Mental health treatment: 7 truths for the journey towards healing

I came across a pretty inspiring book the other day. The book, Beating Bipolar, by Blake Levine, was located during my search to help a client who seemed to be stuck processing her bipolar disorder diagnosis. Recalling his own story of his healing journey, Levine provides an impressive account of how he managed to turn his bipolar diagnosis into strength by guiding others with this illness as a professional life coach.

Bipolar disorder is a condition previously termed ‘manic depression’ because the person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between. Mania can involve racing thoughts and speech, irritability and little need for sleep that is not just a fleeting experience. Sometimes the person loses touch with reality and has episodes of psychosis involving hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there) or delusions (for e.g. the person believing he or she has superpowers). The combination of mania and depression can feel like a dangerous and destructive emotional rollercoaster.

Bipolar disorder, and in fact any mental illness, is described by Levine as a disease of choices. You can choose to take one path or another, and there will be many crossroads along the way. Ultimately, you have to choose whether you will stay stuck inside your own world of pain, or whether you are prepared to work towards emotional stability. This is your choice to make and no one can make it for you. As Levine notes, you cannot pop a pill and declare yourself well. Proper healing is not that simple. True, genuine healing is about being selective of how to live your life and adhering to those values.

In the process of exploring, learning and eventually accepting what it means to have a mental health condition, the book asks an individual to answer 7 truths. They are:

1. Accept or reject your illness. Any doctor or psychologist can give a diagnosis and tell you all about it, but you have to be the one to acknowledge it. And that takes an incredible amount of courage. Not for the sake of accepting a ‘label’ but rather in order to seek the correct treatment. By not being invested enough to take on the meaning of the diagnosis, chances are you will become stuck.

2. Accept or reject the work that comes with bipolar disorder (or your diagnosis). Life with a mental health condition can be so challenging that it appears insurmountable and unfair. It is true that maneuvering through substandard mental health units is devastating (and at times traumatising) for most people. However, being able to overcome the setbacks and learn from them, in order to continue to work towards emotional stability (and avoid inpatient mental health units in the process) creates an inner strength that will be able to see you through the lowest points of your life.

3. Accept or reject that you will most likely need medication. For bipolar, medication to tame the mania and lift the depression (and therefore bring increased emotional stability) can be highly effective. However, only if it is used consistently by sticking to the regime over time. Medication must be maintained even when you start to feel better. Finding the right combination takes time, persistence and patience (and close monitoring by your psychiatrist or treating doctor). Weight gain, a common side effect of medication, can throw extra challenges your way, however until emotional stability is achieved, attaining other goals will be futile.

4. Accept or reject that you’ll need therapy and peer support. Levine writes “We share many trials as bipolar individuals, but isolation may be the most profound among them. Feeling alone is a universal experience for people with any mental illness, particularly this one. Not surprisingly, there are many reasons for it. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed about your mood swings and the past damage linked to your illness that you don’t reach out to others. Or maybe you have too many bottled up feelings stemming from other personal baggage to connect easily. Whatever the driving force, working with a mental health professional will help you sort out your issues and learn to connect with people”.

5. Accept or reject that your family’s participation and role in your life and illness might have to be modified to suit your healing. Emotionally stable people have a support network. We all need one, no exceptions. If you have nourishing, strong bonds with your family members, they will play a crucial role in your healing. However, there could also be some family dynamics causing considerable pain and stress and you will be the one to decide whether you can rely on the people in your current network for the long haul. If there are things getting in the way of your connection with them then you will need to find and create a different type of support system. This need is critical for living life in a connected way.

6. Accept or reject that you have to change aspects of your lifestyle. The reality of the situation is this: your mental health condition and any medications you are on do not mix well with drinking and substance abuse. These both cloud your thinking and impair your decision making. If your moods are not regulated yet, they can be lethal. Even having a drink now and then should be discussed with your doctor. Abstinence or moderation combined with a healthy diet, exercise and plenty of sleep are part of living healthy with a mental health condition.

7. Accept or reject that Bipolar (or your diagnosis) isn’t an end; it’s a beginning. The choice is yours. Levine states that the knee jerk reaction to mental illness is to run, particularly if you feel there is nothing to be gained by fighting. But he states that every time we experience pain, we have a chance to see that our struggles in our lives are put here in order to teach us lessons and help us grow. You are stronger than you think, and as long as you have courage, you will face whatever comes your way. The payoff, according to Levine, is to have a life filled with the affirming 4 H’s:
Hope
Health
Happiness
Healing
Whatever your individual journey and constraints, to work towards wellness will allow you to master your illness and your life, and that has to be worth the fight. Staying balanced takes time, patience and unwavering commitment, however hopefully if you are up for the task you too can start the healing journey right now, without wasting another minute, by listening to, exploring and accepting some of these truths. I wish you wellness and great success in your quest for what we are all searching for in life: Hope, Health, Happiness and Healing.

Sources:
Beating Bipolar by Blake Levine
Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au

By: Alison Lenehan
Psychologist

Just “Be happy” ?

by May Lim
Registered Psychologist
Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre

 

happiness

When someone says to you “Be happy”, does this actually help you to feel happy?

I think it is much more helpful to think of and engage in activities that promote happiness and a positive wellbeing.

Helping others

Have you had that feeling of ‘good’ when you have given a helping hand to another person? Call it satisfaction, sense of pride, glee, contentment, delight or appreciation. Whatever it is, there is a positive experience when help is given to a need identified. It feels nice to know you are able to impact someone else’s moment in a helpful way that is genuine and sincere.

This may involve providing companionship to another person.
Helping with a practical task.
Asking someone “Are you okay?”
Showing generosity towards someone just because.
Being available, interested and attentive to someone needing support.
Connecting people to others who can help in a more specific way.
Giving a hug or two…or three
Doing that important task that nobody wants
Sharing what you have or know with others

Deliberate acts of kindness adds to the wellbeing of many…yourself included.

Being good at giving and accepting compliments

When you notice something you like, admire or respect about someone, tell them.

Perhaps someone you know has a new haircut that makes you do a double take. Maybe you are pleasantly surprised by a new attitude someone has developed. You may have just witnessed newfound courage in another being. Someone you know has completed a project that they worked tirelessly on. You have just tasted a home-cooked meal that is so.good.you.need.to.have.the.recipe.

There is nothing wrong with being quietly impressed but there is certainly something positive and pleasant that happens when you articulate this in the form of a compliment to the person you’re impressed by. Maybe it’s the look of their face when they light up; the smile they break into; hearing it’s their first experience of being complimented or even your experience of wanting the other person to know your positive thoughts about them.

How good are you at accepting compliments? When someone gives you praise, do you feel embarrassed; politely dismiss it; create distraction by automatically highlighting something less positive about yourself or even reverse the attention by pointing out a positive element about the other person?

When you are on the receiving end of a compliment, do well at accepting it.
It means someone has noticed something positive about you.

Be in the company of kind and optimistic people

Wherever and whenever possible, surround yourself with others who are kind to you. The way someone treats you will usually leave imprints on your wellbeing. When you experience kindness, it’s likely you will feel something positive whether it be happiness, encouragement, gratitude, care, pleasant surprise, feeling blessed or even a desire to reciprocate that kindness in return to others.

Gravitating towards optimistic attitudes also adds to one’s wellbeing. When you are in the company of people who are hopeful, encouraging and give more attention and weight to past, present and future positive events, your own attitude will usually see an increase in optimism too. Optimistic thinking can be contagious; it breeds hope especially through challenging times though it needs to be practiced and experienced continuously for it to stay. Therefore, keeping optimistic company will contribute to the growth and maintenance of your own optimism.

Do something you enjoy

It is no surprise that most people’s wellbeing and happiness are enhanced during holidays. No alarm clocks ringing at some ungodly hour. Work and school schedules can take their own holiday. All of a sudden, time seems to work in your favour more often than not. Thinking of each tomorrow brings greater feelings of anticipation, relaxation and joy.

The message being conveyed here is to carve out regular time for yourself to do something that you enjoy. This can take the shape of whatever brings you pleasure. Take that holiday, day-trip or one hour break that would do wonders for you. Bake that chocolate molten cake. Watch a funny YouTube video clip. Go for a jog listening to your favourite music. Play a game with your family. Spend the day in your pyjamas at home. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a picturesque view. Whatever it is, making a regular priority for things you enjoy can help to give you experiences of reward, respite, excitement, rejuvenation and change.

Grateful Reflection

If there’s time for eating, driving, showering or other aspects of your daily routine, consider setting aside time for grateful reflection. This is when you think of things you feel grateful for and reflect on their place in your life and its’ meaning for you. More importance should be placed on the quality of your reflection time rather than on its quantity. What aspects of your life give you a sense of gratitude? What are your positive qualities? Who are the people in your world you appreciate? What past, current and future events in your life contribute to any feelings of gratefulness you have? What are the highlights of your day/week/month? Who said something nice to you and what did they say? What are the things/experiences/people you have in your life but take for granted at times? What wishes and goals did you have in the past and eventually managed to fulfil?

Reflecting on such questions can create mental shifts and magnify areas of your life that you truly feel fortunate about.

Be forever young

Growing older can bring a multitude of blessings, some of which may include wisdom, growth and experience. There are aspects of youth that one can retain or revive at any age, perhaps with more meaning and added confidence as time passes.

Take chances in life. Change the scenery in your life if that is something you have been wanting.

“Dance like nobody’s watching”. Leave self-consciousness behind. Take that last slice of cake without any guilt. Live life the way you want it. Run your own race. Create your own happiness. Being different is completely fine.

Be curious. Continue your exploration and learning in any form you like. Ask questions. Read widely. Strike up conversation with people from different ages and backgrounds. Visit places old and new. Learn a new skill. Reminisce on fond memories from your past.

Have fun. Follow that urge to play on the playground and swing on that swing. Maybe it’s time to revive an old pastime. Laugh lots and out loud.

What will you do today to look after your happiness and wellbeing?

May Lim is a Registered Psychologist at Alpha Psychology and The Resilience Centre.
Visit her site @maylim