Living with mental or chronic illness is a constant challenge and learning experience. As time goes on we change, we age, our bodies and minds shift in ways we could never have foreseen or prepared for. We freak out about these changes in different ways and we come to accept these newer versions of ourselves, eventually, or we end up continuing to fight to keep what once was. It’s exhausting! The past shapes us, but it is up to us, individually, to process and manage that past in our own ways or forever be held hostage by it. I have been there many times and fight my way through to the present every time. It’s always worth the fight, though the fight feels different every time.
I have PTSD, anxiety and depression. I can’t always control how these affect me on a day to day basis. I’ve never had therapy (never had access, to be honest) and I’ve never tried medication. What I have tried is everything I possibly can do on my own and have learned and seen the results of my self work over the years. To the extent that I’ve had more than one year in a row where my symptoms were almost non-existent. Making peace with the fact that I will always live with these and that they can always pop up or come back when you least expect it has been one of the hardest lessons to learn. I have found that some things work to keep myself going or to help get myself out of my own head or focused on my troubles. Today I offer what I’ve found helps or what I wish others could do or know to better understand and allow more room for compassion and improved communication on both sides.
Schedules and structure in the day: This helps me a lot more than I care to admit, even to myself. When I’m working it’s a no-brainer. I get up and get ready and go to work where I have scheduled breaks and such. When I’m not working I become my own worst enemy. Without those external cues to eat and drink and take breaks I fall back into destructive patterns, specifically with my anorexia. My sleep pattern becomes erratic and my eating habits too. Talk about changes though, my anxiety is now at it’s worst every time I go grocery shopping. I wasn’t sure why until a friend suggested it ties into my last job and how horrific those experiences were having to shop at Whole Foods as a big fat fatty. LOL! I have gotten better about what I buy and consume, though. In my last place I rarely if ever cooked and didn’t enjoy the experience; whereas now I’m finding solace and an almost meditative experience in preparing and cooking my own meals.
Having a quick list, like on my phone or a tiny whiteboard I’ve dedicated to reminding myself of vital things I need to live. When I feel a panic coming on (when I’m lucky enough to feel/see what’s coming, that is) I have a quick list of things that can help me in the moment. It looks like this: Hydrate? Hungry? Tired? Stretch/Power Poses? Caffeine? Tactile? (That one is more about doing something to get me more connected to my body like crunching a carrot or petting my puggo.) Change of venue? (I find when I’m out in public and feeling overwhelmed for whatever reason that simply changing the venue as soon as possible can often prevent a full panic from occurring.) I have friends who also have an anxiety kit or something they keep with them or stash at work or in their car. Whatever it is that you need or might help in the moment, find a way to set yourself up for the best outcomes when you can.
Of course my nearest and dearest know about my issues, and love me just the same, but there are many times where I have felt rejected or left out simply because I wasn’t invited or included in something. Often those same people have very good reasons, like they know I would hate it or it might be too expensive. I gotta say though, while I understand most of the time, it’s still nice to be asked or invited to things. Like, okay, I’m a grown-ass woman and I can decide for myself what I’d like or want to do. So please, keep inviting me to stuff BUT please also don’t take it personally if I do decline, it usually has nothing to do with who is doing the inviting and more to do with how I’m feeling or what I’m dealing with personally. I remember having a full social calendar for a couple of years, but as life events have spun me for a loop, so too have the invites decreased overall and the contact with people I considered near and dear has been (so much) less frequent. That’s a hard one to handle, even still, but people are people and relationships change over time, too.
When friends do get in touch, what often is most difficult for me is what is a routine social norm for them. Specifically, “How are you?” Oooooh that’s a loaded one! Please do not ask folks with chronic illnesses this question. Most often the asker actually doesn’t want to know the truth or it’s said dripping with pity or condescension. Don’t do that! Note your tone but better yet talk about interests and news! Seriously, unless you want me to go back into my head’s hamster wheel of misery and pain and share all of that with you just don’t ask. And if you don’t wanna know, don’t fucking ask! It’s totally okay. Or ask about something specific, “How is your knee injury? I bet you can’t wait to get dancing again. I would like to offer my assistance if there’s anything you’ve been putting off because of your injury.” That is like the best thing! Or offering to accompany me to something I wanna do but would be far too anxious to go to on my own! Yeah…that!
“How are you?” is right up there with, “What do you do?” as in for a job/money earning thing. UGH! Can we let that shit die already?! Instead ask if they have any current obsessions/interests/projects/hobbies. I’d much rather talk about those and most folks would agree. No one wants to hear about my not working for the last 9 months and often feel obligated to offer advice and suggestions and tips or even fucking demands on what I “need to be doing” to get back to work. STOP! Don’t do that. Do not offer unsolicited advice to people, or at least ask first. Also, most people aren’t employed in a field that aligns with their passions. It’s a fallacy to think we’re all heading into our dream jobs everyday. That’s just not a reality. If it’s in a social setting, try sharing something about yourself to relate to others or get a conversation going. If it’s someone you know, share something you’re working on or through or want to do, maybe the other person can help or be excited for you.
Share your good news! Often folks think they shouldn’t share good news with those who are struggling. SHARE!!! Good news can lift others spirits, too, so don’t hold back…but maybe don’t be a dick about it? Like, okay, share your awesome news, but don’t follow it up with a “I’m sure you’ll get there one day” or other shit like that. Don’t! Just share the news, accept their reaction and move the fuck on. I might be happy as hell about your wedding/baby/promotion/whatever, but that doesn’t mean I want your input on whether or not I want those things in my life at all. People often say horrible things with the best of intentions, so be kind and patient, but think before you speak, too.
Having something to look forward to has helped me soooooooooooo much! When I am in my darkest moments it is often because I see nothingness in my future, or worse. Having something to look forward to gets me off of my mind’s terrible hamster wheel and into the blue skies and fluffy white clouds way of thinking…or dresses! Like, what will I wear to X event or whatever. That often cheers me up. Sometimes what I look forward to is simply seeing those I love and getting a chance to spend some time with them. It doesn’t have to be a big expensive affair. I usually prefer just hanging out, catching up, playing games (board, cards or video) or watching a movie and then discussing it after! So fun! Right now I’m looking forward to a wedding, a party, a photo shoot, a trip to the zoo and a hang out/brainstorming session with friends. All good things! But a month ago I had zero to look forward to and it was sucking my will to live!
It can be difficult to love people with mental or chronic illnesses, but what’s most important is letting them know how much they mean to you. Telling them you love them, they matter, are important and valued can change their whole day or better! Check on those you care about. When they pop into your head because you saw a funny thing or cute animal, text them or email and let them know and have a chuckle together. I often find myself thinking of friends I love so deeply but I end up avoiding contact with them because I fear saying the wrong thing or scaring them off. Email is my preferred method of communication (I’m a wordy bitch!), and I want to get back into sending quick emails to those who come to my mind and heart in those moments. I also enjoy writing letters and silly stationary, it helps me feel more connected to the real world and there is nothing better than a handwritten letter or card in the mail when you only ever get bills!
I hope these help, I’m obviously no expert in anything, but I do find that they have helped me and some I’ve never expressed before so it feels good to share them here with you. I love people, as difficult as that can be when I have the illnesses that I do, but they lift me up so much! So thank you for being there and reading this and checking on me. It really helps! So please don’t stop! Drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave comment with a thought or a struggle or whatever. Human connection is vital for my survival, helping others fuels me and gets me out of my head and feel less pressure and stress. So much happens in such small amounts of time that you just never know what others are dealing with. I hope we can all connect and share some love and compassion with our fellow humans during our short lifespans.
Rad Fatty Love,
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