Three things I learned about Mental Health in 2016

3am

Hi 3am. I know you, I remember this. It’s been a while, but here we are again. You and me, another episode of our epic wrestling match in the dark with this laptop glow centered and alone. This struggle steals the energy that I will need to perform my duties later in the day.

piero-fissore-double-first-fight


For the second time this week – not yet enough times to call this a hypomanic period – I am awake at the magical hour and my brain is flying along instantly awake. If I were speaking, I’m sure it would be pressured speech: I know my thoughts are moving at that speed. Last time I spent 5 hours awake. This time? TBD.


I wasn’t specifically doing any kind of retrospective, but finding myself here after very nearly a year, it’s inevitable to look back over the first year and ask how this diary helped (or didn’t).

I feel like, even without any other additional interventions[1], this diary has been very helpful. Primarily because I was more aware. Odd how much power there is in simply being aware of a problem. In a manner similar to the axiom:

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”
– Charles Kettering

I don’t want to gloss over this point too quickly: when it comes to my mental health issues, it seems that simply being aware of them helps greatly. When I saw “aware,” I mean more than just awareness. Since being aware means that my behavior changes in many ways. But the awareness, particularly as I’m self-aware in the moment of experiencing some of the symptoms of my mental illness, is helpful.


Secondarily the organized approach and reporting of things that did/didn’t matter. Over time, it is very easy to forget things: approaches tried, ideas added or discarded, or even something as basic as a list of metrics by which one loosely gauges overall health[2]. And having a set of metrics to measure against has been helpful – of course, only insofar as the metrics themselves are the right ones: measuring additional things that don’t drive or help with my health serves only to assuage my neurosis.


More broadly, my learning about mental heath this year has taught me to think of mental health as part of my health in general. And, importantly, thinking of mental illness as “sickness.” Raising mental health/illness to an equivalence with other bodily health/illness is a way of thinking that has been helpful to me. There are many helpful parallels.

When I am sick of body, it’s not weakness. So also, mental illness is not weakness: it’s sickness, illness.
I periodically get sick of body – it happens from time to time. So too, mental illness will encroach more or less periodically, sometimes it is worse, other times almost non-existent[3].
And, from the standpoint of those external: no one chooses to be physically sick. For my mental illness: there is no one on the face of this earth, more than I, who would rather that I weren’t being hypomanic, manic, crazy, or otherwise mentally ill.

I’m sick, but I’m getting better.


Into 2017, let’s take two things. First, some words from the great philosopher, T Swift[4]:

“It’s like I got this music
“In my mind
“Saying, ‘It’s gonna be alright.'”
– Taylor Swift

And finally, I leave you with Wil Wheaton’s exhortation on mental health[5]: raise it like a mantra for yourself in 2017: http://wilwheaton.net/2016/07/my-keynote-address-to-the-2016-mensa-annual-gathering/ (You can start at the part just before “Imposter Syndrome” – but don’t short-change yourself that way, read the whole thing.)

You don’t deserve to suffer. You are not weak. You are not a failure. Your brain, like mine, needs help to keep its profoundly complicated machinery working. Depression lies, and when it tells you these lies, you can look right back into its stupid face and say, “Shut up. Wil Wheaton told me that it’s okay to get help, and he pretended to live in outer space, so he outranks you.”

And

We need you. So please take care of yourselves.


[1] This is non-hypothetical. Despite a few attempts, I’ve done basically no other external work to get better at this: just my own thoughts, research, and records. (I did learn some techniques and tried some food related items, but I didn’t get any “traditional” help for cyclothymia / mental health.) As usual, the introverted and thoughtful approach worked well for me; YMMV.

I say this not as a badge of honor – I tried to get some other help – but, as always, just for my own future remembrance.

Definitely get help for yourself – do it.

[2] Again, completely non-hypothetical as I being reading back through my posts tonight to find the “rundown” list I’ve been using to gauge my activities recently and try to learn more about the potential cause of my current awake/up symptom.

[3] Aside: some of these healthy times jive with the periods of silence in this diary.

[4] Music, in my mind. But let it say that isn’t gonna be OK.

[5] I could have added to the useful approaches the idea Wil Wheaton has where he personifies his depression or characterizes his brain as lying to himself. Remember: the enemy is within and thinking of it that way is helpful.


Photo Credit: Piero Fissore


 

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Three things I learned about Mental Health in 2016

2016 Rundown

This post accompanies the next. Wanted a quick rundown but it didn’t fit in with the rest of the post.

Information Diet: greatly reduced. Holidays, far less reading (though not none: should maybe have tried none).

Caffeine: Mostly usual strict limitations. A few times where a bit more than average (drip coffee laying available is a siren that calls to me).

Diet: “Poorly” (holidays! so the “poor” was planned, not a failing). Some supplementation continued.

Interaction: A lot. Possibly record new high levels (though different than the normal business/social types: time spent with family). And definitely some that was “inspirational” idea-wise.

Exercise: Slightly more than average (read: barely above sedentary).

Stress: Mostly low, a few moments of very high (mostly the period of time before holidays in the mad scramble of trying to get everything done).

Induction: First, what is this? Oh right: “what things are inducing, eliciting, or drawing me forward or towards happiness?”
This has been pretty good. Moderately higher than average. Again, some stressful items here (it’s possible that induction items will always spillover into some stress: good challenge inducing towards better things is somewhat stressful).

2016 Rundown