Invest in some soothing décor for your surroundings. You can do this very cheaply by finding pictures in nature magazines or old calendars and buy a nice frame. Fake plants work well, too. Plants are known to make people feel calmer, and you don’t even have to remember to water the artificial ones.
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?
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.
I don’t talk about self-injury (SI) much, but since it was a significant portion of my life for awhile, and I know others might struggle with this, I want to tell you about my coping mechanisms.
By now, I’ve mostly overcome cutting. I’m not going to lie- there are some times where I miss it. To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I found it soothing. If I had to guess, it might be because I liked taking care of something I could see. You can’t see mental illness, but would a healthy person destroy their forearms and thighs with a pocket knife? It was like I had to prove to myself that I was sick. And then, when I was done with my routine, I’d clean myself up, like I had fixed something. I haven’t found anything healthy that will truly replace that feeling (here’s to hoping that you do!); instead, I’ve come up with a few things that are physical and can distract me until the feeling passes.
One strategy I use is to carry around fidget toys. The best ones are the ones that hurt, but don’t pierce the skin. Guitar picks are small and feel almost like a knife. They’re very small and you can put them in your pocket. They’re also pretty cheap and rather normal to carry around. You can get a can of 20 here or go to any music store.
In addition, coating your skin with eucalyptus oil or rubbing alcohol wipes creates a tingling sensation.
Again, it might not always help, but each step is better than no step at all.
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.
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.
3. People don’t care as much as you think they do.
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.
I’ve developed a coping mechanism that I like to call the “Just a Taste” process. It began when I gained about 60 lbs during the first year of taking an anti-psychotic. I started to watch my weight obsessively, making sure I didn’t gain more, making sure than I didn’t eat one calorie more than I needed.
I don’t think I need to tell you how much that failed. If I’m craving a particular food, I can’t stop obsessing about it. I build it up in my brain to be something it’s not, not a food, yet another limitation I have from being sick. However, if I always give in, I immediately gain weight and sink further into a depression. This cycle haunts me and has been responsible for some of my deepest regrets.
So what do I do about it now? I give in, but just a little bit. For example, today I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts (a chain of fast food coffee shops) and was really craving a doughnut. I can’t even tell you why, but today I just needed to have one. Instead of denying myself a doughnut and becoming depressed, I instead ordered a Munchkin. It’s like a doughnut, but smaller. It gives me the satisfaction of a doughnut without the guilt. I got “just a taste.”
You can do this with most food items. Do you really want a Snickers? Grab a fun size version. Want a Coke? Grab one of those mini cans. Once you have a taste of the thing you’re craving, it loses its power. I got my doughnut, and I can move on.
Sometimes, 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
When all of my other coping mechanisms fail, I take an OTC sleep aid and fall asleep. [NOTE: Please consult with your doctor first to make sure this is ok.] It’s not my go-to solution, but it’s better than launching myself into a psychotic episode that might last for days.
Change the screen background on your phone or other devices to something you enjoy or find funny. That way, every time you look at your screen, you’ll be reminded of the good in life.
One of the best things I’ve ever done for myself is to get a cat. He calms me down when feeling anxious. Sometimes when I’m feeling manic, he comes and sits on my lap and I’m reluctant to move him because he’s sleeping. I also use him to check for hallucinations. If I see something, I throw a toy in its direction. If my cat notices it on his way to fetch the toy, that means it’s real. If he passes by it, then I know that it’s a hallucination. It’s not a fool-proof method, but in my experience, it works. You can check out where to find local shelter animals at Petfinder.com