Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting Through - Surviving Mental Illness 6

How do we survive?

Walled Garden St Anne's Park Dublin, 3
No matter what we take on we have to be realistic about our abilities to achieve that goal.  One of the greatest boons in anyone's life is self-knowledge outside good self-esteem.  If one knows oneself well one will be as cognizant as possible of both one's strengths and weaknesses.  Some people like to avoid the truth, especially if it is unpleasant or appears to be unpleasant to them.  They prefer, rather, to live in a world of denial where all unpleasantness is literally swept under the carpet to use that most common cliché.  Real survival is about facing the truth.

Personal Survival:

I suppose the best way to write about survival is to write autobiographically here.  As I write these few lines I have just been listening to The Liveline with Joe Duffy where one distressed caller spent more than twenty minutes outlining the death by suicide of one very troubled friend whose wife she was now comforting.  This poor man had reached the bottom of the pit of darkest depression, could not find the energy or even a little sliver of hope to help him scramble out of that pit and in desperation finally hanged himself.  No human heart could remain unmoved by this woman's story and her passionate pleading for help to repatriate the poor man's body to his homeland - Slovakia, I think.  What a lonely hell that poor wretch must have dwelt in immediately before his end in hanging from a lonely tree in a lonely field in Ireland many miles from his homeland.

How does one survive a severe mental illness?  The following are activities, actions and insights that have been helpful to me

(i) Cultivate friendships.  Having good friends in whom one can trust and in whom one can confide is vitally important.  No one is an island.  We travel through this life with the help of others.

(ii) Go to the family doctor.  Talk to him or her.

(iii) Be involved in as many social activities as possible where you will meet others.  Hobbies and interests are very important whether it is stamp collecting, coin collecting, chess, drafts, cards, crochet, knitting, photography, or whatever, but make sure you meet others who have a shared interest in various clubs.

(iv) Always do some physical exercise no matter how small.  I could never run a marathon or even jog for 10km, but I certainly can walk for at least 5km any day.  Therefore, determine to go out and walk a few km after reading this.  I remember when I was very badly depressed some twelve years ago that going for a walk, even a short one, was at least somewhat energising at first and it gradually helped my mood to pick up.

(v) Remember that if the depression is severe that medication will be necessary, and that even sometimes, hospitalisation will be prescribed to allow that medication to kick in.  Antidepressants commonly take between two and three weeks to become effective.

The patience of a Snail: Santry Woods, October 2010
(vi) Various forms of psychotherapy - of which there are many kinds, from psychoanalysis and Jungian Therapy to Rogerian/Person-centred Counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy - are successfully used in combination with drug therapy, after initial drug therapy or without the use of medication at all.  The approach to depression today is to use any therapies that work in tandem with medication if the latter is judged to be needed.  In my case I attended counselling for about a year after leaving hospital.  Because my depression is of the endogenous variety I am still taking the lowest effective dose of an antidepressant.

(vii) Read as widely as you can about your particular type of mental illness.  Get familiar with the literature on the subject.  Read up on the side-effects of any medication you are on.  Ask your Doctor or Consultant if you are in doubt.

(viii) Learn to meditate and to use at least one form of the many different types of relaxation exercises as one can, e.g., Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga etc

(ix) Ask yourself if you are fully accepting of your diagnosis?  Allow the truth of your diagnosis to sink in through the meditation exercises mentioned above.  Learn to be deeply compassionate for yourself.  Learn to parent the hurt child within.  Use positive visualisations to strengthen your acceptance and healing of the inner Self.

(x) Attend self-help groups if you feel you need the support.  You may really need them in the early stages of coping after the initial diagnosis.

(xi) Try to educate your emotional intellience (EI) as well as your intellectual intelligence (IQ).  Read about and meditate on the Multiple Intelligences as outlined by Dr Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind.  Then read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Other scholars have mentioned that there is a Spiritual Intelligence (SI) deeper again than EI.  Today the experts argue that our "intelligence" is like an onion as it were with SI at the core, then EI and finally IQ in the outer ring.  There is some substance to this contention of layers of depth as we go deeper into the nature of human intelligence.  It's another paradigm or model we can use along with Freud's structural and topographical models.  They are many others suggested by Assaggioli and Jung etc.

(xii) If desperate ring the Samaritans.

(xiii) Finally here is a list of worthwhile websites to explore on the subject of menatl health:

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