Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene
HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Rene” is a pseudonym.
I’ve been reading Homeschoolers Anonymous since the very beginning and really love this community. Perhaps now I can give a little back! I want to tackle the writing prompt number five: “Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness.”
My background in mental illness involves a family riddled with various mental health challenges, all exacerbated by the isolation of homeschooling, poverty, and living in another country.
My personal “mental health profile” includes OCD, Tourette Syndrome, general and social anxiety, recurrent episodes of depression that at one point led to several months of being suicidal, and many years of disordered eating. I’ve never had access to therapy, but the last few years have seen steady progress toward greater and greater quality of life for me. There are so many variables and things you can try and I love the way the internet gives access to so much support and knowledge and research, though it can be overwhelming at times!
The things that have been most helpful for me personally have been:
1. I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were normal reactions to extreme stress and trauma.
It was okay for me to be in pain and not functioning well, just like it would be okay for me not to be capable of running with a broken leg.
2. I started learning to celebrate small, even minuscule, victories.
It might seem ridiculous in the grip of depression-fueled cynicism, but keeping a daily gratitude journal or literally patting yourself on the back for, say, going outside on a one-minute walk, can over time add up to big improvements in self-care habits. As a former fundamentalist, I had to get over the habit of bashing myself for my deficiencies and weaknesses. Instead, I just recognize that if I am struggling and still manage to do something beneficial, then that is awesome and time to celebrate!
3. I learned some things about diet and what my body needed.
Vitamin D3 supplementation is what I credit with getting me out of the suicidal hole I was in. Since then I have learned a lot more about what my body needs, including that I can’t do gluten and that as long as I eat a balanced, no-grain diet I no longer struggle with binge eating. It turned out that most of my eating disorder was physiologically-based and getting over that has had many ripple effects on my happiness.
4. Living simply but in a consciously hedonistic way, that is, simple living in order to promote pleasure, not deprivation, has been and continues to be one of the ways I care for my mental and physical health.
It has helped a lot with my OCD and Tourette Syndrome, though leaving my parents’ house several years ago and no longer being constantly on edge from emotional abuse also helped erase most of my symptoms.
5. I consciously try to treat myself well.
If I would not yell at a stranger or child or friend for doing something, then why yell at myself for doing it? This helps a lot with my social anxiety and the guilt I tend to feel when I make faux pas, which has in turn helped me gain more and more confidence and make a lot more and better relationships.
These are the main things that have helped me.
It’s been four years now since I hit rock bottom and thought life would never get any better, four years since everything looked black and despairing, and now I’m pretty damn happy. I never knew it was possible to be so consistently happy and resilient — and I purposely am not using the Christianese “joyful” here — I mean happy, not gritting-my-teeth-determined-to-be thankful.
I hope that if you are struggling my story gives you a little bit of hope.
Be excellent to yourself.