Mental Health Month is a chance to own your wellness journey, discovering what works best for you and taking pride in your daily wellness quest.
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By Emily Allen
May marks two years since I was last hospitalized. I broke a vicious cycle of bouncing in and out of the hospital and turned a corner in my wellness journey.
However, when I try to credit my therapist, he always points out the changes I have made myself: “You did the work of changing, not me.”
And, of course, he is absolutely right: I came to a place where I hit rock-bottom and resolved that there was nothing left to do but to take responsibility for my own actions, my own lack of medication compliance and the damage that did to my relationships as I spun out of control in a psychotic break. I became medication compliant again, and the right regimen restored me to myself.
I follow a medication regimen to treat my bipolar disorder and I also see a therapist regularly. I believe this is critical to my wellness and has helped me stabilize.
I also began to volunteer, eventually being hired at the nonprofit where I was giving my time. This April marked a year since I was brought on board as a trusted team member. I also moved in with my parents and found their support and encouragement invaluable. They serve as a needed check on my impulsivity, providing feedback that I trust. Eventually, I hope to move into a place of my own, but I plan to live close to my parents, so that I can continue to see them regularly and to draw on them for support.
Last summer, looking for a support group to join, I contacted our local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate. However, I discovered that there was no support group in our area. The affiliate president asked me if I would like to help start one. So, in August 2017, I began co-facilitating a support group as what NAMI calls a “champion”—an untrained peer leader. Two weeks ago, I finally received the training to become a full-fledged NAMI Connection support group leader, training that I plan to implement to help others.
There are many great ways to give back to others if you are looking to doing so, and you might find that it will boost your self-esteem and sense of self-worth to help others. It certainly has for me, helping me shed some of the guilt I feel.
Finally, my faith has been essential to my wellness. I was baptized two years ago, in 2016, and it was a turning point.
I know that I will have relapses in the future, but that God will walk with me, holding me up and serving as a guide and comfort.
Of course, this is my own personal odyssey. Meditation might be part of your wellness journey. Or walks in nature or spending time with loved ones. But find something that feeds your soul and gives you a sense of joy and comfort.
It is interesting that May, the two-year anniversary of my hospitalization, is also Mental Health Month. What does Mental Health Month mean to me?
I would say that, over the past two years, I have become confident that, with the support of loved ones and my providers, I can manage my mental health condition. Yes, there will be ups and downs, relapses and bouts of depression and mania. But I can care for myself.
Essentially, I have made a decision that I am responsible for my own wellness. No more excuses. Sure, there will be days that I lapse, but, to paraphrase the theologian Henri Nouwen, when we get off the road, we return to it at the place we left off, not at the beginning.
Mental Health Month, to me, means taking responsibility for my own wellness. Of course, there are things that are out of my hands. Here the Serenity Prayer helps: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We cannot change our mental health condition. But, with work, we can change our responses. We can change our actions and behaviors. We can change the way we treat other people and the way we treat ourselves. Even, with effort, we can change the way we talk to ourselves. All of these things we can change for greater health.
As I reflect on Mental Health Month, I reflect that I am in control of my own wellness journey. I invite you on a wellness journey, too, one that you manage and direct. Ultimately, the responsibility is yours.
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