It's not just the medication that does the hard work

Recovery from mental illness is more than just taking your meds. This resurfaces every time I overcome a difficult situation whilst taking MH medication. There seems to be an idea that the meds ‘did all the hard work’. I agree, medication helps to settle the ‘biological chaos’, but it doesn’t fix the problem for me. It doesn’t change the way I think or the way I behave, that’s still down to me. 

Let’s make no mistake, I would not have had any sort of the wonderful life I have without my meds. They have helped me towards good grades, graduating from university, maintaining a happy and healthy long-term relationship, having some really great friendships, keeping a job, giving me back some form of sleeping pattern and partial control over my disorder. But the hard work was still mine.

Finding the right combination of medication

For the first time in a long time, my meds are very simple. I take an antipsychotic “Quetiapine” which helps with my psychotic symptoms, sleep, and manic episodes. I take a mood stabiliser “Lithium” to steady my extreme moods – especially mania. Finally, I take an antidepressant “Fluoxetine” to counteract OCD and depressive moods. It has taken over six years to find a manageable balance of meds, but I know I can’t stay on this combination forever. Lithium has been known to cause serious health problems if managed incorrectly and this current combination is harmful to pregnancies. One day this is going to be changed and I will have to deal with that – which shows the importance of taking an active role in recovery alongside medication.

People have often told me that I am ‘too together’ to have bipolar… whatever that means. What they often do not see is the behind-the-scenes lifestyle choices I have made towards my recovery. Obviously not everyone needs to make such drastic changes, but unfortunately, mental illnesses often come alongside adaptations.

There is so much more to recovery than just taking meds

Self-care techniques – lifestyle changes which can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problems.

  1. Recovery means staying aware of your own mental health. No one knows more than you when something is off. Be brave enough to influence your own treatment – speak to your doctors/ MH professionals about what has/ not worked for you in the past. Tell your friends and family about how they can help you. Tell someone when you have a bad day. Learn your own triggers and make others aware of them.
  2. Talk about it with the people you care about. Your mental illness can often make it seem like no one else understands. But you’ll be surprised how a simple conversation with someone brings up a lot of similar experiences and feelings. Break the stigma.

  3. Your recovery might look different to someone else’s, but it’s still bloody amazing. Comparison is a fucking killer. We’ve all done it. Just because someone looks like they’re doing great, doesn’t mean that they are. Stay in your own lane, focus on your own goals, smash ’em.

  4. Recovery is learning to spot your warning signs. It is not always easy to know what you are feeling, especially as it’s happening and put it into words – but try to recognise how you are feeling and any signs that lead to you feeling unwell. This can be helpful when seeking support.

  5. My last care coordinator gave me a ‘feelings wheel’ to help identify the different range of emotions. It has a silly name and silly colours, but it is actually really useful to break down unclear moods into more manageable feelings. 

  6. Recovery is learning to put yourself first. I have left jobs, cut off friends and family members if I believed it was affecting my mental health. You will always be your longest commitment – it is an important relationship to have with yourself. So what if things haven’t gone the way you planned, the new way things are doesn’t match the plan you had for your life. It’s the life you have now, and you have the ability to make it whatever you want it to be. Things will always be okay.

  7. Recovery is investing time in your social life. Feeling connected to others is important. It doesn’t matter how small your circle is – find someone that values you and that you can talk openly to. Spend time to (re)connect with family, this can make a difference too.

  8. If it feels like you don’t have any supportive friends or family, there are still lots of ways to connect with others. I am part of several online MH pages, including a Bipolar Disorder Support Group on Facebook – which helps to remind me how many other people are going through the same things that I am.

  9. Recovery can be mean keeping a mood diary. h a t e d doing this at first, but that’s because there are a lot of misconceptions about what a mood diary actually is. It doesn’t mean keeping a long-winded account of everything you do or feel. A simple number on a scale of 0-10 to sum up your overall mood(s) for that day and a sentence every now and then can really help. It can show you a pattern of mood swings/ behaviours over a few weeks or months. This can be invaluable information when you can only meet with your psychiatrist once a month.Personally, it helped me to learn where I fall onto my mood scale – putting real meaning behind the numbers they like you to pin yourself to. Here is the scale I use. Here is the mood diary I use.

  10. Recovery is taking steps to increase your self-esteem. Believe you deserve happiness, that you matter, and you are good enough. Take time for yourself, until you feel like yourself. Move past the mistakes you’ve made. Recognise what you are good at and why you have worth.Recovery is knowing that the world is a better place with you in it. I can promise you now, there’s no one else quite like you, and it makes the world a better place with you in it.

MH recovery means looking after your physical health. Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. It cannot be stressed how important looking after one helps to look after the other.

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Jasmine Saunders. You can read the full version of this article here)