mental health Mandy Kloppers

How to Thrive (not just survive) with a mental illness

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Blog post courtesy of guest blogger: James Lindsay (see end of post for further details)

If you’re someone with a form of mental illness, firstly let me just say that you are incredible. I am saying that to start with because life is hard enough without being mentally unwell. So for you to be getting through it I believe deserves a special shout out.

But it is difficult and I want to offer some help and some hope. I am not a person who has all of the answers, far from it. I have however experienced the lowest of lows, as well as the ups and downs of recovery. In 2016, I suffered from a psychotic episode and was sectioned for four weeks under the mental health act, spending my time in a psychiatric ward in Hertfordshire taking a lot of medication. After managing to make a lot of steps in the right direction, I then suffered a major relapse in early 2020, when I was also given my latest diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Fortunately I have managed to stay stable since then, and I owe a lot of this to finding the correct medication (Quetiapine), which is where I want to start with how to thrive.

Medication:

I know medication is not for everyone and that is fair enough, but for me it is a life saver which enables me to live the life I want.

The thing is though, I used to be a bit anti-medication and this was back when I was taking meds which were not right for me (such as Aripiprazole). I want to emphasise this next point, find the tablets which work for YOU.

When I was on the wrong meds, it took me a while to realise that I could voice my displeasure to the doctor and I wish I had done this sooner. If it is not working for you, then you don’t have to settle for it. There are a lot of different drugs out there which have the same or similar purposes, but our bodies do not work the same and one that agrees with you might disagree with another person and vice versa. Once you get this important step right, you will be in a better position to concentrate on the other things that effect mental health.

Lifestyle:

What do you eat and drink? Are you getting regular exercise? Are you working/volunteering a role that you enjoy? Are you getting enough sleep? These are all things that will make a significant difference.

I put on a lot of weight after my first bout of psychosis, mainly due to the side effects of the pills I was taking, but it didn’t help that I was also not looking after myself. This didn’t happen overnight, but once I slowly started eating well and being a bit more active, I was able to make great progress.

Before my 2016 meltdown I was also working a job that I didn’t enjoy, it was making me miserable. I ended up having a blessing in disguise when I got made redundant in 2017, even if the period of unemployment that followed was very depressing. In early 2018, I started volunteering for a local charity as a marketing assistant, finally making use of my degree. That was a breath of fresh air compared to my years spent in a high pressure corporate job, surrounded by blame culture and feeling unfulfilled. I finally had that sense of purpose, and the new role eventually became paid part time. Even though it wasn’t a long term solution, I was able to build experience and find a full time equivalent.

I think finding the right job is key. We spend so much of our lives working, so why not make it the best type of work that you are passionate about?!

I need to mention sleep as well, because my experiences of psychosis occurred after sleepless nights. I used to take it for granted, but now it is my top priority. Try avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, reading before bed, and switching off that phone earlier (unless you’re using a meditation app!)

Learn and stay curious:

One particular thing that helped me accept my situation was reading books that were about the author’s experience of mental illness (try reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig, then thank me later). After this, I discovered the power of sharing and started blogging about my own struggles. This led to more open and honest conversations with friends and family that were full of positivity.

It also struck me that the more I can learn from and understand my condition, then ultimately this is what will lead to me being in the driving seat instead of the passenger, rather than the other way around.

The internet is definitely a useful tool when it comes to gathering useful info and practical advice around mental health, but real life and in-person experiences are some of the most valuable as well in my experience. For example, I am part of a football group that includes other guys who have the same diagnosis as me (schizoaffective disorder). This helps me in many ways, as I am able to not only tell them things that I find help me manage my condition, but I am also able to get help and emotional support from them if I am ever struggling. I would recommend seeking out this type of peer support in whatever way works for you, it could be a running group or it could be a book club, help is out there in many forms.

Allies:

Since I have had my mental illness experience, I have realised that I am stronger when I ask for help and show vulnerability, rather than keeping things to myself and trying to do everything alone.

I know it can be hard to reach out, but personally I found that not sharing what was going on inside my head did not lead to any improvements, things might stay the same or they could even become worse. So in my opinion, the more people you share with, the more allies you are likely to gain. Your loved ones will show you empathy, understanding, compassion, and will generally do their best to make your situation better (like all good folk do!). Just imagine if someone you are close to opened up to you about their mental health, wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to help them out?

I am not saying that everyone with mental illness needs to embrace it and befriend it if they would rather not, or don’t feel comfortable. But personally, this attitude has made me the most happy and satisfied with myself. I think we all have the potential to use a condition as a strength rather than a weakness.

Get Creative:

Writing is another thing that I find allows you to feel more in control and provides a lovely bit of therapy as a bonus. This can come in many forms such as a diary/journal, which is a healthy outlet that lets you articulate your feelings and make more sense of what’s going on in your head. You can keep your writing private, or if you felt comfortable publicising it then maybe dabble in posting it online. I personally found this very useful as it has resulted in me connecting with helpful and nice new people. You’re also likely to great feedback which can justify your content, or you might learn new things or discover other perspectives!

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I just want to finish by saying a huge thank you to Mandy for letting me guest post for your fantastic blog! I really hope you have found the above useful in some way. Feel free to get in touch if you want to connect over mental health, take care!

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Bio:

James is 31 years old and lives with his girlfriend in Watford, Hertfordshire. He works as Fundraising & Marketing Officer for Hertfordshire Mind Network, a local mental health charity. James has written many blogs about his experience with mental illness and has also appeared on several podcasts to talk about the subject, as well as online videos including one on the Premier League website. He wants to use his lived experience to help others and is very passionate about raising awareness and ending stigma. You can follow and connect with James using the links below:

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.

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