When I attended a workshop at a recovery college, which a number of NHS trusts are doing in London, we focused on moving forward with our mental health problems. Moving forward doesn’t mean failing to acknowledge that you have, or ever had a mental health problem. Moving forward means learning to manage, and be in tune with your difficulties.
This also means being aware of signs that you are doing well, and signs that things are slipping away beneath you. By noticing and having an awareness it is possible to put in preventative or safety measures in order to stay safe with your mental health difficulties. I have chosen 5 general signs of wellness and relapse for my overall mental health, regardless of specific difficulties.
Signs of Wellness:
1. Self care.
When I am well I am able to effectively look after myself day-to-day. I wash multiple times within the week. I wear clean clothes, and do household chores such as: washing my clothes, cleaning the house, and maintaining a decent level of hygiene throughout my life as a whole. This includes the smallest things too, such as, brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, and general grooming.
2. I want to be around, and engage with others.
When I am well I am able to be sociable and enjoy social situations. Not only am I able to be sociable and make conversations but I want to participate socially with those around me. If a stranger asks me a question I can give them an answer without going into a fumbling panic. In class I am able to talk to my classmates and have a laugh. I am able to meet up with my friends, and the effort doesn’t drain me of any energy reserves I had. Not only am I able to socialise but I want to. I have the desire to connect socially with people around me.
3. I prioritise eating, and eat well.
I eat. I’m not talking about non-eating disordered behaviours but also having the want to eat overall. Depression and anxiety can wreak havoc with eating habits. Despite being hungry it is easy to not bother with eating because the drive isn’t there. Previously when I was unwell I relied entirely on my partner by eating her left-overs, or she would just cook for me, otherwise I wouldn’t eat. If I did eat independently it would be whatever I could get hold of easily to fill a hole. There was no enjoyment.
4. Exercise is important.
Exercise is an important aspect of my life. I like to maintain regular exercise within my weekly routine in order to help my mental and physical health. I like to be healthy. I have a huge interest in health, hence I am now studying science with the view of studying a health related degree. When I am well I look forward to my trip to the gym, and I come back revitalised from my swim. I love the goal making, the focus and the drive that exercise gives to me. When I am well exercise gives me a real zest for living and healthfulness.
5. Having the drive to participate in life.
The overriding sign of wellness for myself is that I want to participate in life around me. I want to see exhibitions. I want to go for walks and marvel at nature. I want to engage in life, and have more of a thirst for knowledge to quench. I extend my reading list by 10 books in one go. I make lists of everything I want to do and I become a rather productive person. Not only do I look into doing such activities, but I have the energy and motivation to actually do said activities.
Signs of illness:
1. Apathy and going through the expected motions.
When I am unwell I tend to not feel very much. I do what would be expected of me as a response from someone who cares, enjoys or is connected with people. I can become rather cold and will respond as I know is expected from someone who genuinely cares – the truth is though, that a lot of the time when I am becoming unwell I don’t care about anything, or anyone. I feel no connection, no emotion…just nothing. I am a shell of a human and living life like a robot.
Sometimes I even get confused and start to think that I and others around me are genuinely robots. I feel unreal in addition to disconnected. My limbs feel plastic like a mannequin. I can make movements but it doesn’t feel like me making those moves. I often feel like a puppet when I am very unwell.
2. Not keeping on top of chores and self-care.
Instead of the dishes piling up because I’ve been so busy living my life I don’t keep on top of hygiene because I’m not managing. In these times I’m not coping, and washing once a week feels like a challenge. Before, when I was unwell I would have a bath every 10-14 days, because doing it more often was too much to manage. I become so consumed within my illness, and trying to get through each day that daily life becomes so much of a struggle I manage to do nothing. Often in these times I find that days have passed whilst I’ve been staring at walls and ceilings, or out of windows without realising until afterwards
3. Not eating and chain-smoking instead.
I don’t prioritise eating. Instead, I find myself drinking cups of tea and coffee one after the other, after the other, after the other…for days on end. I can easily realise I’ve not eaten a meal for weeks when I am very unwell. However, in terms of when I am relapsing, it is usually when I realise I’ve not eaten a meal for days, and I’ve not done that shop at the supermarket I said I would that I realise. There is usually nothing in the house, and I have no motivation to change that. Instead I will shrug it off with a “oh well” and light another cigarette. I have no motivation to feed myself, and if I am very hungry I will eat convenient crap to just fill a hole until next time.
4. Feeling like a deadweight robot.
When I am unwell I would rather sit on the side lines of life. I do not want to participate, and am more content not participating than I am otherwise. Participating becomes too stressful, overwhelming and not OK. I feel heavy like a deadweight. I feel numb, like a dead puppet, a waking zombie, a robot. When I am in this place, it seems that doing nothing is stimulating enough, because anything more is overwhelming.
5. Wanting to be alone, entirely alone, forever alone.
When I am becoming unwell I cannot stand people. I do not want to be near to anyone. I don’t want to hear anyone. Least of all do I want to interact with anyone. I want to be alone. I feel convinced that I want to live alone for the rest of my life and never see another human being. Anyone who is around becomes immensely irritating and demanding which furthers the spiral of my mood. I become very irritable, and snappy.