Living with a mental illness can be challenging. Over the years, through all the ups and downs, I have learned to tune into myself and listen to what I need. I have found that I can manage my symptoms much better with careful planning and a deep sense of self-awareness. As I have learned my triggers, I have learned to create a lifestyle and environment that helps stabilize me. In addition, I have learned how to avoid and set boundaries for situations that cause chaos and wreak havoc in my life. I try to make it a point to ask myself these five questions at various points throughout my day to help keep me on track and protect myself from a breakdown.
1. What am I grateful for today?
I try to start every day in gratitude. I like to do this first thing in the morning before I even get out of bed. This is especially important during depressive episodes. It helps to balance my natural negativity and give me something to keep me grounded.
2. What do I need today?
Every day is different and I never know how I’m going to feel when I wake up. I have found it’s so important to reflect on what I need to do on any given day. Is it rest? Is it an adventure? Is it time to get work done? Time alone? A conversation with a friend? Time to create? This question is especially important as I go into the day so I can figure out my expectations for the day and communicate those to my loved ones.
3. If I can only get one thing done today, what is it?
I find I get depressed on days I feel I didn’t accomplish anything. So, I like to check in with myself and see what I want to get done on any given day. Maybe it’s just, “I want to take a shower today” or “I want to write a chapter for my book” or “I want to get a specific thing done for work.” If I don’t check in with myself and have that conversation, I am more likely to get disappointed with myself at the end of the day and feel like a failure or get depressed or anxious.
4. What can I take off my plate today, so I can get the most important thing done?
I have come to learn those busy days that are packed full of things to do do not work well for me. They tend to cause stress and irritability and that triggers episodes of anxiety, depression, anger, mania and the like. There is always something I can take out of the day but if I don’t stop, look at my schedule and see what I can move and shift, I will get caught in chaos, which is never good for me. I have learned to set boundaries and have learned to be OK with changing appointments around or saying no to something I know will end up causing problems for me later on.
5. Where can I find time for rest today?
I tend to forget to recharge and I let myself get burnt out, and a burnt out me is not a pretty sight. I have tried to make it a point to focus on self-care and find time and space for rest. I believe that healing comes in the quiet. If we don’t stop and let ourselves rest and replenish we can never really heal or flourish. Along with my illness, I juggle motherhood, marriage and a career. There are always a million excuses for why I can’t rest or don’t have time to stop, but for the sake of my health, I know I have to. Sometimes rest is just a cup of tea in the afternoon. Or maybe it’s a yoga class, dinner with a friend or a bath. On the good days, it’s an afternoon at my favorite tea shop, alone or sitting on a blanket in the park and writing. There are so many ways to find and create rest during the day but if I don’t stop and seek it, I won’t find it.
These questions can be helpful, regardless of what you are dealing with. They have especially come in handy for me as I have dealt with grief and loss, and they have given me a rhythm for my day. If you find yourself struggling through your days, stop and add these questions to your daily routine. They have consistently helped me to gain insight and stay ahead of emotional episodes and breakdowns. Hopefully, they too will help ground you and guide you through your life journey.