Mental Health Day

Today, I decided to take a mental health day. I haven’t taken one in a very long time. Usually, I don’t take time off until I can’t function anymore, and at that point, it’s a sick day. Even CNN thinks it’s a bad idea.

I encourage everyone to take a mental health day every once in awhile. Sure, there are weekends, but if you’re anything like me, I spend them doing housework and visiting family. (I hope you don’t think I’m too much of a party animal!) Life goes so fast, and I always seem to be thinking in the past and planning for the future. That’s why a mental health day is so important. It’s a one day vacation where you can just catch up to the moment.

So, what does a mental health day entail? You can do anything you want! I prefer to stay home alone (I get so much done that way), but the world is your oyster. You can watch your favorite TV shows, read a book, go for a walk, or even spend the day sleeping. Maybe you like video games. Maybe a day trip. It’s your day and you can do anything you want.

If you need some ideas, this is how I spent my day:

  • Browsed Reddit and Pinterest
  • Cut collage items out of magazines I need to recycle
  • Made the bed
  • Sang as loud as I wanted while vacuuming
  • Dislodged the sock I accidentally vacuumed up (whoops)
  • Reorganized my kitchen
  • Back to Pinterest, where I found a recipe for homemade pretzels
  • Sliced my finger open on the food processor while making said pretzels (double whoops)
  • Watched Parks & Recreation reruns and nursed my poor finger
  • Soaked my feet. Couldn’t find anything fancy, so I used dish liquid
  • Played with my cats
  • Admired the IKEA art cart I assembled yesterday. Råskog means, “Awesome job, Clean!” in Swedish*
  • Drew with charcoal
  • Drank a deliciously artificial grape soda and enjoy it (rather than my usual process of stressing about the corn syrup and purging)
  • Went to get replacements for all the ingredients I lost
  • Went to a small farm stand where I fed a pig and pet a cow.

 

* Not actually true

 

So, how will you spend your mental health day?

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Making Your Bed

I’ve had my share of bed-bound days, the days where I just can’t bring myself to leave my mattress. On those days, I like to make my bed after I wake up. If I spend the day in bed, I relax on top of the blankets rather than under them, and if I need the comfort of a blanket, I used a throw instead. This way, I still have a separation of sleeping/awake time, but it doesn’t require as much energy.

Weighted Blankets

I’d like to give a shout-out for weighted blankets. If you’ve never felt one, it feels like the lead covering they put on you when you’re getting an x-ray. It’s just what it sounds like- a ridiculously heavy blanket that you can throw on top of yourself for comfort. I thought it sounded dumb until I tried one when I was in inpatient therapy. They actually feel quite calming. These are especially helpful for people with a lot of anxiety or autism. Something about the weight calms you down.

Weighted blankets can be a little pricey, but it can be worth the steep price tag if you find it helps. Or, if you’re crafty, you can sew one.

Stop the World

Only thirty blankets?

Things don’t always go according to plan or how you want them to go. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they don’t go according to plan the majority of the time.

I’ve had a very rough week. Everyone alive knows the type of week I’m talking about. Those are the weeks where you huddle in your bed, underneath more blankets than a bed at Pottery Barn, wondering who you must have killed in your past life to deserve the cards you’ve been dealt.

You start to think about how hard life is and how it isn’t fair. And you know what? You’re right. It’s not fair. And it sucks. It’s not fair that I’m 24 years old and have to take 16 medications a day just to function. It’s not fair that I have to drag myself out of a coma every morning. It’s not fair that while other people were worrying a pop quiz, I was worrying about secret assassination plots.

It’s not fair, it’s not easy, and it’s not fun, but it is life. And while life may not ever be good for me, it will get better. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but one day it will get better. And until then, I try to hack my brain with the following tools:

1. Knowing you can always give up.

No matter what you’re doing, you can ALWAYS give up. Don’t want to go to school? Drop out. Don’t want to go to work? Quit. Don’t want to take care of yourself? Go inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. Yes, the alternatives may suck, but you can always, always give up. To me, this notion is reassuring. I don’t have to do anything, and anything that I do end up doing is better than giving up.
For example, this morning I really didn’t want to go to work. I was in a lot of stomach pain, my head hurt, I was tired, and I just felt like I couldn’t face the world. So I began by thinking, “Well, I can always skip work. Sure, I sacrifice a day’s worth of pay and make tomorrow’s workload heavier, but I don’t have to go.”
And then I think about it a little more. “Ok, so if I’m staying home, there would be no harm in taking a shower, right? I’ll just take a shower and then do nothing.” So I take a shower. “Well, now that I’ve taken a shower, I might as well get dressed. I mean, I still don’t have to go to work.” So I get dressed. “Ok, I’ll just throw my shit in the car and drive to work. I don’t have to go in. I can always just drive by the building and head home.” So I drive to work. “Ok, well, I’m already here. What if I stay for, like, five minutes? I’ll go home after five minutes.” So I go into work and end up working the whole day. At any point during the process, I could give up. But if I always have the option to give up, why not wait it out another five minutes? Another day? Another year? I can quit at any point, so why not stick around for a bit and see how shit goes down?

2. Lower your expectations.

The key to surviving in any situation is lowering your expectations according to how you feel. Even little victories are still victories. For awhile, there were some days where my main goal was not to die. If I was still living, I was doing pretty well. Some days, my crowning glory was standing up. And some days, my biggest achievement was finishing a huge, involved project at work. No one wakes up every day as the same person. Work with who you are and what you’ve got at that point in time.

3. People don’t care as much as you think they do.

People are self-absorbed, and you know what- that’s a really good thing. Everyone is the hero of his or her own story, and they are so busy with that story to be anything more than supporting characters in anyone else’s narrative.

Think back to an embarrassing time in your life. I’ll give you a mild one from mine: I was at a multi-class poster fair during my freshman year of college. I had just taken a class on the history of punk music and had to create a presentation for it. I threw my heart and soul into that class, and the professor was really impressed with me. Anyway, the student with the poster next to mine was playing a song. I knew the song from somewhere and couldn’t place it. It was on repeat, and I kept hearing it over and over. After about a half hour, my professor came over to grade my poster. He told me he was really impressed with my work and called me an authority on music.

Once I thought he had left, I turned to the girl next to me and asked, “Hey, what song is this?”

‘All along the Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix,” she said.

I turned around, and my professor was still standing there. I felt like such an idiot. He had just called me an authority on music, and I didn’t recognize one of the most famous songs of all time. He ended up walking away, but the shame haunts me to this day.

Now, I’ve done way more embarrassing things, but for some reason, this one has stuck with me. But no matter how much it has affected me, I can guarantee you that I am the only one who remembers this event and who cares about it. My professor has spent the last six years being the hero of his own life, making his own embarrassing mistakes, and you know what? That’s what he thinks about. He thinks about his own mistakes, not mine. And that’s how everyone is. Everyone is so busy thinking about the events in their own tale that they don’t have the time to ponder your plot line.

Every time I trip in public, every time I walk into a door, every time I accidentally insult someone, every time I mess up, I stress about how awful I am. But you know what? People don’t care, and that’s a good thing.

For me, this week has been full of worry, pain, and blankets. I’m going to have better weeks, and I’m going to have worse weeks. There will be weeks where my blankets are covered in blood and vomit, and there will be weeks where my blankets are laundered, folded, and look like they belong in the Pottery Barn showroom.

Using ASL

Clean Brains ASL ChartSometimes, I find myself unable to communicate or find words. For some reason, however, I can still use sign language. It might just be me, but in any event, I suggest it because you might find it useful as well. You can learn a few signs (such as the ones for medicine, emergency, hungry, thirsty, help, etc.) and teach them to people in your support network. That way, you can communicate without having to physically speak.

I’ve created a printable chart of the basic fingerspelling signs and the signs I feel are most helpful. You can print these papers and give them to friends and family as quick references. You can also buy the book The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing by Rod R. Butterworth. It’s the one that I personally find most useful (and believe me- I’ve seen a lot of them!).

Download Clean Brains ASL Chart

Download Clean Brains ASL Fingerspelling

But wait… there’s more!

Brain WashI go out of my way to avoid commercials. I’m not quite sure why this works. Maybe it reduces distraction. Maybe it makes me feel better about myself. Whatever the reason, it helps. Sometimes this involves spending a little bit more money for the service. If finances are tight, this may not be an option. However, if you do have some spare change, I highly recommend it. I watch Netflix and Hulu rather than regular television. I also listed to Spotify, SiriusXM satellite radio, and my iPod rather than the radio. I also pay for apps to get rid of the ads.

The Cellphone Save

If you find yourself in an anxious group situation (such as a family get-together or meeting), set an alarm on your phone that will go off a minute after you set it. Make sure this alarm has the same sound as your ring tone. When the alarm rings, look at your phone and remark, “Sorry, guys, I have to take this.” This will allow you to leave the room for awhile to collect your thoughts. It also won’t draw the same concern as an extended bathroom break might.

If you have a psychiatric service dog, you can also train your dog to provide an out, too.

There’s Always a Way Out

When you enter a room, always look for a way out. Stare at it and lock it in your head. This way, you can quickly duck out in an emergency or if you need to catch your breath. There’s nothing worse than getting lost among a crowd of people when you’re having a panic attack.

Similarly, I try to avoid situations where there is no “out.” I tend to avoid boats, trains, busses, and airplanes. This isn’t always an option, but every little bit helps.

Sitting Alone

Sometimes, you might find it difficult to join classmates/coworkers at lunch. Unfortunately, people might think it’s weird or rude that you suddenly don’t want to sit with them and enjoy their company. In addition, you might not want to tell them exactly why you aren’t eating with them. If you’re in school, one way to avoid confrontation is to bring homework with you to the cafeteria. Tell your friends that you forgot to complete an assignment or that there’s a test to study for. This doesn’t mean that you actually have to study, but it does mean that people won’t want to bother you and won’t mind that you’re sitting away from your social group. This method also works if you don’t normally sit with people. Your classmates will think you’re just being studious rather than think you have no friends. If you’re in a work environment, tell your coworkers you have a tight deadline and have to work through lunch.