10 Survival Tips for Living With a Mental Illness

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Wendy Enberg

After years of living with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve managed to compile a list of useful tips that hopefully will help others survive the mental illness journey they’ve found themselves on. Mental illness is like any other illness, and over time you learn to manage it as best as you can. The only expert I claim to be is on myself, but I hope these help you.

1. Find a psychologist or psychiatrist who treats you with compassion and respect.

This is harder than it sounds. I’ve gone through a few because most of the psychiatrists I’ve seen were via the emergency room or while in treatment. I struggled to find one who would see me on an ongoing basis. But I finally found one who has been my doctor for the last two years, and the consistency has been wonderful. He’s seen me through a 23-day stint at a treatment facility, several med changes and has witnessed both my successes and my relapses. Having him there for all the ups and downs has been one of the only consistent things in my life.

2. Once you find a treatment plan that works, stick to it. 

I have a wide assortment of meds that I take to help manage my condition and there’s some side effects I don’t like. But I follow what’s given to me until I see my doctor again. There was a time I thought I could manage my own medication, and I ended up in hospital. I’ve learned to speak up when something doesn’t seem right, but stick to what’s working.

3. Trust your gut. 

I learned to listen to myself. I know when things are going downhill and when I should reach out for help. When I stop showering, miss work or cry uncontrollably I know it’s time to pull in my supports. I used to believe I could pull myself out of it on my own, but have come to understand it’s not that easy. I don’t have to try to climb out of the hole on my own.

4. Practice self-care.

This is a tough one. I’m damn good at loving and nurturing others, but find it difficult to do the same for myself. It helps when I imagine myself as someone else who I’m helping through a difficult time. I tell myself to go easy and get plenty of rest. I have to admit that it doesn’t always work, but at least I try.

5. Find a purpose.For me, that purpose has been helping others going through the journey of mental illness. I volunteer my time to organizations that help raise awareness for mental health issues. and speak openly about my own struggles for others who may be finding their own way. Giving back to others makes me feel better about myself and gives me a reason for going on.

6. Accept love into your life.

When you come from a place without love and acceptance, it’s hard to believe you’re worthy of it at all. I’m here to tell you that you are. We all deserve to have love and kindness. There are people in this world who are good, kind and generous, and those are the people you want on your team to help you heal.

7. Accept yourself for the beautiful and unique person that you are.

You are not weak. You have incredible gifts to offer the world – and you need to stick around to give them. If you have intense emotions, it’s part of what makes you who you are. It’s OK to accept those parts of yourself.

8. Connect with people who are going through similar issues. 

Therapy and group counseling saved my life. Finding like-minded individuals in group therapy was like finding my peeps. I felt accepted and wanted for the first time in my life. There’s many group therapies out there, and I’d encourage anyone to check it out.

9. Learn to advocate for yourself.

Mental health services are tricky to navigate. Sometimes we start with our family doctor, but don’t stop there! Educate yourself about the treatment options that are available in your area. Join discussion groups online to find out what services might be helpful for you on your journey.

10. Never give up on yourself.

There’s going to be times when the pain seems unbearable and you won’t know how you can possibly go on. But you can. Rest if you must, but soldier on. Remember you are not alone.

 

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