I Did It And So Can You – How To Get Through Tough Times
When life has slipped behind this isolation“Sophia” – The Crüxshadows
Cruelty & hatred have become
The cause of those whose eyes are full of wanting
The truth will still abandon none…
So you must carry this light into the darkness
You shall be a star unto the night
You will find hope alive among the hopeless
That is your purpose to this life
I’ve been contemplating if I should write yet another post about mental health. Then I kicked myself in the butt because damn it, I am a mental health advocate and I should never hesitate to talk about mental illness and mental health! I’ve realized that a lot of my posts come across as if I am always struggling. I am not. I have good moments. And also, I have survived 38 years of hell on earth so far, and I know a thing or two about how to get through tough times. One’s own experiences can seem a bit subjective though: what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you.
Through my volunteer work, years of medication and therapy approaches, and a plethora of diagnosis (currently we are at Bipolar Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety – yay me!), I have gathered quite a lot of knowledge. While I don’t like the idea of advice, at all, there are a few tips that I think might be helpful for those who struggle with mental illness or go through a difficult time in life.
Honestly, if there is one area that I could call myself an expert in, it is probably survival. So here it goes, a list of things I’d suggest to someone who is going through a tough time.
Moments, Not The Big Picture
If you are going through a terrible time, don’t think about the future. This is not the right time to do so. The future might seem scary, or you can’t even imagine one. Thinking about the future will lead to your brain going into overdrive and you will end up more hopeless and more helpless. All those sad, anxious, depressive, self-destructive thoughts will take over. Fuck the future. The only thing that matters when you are struggling badly, is to survive. The only thing that you really can do anything about, is the now.
This probably sounds bleak. But let me be real with you. You can’t change the past. You don’t know what the future will be like. All you can actively do is to affect the present. And when you are struggling, that present can be pretty much shit. And that sucks. But you can get through this one moment. Getting through one moment is not as overwhelming as thinking about what you need to get done to have a good future. Strip yourself off all that, just focus on the now. You can get through the now.
And it is not only that. We tend to generalize about the state of our lives. No matter how shitty things are, you will have happy moments. I love the concept of happy moments. It means that you can not deny the possibility that you will laugh, smile or be happy again, if only for a short moment. And think, all the happy moments that lay ahead of you! This is often what keeps me afloat: the thought of those possible happy moments.
Distractions and Coping
You know what works for you, you just never realized that what you are doing is a coping strategy. That is something that has always confused me. People say that they don’t know how to get through bad times, yet, they made it through them in the past. You know what works for you already, you just need to change your perspective.
Think about what soothes you. Do you like spending time with your pet? Masturbating? Watching Netflix? Going for a walk? Cooking? Sitting down with a cup of tea and a good book? You already know what would make you feel better. You have the skillset already, you just need to look at what has worked in the past, it might work now too.
The best thing to do to get through hard moments, or to survive a period of anxiety, depression or distress, is to distract yourself. I know it doesn’t sort the root of your problem, it doesn’t make you face what you need to face. But when things are at their worst, you most likely don’t have the strength for that anyway. It is totally okay to just mindlessly distract yourself. Read, play video games, do puzzles, draw, write. Do things that will keep your mind off what is making you feel bad. I promise you, most crisis I have been through, I have gotten through because I didn’t stare at a wall and wallow in my misery (but oh, how much I wanted to give up and just do that!). I distracted myself.
There is No Forever Feeling
I can understand that it sometimes feels like what you are going through is never going to change. You feel like you are going to feel like this forever. But look at what I just said: it feels like that. But the truth of the matter is; nothing lasts forever. The anxiety you are experiencing right now? The sadness that is swallowing you? The hopelessness that is trying to break your mind? It will pass.
Now, I have had periods where I felt like what I am experiencing has gone on forever. But looking back, I realized that there were breaks. I might have been in depression, but I still laughed at a stupid comedy. I might have had anxiety, but I still was able to breathe out while taking a shower. There are breaks, and eventually, those breaks will become longer, or the feeling you are experiencing right now will be replaced by another one.
The same is true for mental illness. Even if you suffer from a chronic illness, there are good times, and there are bad times. The intensity of what you are struggling with, changes. Sometimes it can get really really bad. And you know what, those times will probably come again. But! There will also be be times when you are feeling better. Just like happy moments, those times of less intense struggles, are worth fighting and waiting for.
I know that you are not supposed to say that, because it can take away hope from people. But psychiatry is pretty useless. I am not saying that there aren’t people who work in psychiatry that want to help you. There are good people out there. But psychiatry is still in its toddler days. It is not an exact science, diagnosis is often arbitrary. And medication? Don’t even get me started on that! They don’t know why antidepressants work, did you know that? And the success rate of even the most “successful” antidepressants or antipsychotics is about 30%! Not to mention the side effects. Did you know that Seroquel can cause diabetes or sudden death? Did you know that Prozac can give you suicidal thoughts? That some antipsychotics can give you life-long neurological issues?
Psychology is the same. There are therapies that are in fashion, but that doesn’t mean they work for everyone. CBT, EMDR, DBT. All funky fun names, but the success rate is never 100. (You can read up on the success rate of CBT here).
If you are struggling with mental illness, you will get in touch with psychiatry. And that is okay, they most likely won’t kill you. But my most important tip here is: be involved in your treatment plan. Do not blindly follow doctor’s orders, read up on the medication they prescribed, ask questions, questions, questions. And switch doctors or therapists if they are not helpful or are on a power trip. It sucks that it has to be that way. But you need to be involved and informed to get the best help possible. There is help out there, it is about finding what works for you, and making sure that you are not doing something just because a doc told you to.
Sometimes You Need Professional Help
There are times when you need to go to the hospital. There is no way around it. Psych units ar terrible places filled with despair and psychiatrists and nurses on powertrips. I know, I know. But hear me out. It is about getting through that one moment. And if that one moment equals suicidality or psychosis, you need to go to the hospital. Those two things are an emergency, and you need help to stay safe.
I have had absolutely horrific experiences at psych hospitals. I am probably traumatized because of some of them. But if I were in any actual danger to myself, if I were scared of myself, I would always consider going to a psychiatric emergency room. And yet again, while there are rotten eggs, there are definitely great people working at psych hospitals too. I have met wonderful nurses and understanding doctors. Not the majority of them, but there were some!
Here is one very important tip: if you are at a psychiatric emergency room already, and you are being assessed, never ever say that you don’t want to be admitted. They will section you, meaning they will put you in a psychiatric unit against your will. They will literally strip you off your human rights. Scary, eh? Yes, it is, and if you are unfortunate, you will meet a doc on a power trip that forces meds on you, or won’t let you leave.
Instead, be mindful about how you express yourself. Saying “I rather not be admitted, but if you think that is the best idea at the moment, then I voluntarily admit myself to the hospital, of course!”. Boom, you are in control. And who knows, maybe a night or two at the hospital will be good for you, and if not, you are the one who decides if you leave or not!
You Are Awesome But You Are Not Unique, Special or Different
Don’t I sound like an asshole? Haha. What I mean with this is that you are not the exception. Most people in depression, or who have anxiety, or who have been through trauma, think similar thoughts: I am worthless, I am a burden, no one cares, it is all my fault, it is never going to get better. Sounds familiar, eh?
The thing is: everyone deserves care and support, no one is worthless because just your existence as a human being gives you worth. The only person who is at fault in an abusive situation, is the abuser. And things will change. We can all agree on that those things apply to everyone. But for some reason, when we are not doing well, we think we are the exception. We think our situation, who we are, what we are struggling with, is unique or so different, that those general truths don’t apply to us.
But those general truths apply even to you, to me, to your neighbour. Once you have accepted that, it can so much easier to question those automatic negative thoughts that pop up!
Reach Out And Speak Up
Wouldn’t it be rad if people were able to read our minds and always knew exactly what we needed? Unfortunately they can’t. Having a support system is absolutely vital to be able to get through tough times. Family, partners, friends, professionals, your pet, your priest. But you can’t build up a support system, or get the kind of support that you know would help you, if you don’t speak up about what is going on with you.
I know how hard it is to take that step. That dreadful fear of judgment! We don’t want others to think that we are weak. There is so much stigma around mental illness, so we can’t expect that people would understand or be supportive. I get it! I am only semi-open about my mental illness with people in real life. But the harsh truth is: if you don’t open your mouth or reach out, then then you might have to continue to struggle with your hell alone.
You deserve support and care. You are not a burden, but you are always an asset to people in one way or another. You can get through hard moments. Your feelings won’t last forever. There is help out there and you can be in control of what that helps looks like. I know that mental illness sucks, believe me. I know what despair feels like. But I also know that it is possible to get through the toughest times, and that happy moments might just be worth continuing the fight for.