By Jamie Meyer
Having a mental health diagnosis can make it difficult to care for ourselves. For people who don’t have a diagnosis, self-care is mostly a matter of choosing and making time for the things that will lead to better health. For those of us with a brain illness, it isn’t quite that simple. The question we’re more likely to ask ourselves is “Am I able?” Ability is the key word here because there are times when our symptoms can prevent us from caring for ourselves as well as we’d like.
Although we often think of self-care as something we do, it also means protecting our thought life. Nothing good comes from feeling ashamed when you can’t get out of bed or can’t concentrate because of racing thoughts.
We need to stop comparing ourselves to people who don’t have a diagnosis and let go of the messages from our culture that tell us productivity defines our value as a person. We need to be more gentle with ourselves and accept the truth–even if we don’t “feel” it’s true–that we have great value because we are God‘s creation and are loved unconditionally by Him.
After being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, I spent many years telling myself that my life was less valuable because I could no longer work full-time or take part in all the activities I had before. I beat myself up for being lazy and not trying hard enough. I felt ashamed because I didn’t want to be around other people.
When I began to interact with like-minded people in our Fresh Hope group, I came to realize that they too felt “less than” after their diagnosis. I learned from them that it’s okay to make caring for myself a priority. I felt understood and no longer needed to hide in shame.
I’ve come to accept that I’m not the same person I was before being diagnosed. But you know what? Neither is anyone else. Everyone grows and changes over time whether they have a diagnosis or not.
I’m learning to focus on the things I’m able to do, activities that are fulfilling yet keep me mentally stable. I work evenings part-time so I don’t have to get up early and I volunteer in smaller but just as valuable ways.
Another way I care for myself is by giving back to people like myself who live with the challenges of a mental health condition. In 2012, I put my personal journey into words when I wrote the book, “Stepping Out of Depression: Fresh Hope for Women Who Hurt” (available on Amazon). I wanted women to know they were not alone in dealing with depression, that true hope and healing are possible.
I also find fulfillment in giving encouragement and support to the wonderful people in our Fresh Hope group. Doing so helps me feel like I’m making a difference in my small corner of the world.
Caring for yourself involves more than eating right, exercising and reducing stress. It includes having supportive relationships and being involved in something that is meaningful to you. Self-care also means accepting the truth that you have value and purpose because of who you are, not what you do. You choose to let go of shameful thoughts and stop putting yourself down.
When we decide to make self-care a priority, life can become more satisfying and meaningful. Although we may not escape the ongoing challenges of our brain illness, we significantly improve our chances of living well in spite of it.