Since I’ve begun sharing how I went from Pastor to psych ward, people often ask about my recovery.
Everyone wants to know, is there a single solution? Where does the magic lie? How do they get their own lives (or their loved ones’) back? Or, as others have said,
“What is the one thing that made you want to start living again?”
The truth is, there is no magic formula, but here are some intentional steps that made my life better. I am not a professional therapist, and everyone has a different recovery story. I can only share from my own experience. Here are eight steps that helped me recover after my suicide attempt.
If I had cancer, you can bet I would take chemo. I might also listen to the naturopath’s advice to drink special juices and cut out refined sugars, or to follow the path of meditation to wholeness. But I would still take chemo.
Mental illness is a real thing. A disease. When the doctor says the chemicals in your brain aren’t firing correctly and a certain medication will help level you out, listen to the doctor.
It took a few tries to find the meds that were right for me, but it’s worth the hassle. Some made me too sleepy, some made me too grumpy, but eventually we settled on meds that helped me find my new normal.
Again, I’m no professional, but I didn’t rely on my primary care physician to help me sort out the complicated maze of mental health. A person wouldn’t go to their family doctor for cancer treatment, so why would we do that for psychiatric needs?
Figuring out the winding, ruthless road of mental illness all on your own is nearly impossible. After my suicide attempt, spending time with a professional saved my marriage and, ultimately, my life.
3. STOP APOLOGIZING.
When my son was a toddler, he went through a very difficult time with his stomach. Frequently, he would vomit and make major messes. Each time, he would cry. “Dada,” he would say, “I’m sorry I frowed up.” My son couldn’t control having stomach trouble any more than I can control a panic attack in the middle of the work day. Both are inconvenient and problematic, but I wouldn’t choose anxiety or depression any more than someone would willingly choose to vomit.
I don’t owe anyone an apology for my mental illness. You don’t, either.
4. FIND A STRONG SUPPORT SYSTEM.
There are those who care about your soul, and there are those who only care to know what’s going on. It’s important to know the difference. Surround yourself with those who are willing to walk with you through the hard days. Be gracious with those who love you, but can’t help you.
5. GET GOOD, SOLID, UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP.
Insomnia is a hell of a thing, but when you are able to sleep, choosing not to sleep is true craziness. Don’t stay up all hours of the night to binge on your favorite show or read just one more chapter. Our bodies require uninterrupted sleep. When you are tired, your symptoms will be worse.
If you’re not interested in sleep medication, read more about sleep hygiene to create a good routine around sleep. Deep breathing exercises or meditation can also be helpful. Or you can trying reading the King James Bible–I promise, I’ll have you snoring quickly!
6. EAT NOURISHING FOODS ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE.
I’m a busy guy, and I’ve never been a big breakfast eater. See how I just made two excuses? No more excuses. Low blood sugar mimics anxiety, and sugar crashes feel a lot like depression. Take your nutrition seriously.
As a person with mental illness, I don’t need any other triggers to make me feel out of it. I have to control what I can, and I can control my diet. I can eat at reasonable intervals.
I’m not saying you have to join a gym, or post before and after pictures on social media. I’m just saying to eat as healthy as you can and as regularly as you can. It will help you feel better and get the most out of your day.
Exercise helps so many people. A person does not have to go extreme to reap the benefits, either. A nice walk around the block for a few minutes on a sunny afternoon can changed my entire perspective.
8. FOCUS ON THE RECOVERY, NOT THE STIGMA.
The stigma of mental illness sucks. But worse is not getting better. And all any of us really want, is to get better. Remember this: you are not your diagnosis. I used my diagnosis to design a recovery plan that helped me to keep moving forward. Mental illness is not a death sentence.
Previously published by Kindnessblog, used with permission.
Photo by Creative Ignition