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Self-care for the Mentally Ill

I’ve seen so many misguided tweets about mental illness and self care/healthy lifestyle that I’ve lost count, but I find this one particularly revolting because this person is a “fitness coach” who obviously has something to gain from people who are struggling to exercise. He literally plugged his fitness coaching consultation and podcast following the thread.

Sleep, exercise, nutrition, hydration and social life are of course all very important to mental health. In fact, any mental health care expert will recommend these things to their patients. What these people don’t understand is that lack of sleep, proper meals, physical activity, and social interactions are all symptoms of mental illness rather than the initial cause. Of course not sleeping or eating well exacerbates your mental illness. But not doing those things are not the reason why you have mental illness in the first place; mental illness is likely the reason you stopped doing them to begin with. People don’t just stop sleeping out of nowhere.

They also don’t understand how incapacitating mental illnesses can be. At one point I was too depressed to watch television. Something that requires the least amount of effort. Most people would turn on the TV if given the choice between that and nothing. Because they’d be bored and they’d want to be entertained. I’d lost the ability to feel bored or entertained because I was feeling too much despair to feel anything else. All I wanted to do was die. How was I going to work out when I can’t even turn on the television? How was I going to socialize with anyone when I was crying all day? How?

They don’t understand that people usually have to get their mental illness under control before they are actually able to implement healthy habits. (Or maybe they do understand, and are intentionally misleading people for their own profit, which is vile.) That is why suggesting one should try healthy lifestyle before considering the possibility of mental illness is so very harmful. This keeps people in the vicious cycle, where their declining mental health causes them to lead an unhealthier lifestyle and the unhealthy lifestyle in turn worsens their mental health and repeat. The first step to breaking this cycle is acknowledging their mental illness. I used to beat myself up about not working out or not eating well or not talking to people. No matter how much I thought these things were important, I just couldn’t. I thought it was my lack of willpower. When my anti-depressants started taking effect, I found that it actually wasn’t that hard to go to the gym or eat better or communicate with people. I realized that it was my depression that made these things nearly impossible.

So here are some tips from me, someone who’ve actually suffered from depression and anxiety:

  • Take your meds and brush your teeth. Even if those two are the only things you manage to do that day.
  • Go outside. Even just sitting at your building’s doorstep is better than being inside all day.
  • Stretching doesn’t take as much effort as a full workout session but it’s highly effective at making you feel better.
  • If you can get off the doorstep, take a walk but with a podcast or something. If you just walk without it you will think too much.
  • Use dietary supplements. Yes, it’s better to get all your nutrients from good food but when you cannot… supplements will help minimize the negative effects of being unable to eat well.
  • Engaging with someone online is valid social interaction and it’s certainly better than nothing.
  • Write or say out loud what you are feeling. Putting things into words helps you process the pain and release some of it.
  • Get a large cup that comes with a straw attached. This will keep you sipping water without really thinking about it if you can bring yourself to fill it up in the morning. Even more so when you find something pretty or has logos/pictures of something you like.
  • If you find something that entertains you, hold on to it. Don’t feel bad about not doing something more “productive” because it’s keeping you alive and that’s the most productive thing ever.
self care mental health water hydration straw
Large cups with straws will make it easier to stay hydrated.

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