In our family, we do kind. We do hugs. We do trust. We do second chances. We do loud (really well)! We do love. We also do mental illness—with its accompanying therapy appointments, teacher meetings, medication, misunderstandings, and near-constant uncertainty of how to navigate a world whose opinions and judgments shouldn’t matter, but do anyway.
With an alphabet soup of collected diagnoses that look something like this: MDD-OCD-GAD-SPCD-SPS-DMDD-SPD-ADHD-PTSD, you might be tempted to call us a hot mess. We, however, prefer the term “neurodiverse.” My particular portion of the alphabet is MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
These are not my favorite genetic gifts. The blue eyes, I was good with. The long fingers for playing the piano? Great! But those first two? They have pushed me to the brink and threatened to send me over it more times than I can count. While I did not choose for myself or my children to experience mental illness, I am grateful that we can find meaning in our experience by sharing what we have learned.
Below are some of my favorite strategies and resources for understanding and managing mental illness. I hope you find them helpful.
- Know what you’re up against. Fear and stigma are often the result of misunderstanding. Learn about your and/or your loved one’s illness. Spend 5 or 10 minutes on one of the following websites to get a better understanding of what you’re facing: NAMI, The Mighty, Child Mind.
- Consider lifestyle adjustments. Good nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, less screen time (especially before bed), self-care/self-compassion and sleep are critical components of mental health. Start small. Choose one thing to focus on at a time. My favorite tool right now for making lifestyle changes is the Best Self Journal. It is a very simple three-month journal that features a lot of positive psychology strategies, such as having a routine, setting and achieving goals, and a twice-daily gratitude reflection.
- Practice Mindfulness. Simply put, this has been the most effective strategy for me. Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening as it is happening. This may sound simple, but there is a reason it’s called mindfulness “practice.” Spending a few minutes each day practicing mindfulness can strengthen our ability to remain in the present. It also increases our tolerance for, and acceptance of, the fact that everyone experiences negative thoughts and emotions, and it is our reaction to them and not the thoughts and emotions themselves, that cause significant suffering. The app Headspace is a good place to start; the videos they have created provide a visual introduction to mindfulness.
- Provide validation and empathy. Here is a great, short animation from Brené Brown on empathy. Self-compassion and compassion from others can be life-saving when you have a mental illness. Bottom line? You, dear friend, are not alone.
- Use quantifiable measurements. Because asking “what’s wrong?” does not always yield an answer that conveys what is being felt, a 1-10 mental health scale can be useful to identify the intensity of what is being experienced. Similar to taking someone’s temperature with a thermometer, this tool is meant to illustrate the amount of suffering occurring, but will not necessarily show the cause of the suffering.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
QUESTION: Do you or someone in your family suffer from mental health issues?
CHALLENGE: Choose one of the five suggestions in this article that most resonates with you and put it into practice this week. Then come back and choose another one.
Edited for Power of Moms by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws
Originally published on Lindsay’s blog Just Yell Plot Twist!