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  • We would - of course - like any encounter with mental illness to be as brief as possible

  • and, most importantly, to be isolated and singular. But the reality is that for many

  • of us, the illness will threaten to return for visits throughout our lives. It will be

  • a condition to which we will be permanently susceptible. So the challenge isn't to learn

  • to survive only a one-off crisis; it's to set in place a framework that can help us

  • to manage our fragility over the long-term. Some of the following moves, practical and

  • psychological, suggest themselves:

  • Acknowledgement

  • Being ready for a return of the illness will help us to calibrate our expectations and

  • render us appropriately patient and unfrightened in the face of relapses. We fell ill over

  • many years - our whole childhood might have been the incubating laboratory - and it will

  • therefore take us an age until we are impervious. We should expect to recover no more speedily

  • than someone who has damaged a limb and probably a good deal more arduously, given how complicated

  • a mind is next to a femur or a tendon.

  • Mental Management

  • We need to be rigorous with our patterns of thinking. We cannot afford to let our thoughts

  • wander into any old section of the mind. There are thoughts that we need to nurture - about

  • our worth, about our right to be, about the importance of keeping going, about self-forgiveness.

  • And there are thoughts we should be ruthless in chasing out - about how some people are

  • doing so much better than us, about how inadequate and pitiful we are, about what a disappointment

  • we have turned out to be. The latter aren't even 'thoughts,' they have no content

  • to speak of, they cannot teach us anything new. They are really just instruments of torture

  • and symptoms of a difficult past.

  • A Support Network

  • A decent social life isn't, for the mentally fragile, a luxury or piece of entertainment.

  • It is a resource to help us to stay alive. We need people to balance our minds when we

  • are slipping. We need friends who will be soothing with our fears and not accuse us

  • of self-indulgence or self-pity for the amount of time our illness has sequestered. It will

  • help immensely if they have struggles of their own and if we can therefore meet as equal

  • fellow ailing humans, as opposed to hierarchically separated doctors and patients.

  • We'll need ruthlessness in expunging certain other people from our diaries, people who

  • harbour secret resentments against us, who are latently hostile to self-examination,

  • who are scared of their own minds and project their fears onto us. A few hours with such

  • types can throw a shadow over a whole day; their unsympathetic voices become lodged in

  • our minds and feed our own ample stores of self-doubt. We shouldn't hesitate to socially

  • edit our lives in order to endure.

  • Vulnerability

  • The impulse, when things are darkening, is to hide ourselves away and reduce communication.

  • We are too ashamed to do anything else. We should fight the tendency and, precisely when

  • we cannot bear to admit what we are going through, we should dare to take someone into

  • our confidence. Silence is the primordial enemy. We have to fight a permanent feeling

  • that we are too despicable to be looked after. We have to take a gamble on an always implausible

  • idea: that we deserve kindness.

  • Love

  • Love is ultimately what will get us through, not romantic love but sympathy, tolerance

  • and patience. We'll need to watch our tendencies to turn love down from an innate sense of

  • unworthiness. We wouldn't have become ill if it were entirely easy for us to accept

  • the positive attention of others. We'll have to thank those who are offering it and

  • make them feel appreciated in return - and most of all, accept that our illness was from

  • the outset rooted in a deficit of love and therefore that every encounter with the emotion

  • will strengthen our recovery and help to keep the darkness at bay.

  • Pills

  • We would - ideally - of course prefer not to keep adding foreign chemicals to our minds.

  • There are side effects and the eerie sense of not knowing exactly where our thoughts

  • end and alien neurochemistry begins. But the ongoing medicines set up guardrails around

  • the worst of our mental whirlpools. We may have to be protected on an ongoing basis from

  • forces inside us that would prefer we didn't exist.

  • A Quiet Life

  • We should see the glory and the grandeur that is present in an apparently modest destiny.

  • We are good enough as we are. We don't need huge sums of money or to be spoken of well

  • by strangers. We should take pride in our early nights and undramatic routines. These

  • aren't signs of passivity or tedium. What looks like a normal life on the outside is

  • a singular achievement given what we are battling within.

  • Humour

  • There is no need for gravity. We can face down the illness by laughing heartily at its

  • evils. We are mad and cracked - but luckily so are many others with whom we can wryly

  • mock the absurdities of mental life. We shouldn't, on top of everything else, accord our illness

  • too much portentous respect.

  • We should be proud of ourselves for making it this far. It may have looked - at times

  • - as if we never would. There might have been nights when we sincerely thought of taking

  • our own lives. Somehow we held on, we reached out for help, we dared to tell someone else

  • of our problems, we engaged our minds, we tried to piece together our histories and

  • to plot a more endurable future - and we started reading about what might be up with us.

  • We are still here, mentally ill no doubt at times, but more than ever committed to recovery,

  • appreciative of the light, grateful for love, hungry for insight and keen to help anyone

  • else whose plight we can recognise. We are not fully well, but we are on the mend and

  • that, for now, is very much good enough.

We would - of course - like any encounter with mental illness to be as brief as possible

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How to Handle Mental Illness in the Long-term

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/02
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