Some advice

I’ve been struggling with my mental health issues for a couple of years now, and over this time I feel like I’ve come across a hundred and one questions I wish I’d known the answers to earlier. If I could go back in time, there are quite a few things I’d really like to tell my younger, scared self. I’m not a therapist or a counsellor, but experience has certainly taught me a few things…

The following list of tips and advice can only ever be incomplete as the world of mental illnesses is huge, and I only have experience of a small part of it, but I’m hoping it might still be useful. I recognise some of the advice below might be a bit controversial, so by all means drop me a message if you think something needs changing. And of course, if you can think of something that should be added, please let me know!

Suffering with a Mental Illness

  • You’re not alone. It may feel like you are, but there are actually hundreds, thousands, millions of people facing similar struggles.
    • Sure, your particular circumstances might be unique to you, but I promise you’re not the only person who knows the special brands of pain, fear, frustration and hardship mental illness can bring.
      • And in your most difficult times this is something worth remembering, as reaching out or connecting with some of these people can bring real relief. And the good news is that the WordPress community is an amazing place for that kind of support.
  • Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. How could it be? It demands compassion and support, not stigma. You might have to remind yourself of that because sadly there are a lot of ignorant people out there, but it is true, and if you ever find this called into question, reach out to the WordPress community.

Medication in General

  • Do your research, and don’t be afraid to come back to your GP or psychiatrist with questions about medications even after you’ve started taking them.
    • You might want to think about whether or not it’s a good idea for you to look into the side effects of new medications. If you have specific concerns (e.g. weight gain, ability to drive etc) then this research can be useful, but sometimes if you expect a certain side effect, you are more likely to experience it (think placebo).
    • I highly recommend researching the withdrawal symptoms associated with any new medication your doctor wants you to start taking, as some psychiatric meds like venlafaxine (Effexor) can be an absolute nightmare to wean yourself off. Work with your doctor to establish a clear plan for cutting down when you no longer need them, and be prepared for a few rough days at the end.
  • Don’t necessarily expect to have the same experience as your friend/relative/neighbour who has tried the same medication.
  • There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ overdose. There really isn’t. 
  • If you know that overdosing is likely to cross your mind when your mood heads south, be honest about this with your doctor. They can prescribe you a safer dose, or limit the amount of medication you have to hand (I used to have twice-weekly prescriptions). There’s absolutely no shame in it – quite the opposite; it shows you have the presence of mind to make yourself safe. If you’re not comfortable discussing this with your GP, you could always ask a friend or family member to hold onto your meds for you.

Antidepressant Medication

  • If you’re expecting medication to cure you, you’re likely in for some disappointment. How can chemicals fix your life problems/issues?
  • However, that doesn’t mean they’re a waste of time. Antidepressants can give you a lift that will keep you functioning a step nearer normality while you deal with whatever is bringing you down.
  • Most antidepressants require you to take them for 4-6 weeks before you can expect to see any benefit, so don’t write them off too early.

Therapy

  • Therapy isn’t going to give you a magic ‘fix’. It won’t ‘cure’ you by itself. You are probably wasting your time if you’re going to be passive about it. You have to commit to therapy; not just by turning up regularly, but commit in terms of giving it your best effort.
    • It might be painful, it might make you cry, it might force you to think about things that usually send you running for cover, but your therapist doesn’t invoke any of this for their own enjoyment – at the end of the day, it’s all to help you. Remember that!
  • Trust is really important to therapy; specifically trust in your therapist. If there is anything you need to discuss with or ask your therapist to strengthen your trust in him/her, be brave and do it.
    • I will hold my hands up and admit that my reluctance to trust my therapist has slowed my progress in therapy considerably (I’m talking months, even a year). I watch his every move and analyse every word, looking for hidden intentions or manipulation, because while I do trust that Dr T will only do what’s good for me, my inner control freak doesn’t quite trust that he knows better than me. I regret this all the time.

Self harm

  • Prevention is everything
    • Try to make sure you won’t have the ‘tools’ to hand – this can be difficult but it’s really worth doing what you can. If you can’t help having certain ‘tools’ available in your home, you could always try and store them in communal areas (if there are any) so you are more likely to encounter someone before you have a chance to self harm.
    • Know how to distract yourself; is there a favourite book you could dip into, or a comfort movie, or a hobby you enjoy that you could turn to?
    • If none of this works, employ the ‘delaying’ technique: if you want to self harm, tell yourself you have to wait five minutes, and go and do something (anything safe) with that time. Repeat until the urge to hurt yourself passes.
  • But if prevention doesn’t work…
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help sorting yourself out afterwards. You have a lot of options: for wound treatment you could go to a walk in centre, phone your GP surgery and see the nurse or doctor, or even just ask a friend to help you with plasters/bandage etc. If you’ve overdosed, ring your doctor/pharmacy/non-emergency number (111 in the UK) and ask if you should head to hospital. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, ask someone
      • You’re not a bad person because you’ve self harmed. It doesn’t mean anything except that you’re having a really hard time. No one has the right to judge you on this. And seeking help afterwards shows some real strength on your part.

2 thoughts on “Some advice

  1. I think this is great advice, especially for people who are new to mental illness and treatment. Starting treatment can be a daunting and lonely process and it really helps to know what to expect. Thanks! -LB

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