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My Take

Mental Illness and Building Stability

Hi everyone, I hope you’re not too sick of turkey yet! I also really hope your Holiday was a warm and happy one considering everything. I’m very grateful because I got to celebrate with my parents and fiancĂ©, and being together for the Holiday made everything perfect. Since I was working leading up to Christmas day I had to do a mad dash to finish my gifts which were handmade projects. I love making gifts myself; I find them so personal and every minute I spend making the project as perfect as I can is another minute of love poured into the sentiment of the gift. I’m so happy that my family liked them…I’m also happy that I got to FaceTime with my Godparents so we could talk as ‘face to face’ as possible in these times. My parents surprised Aaron and I with an espresso machine to replace our old drip coffee maker when we’re not at my parents’. That was a great gift that I can’t wait to set up and try! Aaron gave me a light therapy lamp for Christmas which was also really unexpected and amazing. I’ve been very interested in trying one to see how it could help me in winter, and he remembered! The funny thing is that a very kind coworker also gave me her lamp that she doesn’t use or need anymore. I’ve given it back now so that she can find someone else who needs it. I’ve tried both lamps and I really have to say that in just a couple of days of trying it I do feel something. While the lamp is on I feel like I have more energy and I’m a little happier. There was a very grey day but I felt like the sun was out. (The lights are very powerful!) I can’t wait to keep using it because I’m sure the feeling can extend into the day with regular use! I could really use this in January, February and March, my 3 least favourite months.

My Pattern

I unfortunately did experience my usual pattern after any special event or thing that I’m looking forward to. This is actually what gave me the idea for today’s topic. After daily work on my gifts, thinking of what special foods to buy and working with the promise of a beautiful Christmas Eve and day, I hit a slump after the ‘event’ was actually experienced. This is pretty normal…it’s kind of like preparing for a vacation. Work is easy and planning for the trip is super fun and then we really enjoy the vacation. Once it’s over though we start wishing we were back in the planning stage and building up to it because having something big to look forward to is a huge motivator. Personally I tend to feel lost after any event and that’s what just happened.

The Bigger Picture

My desire to enjoy special events without a ‘post-event crash’ ties in perfectly with a bigger picture notion: Stability. I don’t know about you, but this s-word is a big goal for me especially in the context of having a life while living with mental illness. Living with Bipolar pretty much equals a constant desire and desperate NEED for stability. And Borderline Personality Disorder? I don’t think I need to explain its volatility! My point is that when we’re trying to manage an illness that follows us day after day, stability is a cornerstone to being able to enjoy life despite the struggle. Mood stabilizers can be necessary and may take you a long way towards regaining control, however stability also comes from our mindset. This goes very very deep because our mindset is the exposed ‘tip of the iceberg’ compared to the huge mass of intellectual processes that it results from. The changes begin there, beneath the surface of our comparatively superficial behaviours and automatic thoughts.

A Structure Supported by Pillars

Let’s think of ourselves as a structure supported by pillars, and these pillars are key components to our mental stability. The reason that these elements are pillars is that if one is weakened the others are too. When a pillar is compromised the others must bear more weight, making the entire structure weaker and less stable. It’s a natural occurrence that pillars take some hits and need to be re-solidified / supported. I’d even go so far as to say that they are always being renovated, and that part is actually healthy! What’s not healthy however is leaving a dangerous bridge open when it badly needs repair, or in this case ignoring a cracked pillar because the roof still holds up at least. You know the expression ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Yeah…that doesn’t apply here. As you’ll see, a problem with any one pillar entails a problem with at least one of the others, making for a weakened personal structure.

The pillars I’m referring to are Self-Regard, Interpersonal relations, Routine/balance, Spontaneity/Openness, Vision and The First-aid kit.

Structure supported by pillars, 6 key components for stability with mental illness

The Main Components

Self-Regard: Without this pillar we are at the mercy of the wind. We are detached from our being and filled with personal insecurity and doubt. When this pillar isn’t built on solid ground, nothing is structurally sound! An obscured self-regard leads to so many problems and makes everything more difficult. Without a balanced self-regard, healthy interpersonal relationships are harder to achieve. Routine and balance can be a challenge to maintain as well since poor self-regard can result in a feeling of futility and bring about a state of paralysis. Vision, aka ambition, meaning, purpose, etc., can also be clouded and even halted by a poor view of oneself.

This pillar contains very important sub-elements. Self-regard includes self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, our inventory of achievements, capabilities, and the mistakes that we’ve learned from. It involves a balance of knowing our strengths and weaknesses, what we are happy with and what we’d like to improve and so much more. It goes so profound that it includes our perception of being a good or bad person as well as our entire persona.

Interpersonal Relations: Family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers…you name it. We are social animals and we need companionship in different forms. If we are isolating ourselves a huge chunk of what makes us human is being disrupted. Without validation in the form of love, kindness, respect, acknowledgment, praise, etc., a persons’ mind can close in onto itself and an even greater darkness / loneliness can take over. What happens then? Self-regard goes down the toilette, pointlessness again turns into a complete lack of routine and structure, and vision for the future is whittled away bit by bit.

Routine / Balance: Depending on many variables, we may be one who needs a more structured routine or, a less structured one. Either way, balance is a requirement and the right routine includes and encourages balance. Routines can be very helpful and we have a lot of them. I know I’m not alone in really needing the routine of having coffee in the morning! I’m the kind of person who needs a little more structure / routine not just in the morning but throughout my day. If I don’t have a quiet half hour when I wake up to drink my coffee and write or something, it’s not good. I’m not very mentally functional at first…I usually need to break through what I call my ‘wake up time down-ness’. Throughout my day if I don’t have clear objectives like school, work, writing, an art project, etc….I’m lost. My mood and energy spiral down and the unwanted thoughts have a chance to stick. Clearly, I need my attention to be consistently moving in good direction. When I’m done…switch. Must get started on a new focus. That’s how I am right now so while I work on the reasons I can’t stay still, I’m going to employ what I know to maximize my happiness during the day.

Finding the right routine means examining your own habits, evaluating how they make you feel, and then trying a few changes at a time to see if they work better for you. A perfect example could be finding the best time to wake up and go to sleep. It also takes planning, like when fitting work or school into a routine, but once you have your obligations planned out finding different ways to improve your day in between can really help form greater stability. (I think I’m going to write a blog soon about forming healthy routines.)

Spontaneity / Openness: This may seem funny coming right after routine, but it’s just as important. In my view any good routine includes opportunity for openness and spontaneity. Routine helps with time management, productivity, concentration, keeping a positive focus, maintaining healthy habits and so much more…but it needs periods of “I’m open life, what d’you got for me?” Some of the best things in life aren’t planned! You never know where something will take you and it’s important to understand that you’re allowed to go off schedule sometimes. Some of us have such rigid routines that the idea of spontaneity is scary.

“What if [ ] happens? I didn’t plan for- But what if I-? I shouldn’t because-“

We have to stop ourselves from preventing good things from potentially happening. When nothing about a present situation is making you happy, comfortable, at ease etc., it’s time to change the present situation. Now that, is the hard part! But for now we’re speaking of leaving ourselves the chance to take breaks and say yes to a personal desire or two where we would’ve normally said no. The gesture of giving yourself kindness is more important sometimes than receiving kindness from another.

Vision: This component is huge, and has tremendous significance for me given how desperately I searched for a purpose and found none for so long. As always, I am infinitely grateful to have found such a large part of it! This is a topic I have written about in other blogs so I don’t want to take it in that direction. (For more, here’s a link to Part 1 of Finding Meaning for Yourself in Life.) I just want to say that being goal-oriented, whether big or small, can really increase personal stability. This component is impacted by other pillars but it also impacts self-regard. When we’re working towards goals and accomplishing things it can really boost self-confidence. It always feels good to feel like we’re getting things done and moving forwards!

First-Aid Kit: This is my emergency kit and I name it as one of the pillars even though it includes things that are in other pillars. For example a huge part of this kit involves a support system made up of the people you’re close to. We need people we can relate with, share things with, laugh, cry and everything in between. When we’re down, family and friends can help lift us up. Even if it’s not by a lot, it’s very important and it does make a difference! This first aid kit can also include professionals you can speak with regularly, occasionally or just when needed. Please don’t think as I have and sometimes still do; thinking that we’re a waste of time and resources…that there’s no point and / or we’re not doing badly enough to deserve help. We do! Each and every one of us and if you have a good team supporting you, it can make all the difference.

This first aid kit isn’t just about other people though, it really involves oneself and inner effort. And sometimes that’s honestly just unfortunate and unfair because we’re really tired from constant effort and depending on the situation, pain. There’s no fancy word for it…it just really sucks, and the most important time to use your inner tool kit is specifically when it sucks most. C’est la vie, and maybe I’m venting a little given my loss of control before Christmas in which I failed to employ said first aid kit and injured my hand by punching our headboard. And let’s just say I’m not the only one angry about it – which is understandable but also SUCKS, because it’s not like I wanted to go to work with my wrist and hand bandaged or have another failure under my stupid belt! What I should say is…I made a mistake, I slipped up but I’ve been doing very well. I’m not a failure for not winning this particular battle. We can all see that we won’t always win, so a part of this first aid kit is knowing how to cope with such times. This coping involves finding your own strategies that calm you down, release negative energy, bring a smile to your face, etc. Only you will know what works best, but you have to be willing to explore even when walking aimlessly seems like a decent plan.


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Photo by Marcelo Moreira on

What this comes down to is having a good balance within all of these pillars and to be on the lookout for cracks. I don’t think our pillars will ever be perfect, but constant gentle reinforcements and modifications can help keep our personal structure standing as strong as possible! Stability takes work, and it begins in the mind.

Stay tuned for a potential Part 2 and a blog on building a healthy personal routine / schedule. Take care!

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