How I live with my mental illness…
By Olivia Bailey
I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, OCD, and anorexia nervosa when I was a sophomore in highschool. It is crazy that it was over six years ago. I have grown a lot in those six years. Through trial and error, countless appointments with doctors, and trying out medication, I can proudly say I am at a point, in my young adult life, that I can live with my mental illness.
Like almost everyone else in the world, the pandemic has made things difficult and triggering for myself. Constant chaos, remote learning, and ongoing death tolls broadcasted on the news unknowingly took an effect on me. But, with the help of my continuous years in therapy, I have learned a few tricks to help with some of my issues with body image and anxiety during these trying times. I just had to use that phrase at least once.
It took me a long time to disassociate exercise with calories and weight loss, and I still struggle, but walking has been great for me. If I have a schedule of walking at least 30 minutes a day, and keeping on that routine, I feel much happier. To be out in nature, away from screens is such a good feeling. It is difficult sometimes to leave my warm bed, but having my therapy dog Belle has, in a way, forced me to be more active on my down days. If you don’t have a pet to walk with, first, I am very sorry, second, I recommend walking in a park to animal-watch. Or if you like to be indoors on a treadmill, find all the puppy videos in the world online, and you will most likely have a smile on your face.
It may be a bit strange to not have a mirror hanging in your bedroom, but for me it has become second nature. We are constantly looking at ourselves on Zoom, social media, etc., so my therapist recommended taking out any unnecessary temptations for self critique. It is amazing how much time you can save and use for something beneficial instead of looking in your mirror for hours, pointing out every “flaw'' you see.
I have a very hard time sleeping because of my anxiety. To avoid relying on my prescribed medication, I like to count. From 1 to however long it takes to get sleepy. If I lose count, I start right from the beginning. It is crucial to be off your phone at least an hour prior to getting into bed, but as well all know, that is extremely difficult, so if I do indulge and stay on my phone, I will wind down with relaxing painting videos. What can I say, I was raised by Bob Ross, but if you find ASMR videos or white noise relaxing, that is perfectly fine too. It is all about finding what’s best for you personally.
One of the main things my therapist stresses is to be mindful. Be mindful of your body, your food, and your thoughts. Now, this does not mean to overanalyze, which is often difficult to do. But, being mindful means to focus on the present and positive. For example, to mindfully eat is to take your time, savoring the flavor and textures. Food is fuel, but also enjoyable and eating should be an enjoyable experience. If you are ever having a particularly bad day and can’t seem to keep positive thoughts, I recommend watching a movie or show while eating. Something lighthearted, particularly a movie about talking bees, starring a little-know comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
I know this is a cheesy one, but it works. I always thought of meditation as sitting perfectly still, with no thoughts. I was very wrong. After being taught by my therapist, I have learned a productive meditation technique that works for me and my wandering thoughts. You start by laying down, so that’s fun. Then you tense all the muscles in your body. Next, starting from your feet up, you focus on each muscle, slowly releasing the tension while breathing. It is relaxing and gives you sacred time to focus on your body and the wonderful job it does taking care of you.
Now, these tips are just the bare basics, there is much more you can do and personalize to better suit your mental health needs, because mental health, like physical health, is super important. If you can, find someone you can talk to, someone who is a good listener and can be unbiased. This can be a therapist, doctor, friend or family member, though that last one isn’t always recommended,
I am not cured, I won’t wake up one day, suddenly feeling amazing. It is hard to get out of bed, to not sleep the day away, to ignore those intrusive thoughts, but through hard work and practicing self love, going to therapy, staying accountable, and taking the steps I need to take, I don’t have to simply cope with my mental illness, but rather, live with it, and live life fully.