Activities For Inner Peace: How I Cope With Mental Illness
Living with mental illness is never an easy journey. It feels like constantly having to deal with lows of depression and anxiety without hope of ever climbing out from that hole. The worst part is nobody seems to understand the depth of your feelings. Moreover, medication and psychotherapy seems to only touch the surface.
How do I know this?
I’ve spent the last ten years of my adult life battling with mental illness. When I’m in the depths of despair, nothing or no one seems important to me. My depression hurts every aspect of my life including relationships, career and self-worth. However, there are times when I manage to control my depression and anxiety, I get out of the valley, and life is great for months or years.
During these times, I realised that while medication and therapy helps greatly, there are things that I have to do in my life to keep my lows few and manageable. Here are some of the things that have worked for me.
I’ve Mastered Inner Strength
When battling with mental illness, the brain never seems to say anything nice or positive. I constantly see things from the dark side of life. I feel like my whole life is awful, and nothing can be done to make it better. I resent the people around me because I sadly can’t feel their love and care. Moreover, doing simple things such as getting out of bed and showering become a real struggle. However, I’ve learnt to counter the ‘lies’ that the brain feeds me. It has not been easy.
It has taken a lot of work to build my inner strength and resilience that help me to avoid entertaining what the brain says about my life. It is the inner strength that helps me to do the opposite-to-emotion thinking, which has been so helpful. If my brain says that my life is bad, I find the inner strength to differentiate a bad moment with a bad life. I always know that I’m worthy of a good life despite what is happening. On the times that I feel the urge to isolate, having the inner strength to counter the emotion, get out of bed and be around people has really worked for me.
Help From My Circle
Your brain will always tell you to isolate, that no one understands you, and so you only want to try and solve things alone. Over the years, I have come to realize that mental health is a journey not to be taken alone. We are social beings and we thrive when around people. Isolating from people who care about us only makes the depression and anxiety stay longer. I’m thankful that I have a circle of people who care and love me. I have made the effort to stay in touch with these people. Moreover, these aren’t just my friends and family, my circle includes my therapist, my neighbors and community, my fitness instructor and more. My circle has been helpful in more ways than one:
- It gives me a sense of belonging especially in time when I feel that I don’t fit in
- I feel included when they involve me in things that are going on in other people’s lives, which gives me a sense of purpose
- I find support every time I’m going through difficult situations
- They help me keep active and grounded
- It is my safe haven where I can be myself regardless of what is happening in my life
I know I said coping with mental illness takes more than just medication and therapy. However, therapy is very important in the journey towards a better brain and self. In my case, I engage in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. My therapist recognized early on that my depression and anxiety were fuelled by distortions in my thinking owing to my past experiences. CBT has really helped me recognize these distorted thinking patterns and see them in the light of reality. I’ve since learnt problem solving mechanisms that help me cope with and manage difficult situations. In addition, CBT has been valuable in building confidence, emotional intelligence, self-awareness and a more resilient brain.
Exercise is a cliché when it comes to dealing with mental health, and all for the benefits it offers. Exercise is a powerful tool in fighting depression and anxiety as it stimulates positive changes to the brain that usher in the feelings of calmness and wellbeing. Exercise is also known to promote the release of endorphins otherwise known as the feel good hormones.
I had to change my whole basement in order to create a home gym. That took me almost two weeks. There was a problem with the lighting, I had to get some rubber flooring for basements. Nevertheless, in the end it was all worth it. When I’m experiencing the lows, exercising has been very helpful in climbing out of that despair. It lifts my spirits and boosts my moods, giving me something positive in the midst of the darkness.
Another reason why it works is that it allows me a positive distraction from the negative thoughts. It becomes easier to bounce back when the chain of bad thoughts is broken. In addition, regular exercise keeps me in shape physically, which is a boost to my confidence and self-esteem.
However, gathering the strength to exercise when in an emotional turmoil is never easy. But I realised that I don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to see the benefits. Moderate exercise goes a long way. What is most important is to have the right equipment for exercising, you can even use used gym equipment as long as it suits you.
Do the Things You Like
Just like exercising, doing the things I like helps me to stay happy and calm, and gives me a good distraction from my woes. When I have something to look forward to, I stay excited and hopeful. I don’t have room to entertain other thoughts as my brain is predominantly fixed on my plans. I try to travel a lot whenever I can. Seeing different places gives me a cheer to my heart. I have grown my own garden. I used to spend nearly three hours in my garden. Now I have been growing indoor plants as well. I had to make some changes in my home to create the ideal environment for growing plants. I had to install some LED grow lights. While it has been a lot of work, it has also kept me busy most of the time so I enjoy that. I also joined a cooking club where I exercise and learn more about my love for the kitchen.
My biggest mood booster is mentoring other people who are battling with a mental illness, just like me. Creating some good out there gives me a sense of purpose and strength to keep fighting. I have been on many retreats. I find them very relaxing and a good way to clear up my mind. I would especially recommend an Igoba retreat. For me, it has been a life changing experience. It brought me back the motivation, inspiration and joy that I need. I finally feel in touch with my body and my emotions.
Mental illness can make you feel like it is the end of the world - but I have realised that I’m never alone. Thankfully, I’ve seen the benefits of surrounding myself with people, exercising and engaging in things that make me happy. Therapy has also been very valuable in my journey. What has been my greatest achievement is learning to master my inner strength.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Dea Styles.