people ask me for mental health tips and strategies and helpful resources puts my own issues into perspective and altruism and assisting others are great distractions,
- I have basically trained crisis team and other local mental health services to understand my needs. This took a very long time. Sadly I think a lot of Autistic people have had issues accessing respectful and beneficial mental health care. But for me now I am reasonably be sure if I call the crisis team they will actually help me so I am not afraid to seek help. You have no idea how sad I am to write that sentence. Seeking help for mental health issues really should result in help being given, not invalidation and dismissiveness. Unfortunately this is often not the case for people with mental illness and it would seem particularly to be the case for Autistic people with mental illness.
- I use some pretty nifty strategies which work for me. My favourites are from the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) model. one is distraction – i.e. focussing your attention on something other than focussing on feeling miserable. This tricks your brain into sort of forgetting your distress, at least while you are doing the distraction. I often need to do distraction continuously but it is a very helpful strategy.
- Another DBT skill I use is one called ‘Opposite Action.’ This means challenging what your unwell brain wants you to do and doing the opposite, I find it is particularly good for depression. I might feel like staying in bed all day so I get up and make breakfast and have shower instead. It usually lifts my mood perceptibly. It can be had to do if you are feeling really low but tell yourself it will be worth the effort.
- Whenever I am unwell I remind myself that the distress will not last forever, For me at least – and I think for a lot of people – my mental illness episodes are cyclical. So if I’m feeling miserable now I know I won’t be forever. It is just a matter of getting through it now.
- I access help. I certainly didn’t used to but I have learned that help is available. Even if it is a Lifeline counsellor I’ve not met before on a phone or an online chat, I find it is usually helpful to reach out to others.
- I am not ashamed to discuss my illness – or that I have an illness – simply because it isn’t something to be ashamed of.
One thing I will say about managing mental illness is that effective strategies vary across individuals so find things which work for you.
A mental illness can often distort your thinking and make you view things like friendships and social interactions very dimly. I can get very anxious and think I have unintentionally upset people. Then when I start to come out of the illness I realise I was putting two and to together and making 5612.8! Sadly you can’t always trust your brain. You can strengthen your ‘you’ to be able to challenge your brain when it is misbehaving but I think that might be a topic for another blog,…
So I will take me brain and apply Mr Kitty cuddles and cups of tea and Facebook chats with lovely people and hopefully the crisis team will stop calling me soon 🙂