There are two schools of thought out there about how you should treat yourself if you are mentally ill. One says that you should go easy and not try to stress yourself too much. The other says you should push your mind and body harder and be tough with your weaknesses.
There are pluses and minuses to both approaches. I should know, I’ve followed both. I spent the better part of my life coddling my mind and giving in to its wishes. I felt weak and defeated most of the time and my life never went anywhere.
Recently I’ve been a bit more brutal with myself. I often push myself to the limit of my strength. The result is that I crash without warning and am out of commission for some time.
What’s the best way?
Everybody says to take it easy, even the Eagles
Most of the time, when diagnosed with a chronic mental illness, doctors suggest you practice self-care and not tax your mind too much. Stress often makes symptoms worse. Strain can skyrocket your anxiety, and after you come down from the rush, depression can set in.
I notice that I have hallucinations only in times of high stress. Most people will tell you that the worst symptoms only appear when they’ve pushed themselves too hard.
This is especially true if you are a highly sensitive person (HSP). We tend to shut down after periods of too much physical and mental stimulation. We know more than most that we can’t push too hard or we will be in a horrible mental state.
The prescription for stress is to remove it from your life. We remove anything that can cause tension. We do things that are low impact. It’s no wonder that many people with mental health issues are shut-ins and introverts.
Dealing with difficult people is too much for us, so we tend to close ourselves off and put up walls so no one can get in
It’s a lonely life.
Pushing yourself has its benefits
After many years of going easy on yourself, you may decide that you need to get your mind and body in line. You may start being tougher.
I did. I got tired of the daily pity parties my mind was throwing. I was sick of hearing myself complain. I blamed everyone for my problems except the one person who held all the cards.
Me. That person was me.
I stopped putting up with my crap. Every time I had a negative thought, I counteracted it with a positive one. I stopped the constant complaining and bellyaching. I held myself accountable for my own happiness and fulfillment.
Nobody but yourself is to blame if you don’t feel successful.
When you develop this kind of attitude, you start to push and prod the weak mind and body to do what you want it to do. All coddling stops and accountability starts.
The problems arise when you push too hard for too long. If you are mentally ill, you can only push yourself so far before something breaks. Your sensitive mind can only accept so much input before it shuts down completely.
I will hustle non-stop, ignoring the warning signs that my mind has had enough for now. Then I wake one morning unable to move or function. I’m completely unable to do anything productive to get myself out of the rabbit hole.
Sometimes it takes time.
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle
Which approach is better? Should you take it easy, or push yourself mercilessly?
Like with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Instead of ignoring what’s going on, you must be aware of what’s happening in your body and mind. Mindfulness is key when mental illness is a fact of life.
Take an inventory several times a day and see how your mind and body are faring under pressure. Pressure is okay as long as you pay attention to yourself.
We get the idea from doctors and well-meaning friends and family that we shouldn’t push ourselves at all. But the easy road is no way to live. Interaction is the spice of life. With interaction comes stress. You can’t be afraid of feeling emotion, and you can’t fear pushing yourself to succeed.
But, know when you’ve reached your limit and back off. Set up your life so that you can decompress when everything gets to be too much for your sensitive brain.
Writing is the perfect job because if you need a break, there is no one to tell you no. But, not everyone is lucky enough to support themselves with their writing yet. They have to show up somewhere every day.
If this is you, it’s in your best interests that the people you work for know of your situation. They need to know that you need to take breaks. They need to understand that sometimes you can’t show up for work, as much as we want to. If you have a severe mental illness, people need to know about it.
If your job won’t accommodate you, it’s time to find another. Workplaces are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to handling employees with mental health issues.
It doesn’t matter if you are a full-time writer, or if you commute to the city and sit at a desk for 8 hours. You have to pay attention to the signals that your mind and body are sending you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, but also don’t be too soft. Keep yourself under control, but know your limits. It’s a fine tightrope to walk, but you have to do it if you are mentally ill.
Life for us is different, and until there is a cure, we need to understand how to live our lives successfully.
You can do it. It’s not an easy road, but the easy road is never the road to success!