Living well with mental illness

Feeling good and "living well" has its own meaning to individuals. As we know, what works for one person may not work for another; there is no such thing as a true one-size-fits-all solution for your physical health. There is also no such thing as a one-size-fits-all definition of any kind of mental illness.

Mental illnesses present themselves uniquely from one person to another. Symptoms and manifestations vary, and that’s what makes finding help difficult for so many people. In my experience, I’ve felt “unworthy” of my diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder & Panic Disorder  – I didn’t look, feel, or act “as sick” as others with the same disorder at my lowest point. But I was sick, and I definitely needed to figure something out because I didn’t feel like what I was doing was working. I thought I was a lost cause.

Through my own research, experimentation, and many failures, I started to realize that what I was doing wasn’t working for me.  That was the key: to understand that I’m not trying to heal myself because it’s what I “should be” focused on in order to maintain a facade of the “fine, just busy” person, but what I wanted to do for myself. I was tired of feeling the way I did. So I researched and experimented until I couldn’t handle it anymore. Then, in my frustration, I realized: “Okay, so, this isn’t one-size-fits-all. This is something I have my own unique, intimate relationship with.” Only I would know what worked for my experience.

This is what I’ve learned since I became engaged with the concept, trends, and truths of “wellness” as a person with mental disorders:

It’s not easy

Getting into wellness and self-case is definitely not easy for someone who’s thoughts are constantly working against them, especially when those thoughts are often negative self-hating talk that won’t quit. It’s important to remember that good habits are just as powerful as you bad habits – and all habits are learned behaviour. It’s so easy to quickly jump to the negatives – because, a lot of the time, that’s all we practice with ourselves. Learning that being positive about yourself and the good things you want to do for yourself is something you have to drill in to make it stick. Do something good for yourself, feel good about it, and thank yourself for doing it; repeat. Something I’ve been doing: Since I have a hard time complimenting my physical appearance, I generally go with something that doesn’t seem important, but makes a big impact. Every morning, I start my day with washing my face and I silently thank myself for investing in a skincare regimen I splurged on and try my hardest to never skip.

Sometimes, it’s not desirable

Sometimes, stuff we think *should* (I take this word with a grain of salt) make us feel better just doesn’t. Some people swear by activated charcoal supplements, and I don’t think they do anything for me since I can’t see immediate results. That’s another thing – it takes time. Just because you’re trying something new and not feeling IMMEDIATELY PURE HEALTHY WELL AND BALANCED, it doesn’t mean you should give it up or it just won’t work for you at all. I try to give things at least a month before I decide to move on, unless it makes me feel outright terrible. Always always always stop something when it immediately feels bad – if the new lotion you’re trying gives you a rash, if drinking lemon water all day gives you heartburn...figure it out. It won’t always be a breeze. Trial and error is the key to finding what feels good for you – and eliminating what doesn’t.

It won’t look like everyone else’s journey

This is something we are all guilty of – scrolling through blogs, instagram, looking at the fit goddess in class, and comparing ourselves. Not all healing is linear. Recovery does not look the same for everyone else. Being healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. You are on your own journey, and that is perfect. If someone looks like they have the greatest life, be wary: can it be that they just display all the right angles, or have they been working hard to get to where they are? Putting this into perspective will not only have it all make sense, but remind you to keep at what you’re working towards – sleeping better, having a clearer complexion, becoming flexible enough to do the splits. You can do it...just in your own time, in your own way.

Know your limits

This is a big one for me. While I was exploring yoga (before I became fully committed), I was listening to the instructor talk about “meeting yourself at your edge.” This was some fucking incredible advice that I had never considered before. I take this as being aware of what you can and can’t do, and being in tune with yourself so that, if you’d like to, you know when and where you can push just past that edge, and when to dial it down. You certainly don’t have to take a handful of supplements, kick up into perfect handstands, lift the most weights, or eat the healthiest meal if you’re not mentally/physically there yet. Being aware of your limits will protect you from physical harm or triggering those disordered thoughts. The more you listen to yourself, the easier you’ll find it to be when you feel like you can start creating a new edge for yourself.

It will be rewarding when you get it right (for yourself)

Mindfully practicing things that make you feel good will develop your inner relationship with yourself. You’ll just know that what you are doing is or is not working for your body and situation. Depending on where you are with your disorder, you may not be the best judge of what’s good for you at the moment – and that is more than okay. There is time to work it out and refine your process. Like you, it’ll always be changing and growing.

In conclusion...

When we’re focused on what others are doing and how they’re succeeding, we might fall into the “why not me” rut. What’s important to remember is that, just like everything else, wellness is unique to the person indulging in it. Owning our struggles & successes and adapting to them to find what feels good is the real reward - not just the Insta-worthy photos of chaga tea and yoga poses (as much as I love and am guilty of both). Bottom line - if you're going to do it well, you have to do it for yourself.

SelfElizabeth BurnsComment