Mental Health Cycle
A long time ago I came to the conclusion that mental health problems will always be a present in my life. It was a daunting thought at first, but the more I have accepted the illnesses I have, as appose to fighting them at every chance I got, the more I have steadily made progress with managing them.
Admittedly, and expectedly, I still experience hard times and bad days, but recently I have been thinking about my mental health increasingly more objectively. Specifically considering whether the seemingly random dips in my mental health actually occur in some sort of pattern.
I haven't looked into how the time of year, specific dates or periods have an effect yet, but I have been trying to be better conscious of the symptoms I experience, and the structure in which they present themselves.
Through being conscious of this I have noted four basic steps I experience at varying lengths and degrees, and in a cycle. They are: Spark, Functioning, Spiral Brain, Fog.
There is always a point where I feel like I am done with living life under the rules set out by mental illness. In the past this has been signified by my sudden advances to seek therapy, reading an abundance of wellbeing-related books, or repeatedly throwing myself back into what I love to break down the wall.
Whichever way, I'll experience a spark of energy, or motivated line of thinking, that pushes me to take control back from the safety behaviours that tie me to one spot. The spark is the moment in which I can't take my mental illnesses anymore, and I won't take them either.
Once I have acted on the Spark, which has given me the means to push through the worst of it, I begin functioning to a 'normal'* capacity again. I can get on with daily tasks, my job, hobbies and social activities with relative ease; and enjoy them too.
I sometimes don't always notice when I am in this stage of the cycle until I leave it again. More often than not, I will be so unaware of my progress back to 'normality' (no matter how tough it was to get there...) that I will mindlessly pile on projects, social activities and various responsibilities. Suddenly and unintentionally I will find myself floundering, feeling incapable, or becoming burnt out.
This stage appears to have its own cycle too. It will begin with me steadily functioning, steadily building too much into every aspect of life (saying yes to everything and increasing my workload), struggling, slowing down, and then starting the process all over again.
This can be a dramatic decline or a steady undoing. I can suddenly find myself spiralling into the clutches of depression, or begin to slowly withdraw from hobbies, social life and every day activities. The first things to go are usually my exercise routine, and my ability to make plans with friends; but the withdrawal always seems to be due to a lack of drive and energy.
More often than not, I won't notice myself withdrawing until I have withdrawn altogether.
Brain Fog is the worst step of the mental health cycle. I use the term Brain Fog as it is simply like trying to navigate through the thickest mist. At my lowest I will feel incapable, overwhelmed and, at times, in complete despair.
Why me? Will this last forever? What can I do to make it stop? Are usually the questions that come to mind, and it often gets worse before it gets better. There isn't anything I can do to make it go away, instead, like fog, it passes naturally and of its own accord... And the cycle starts again.
Being able to recognise this cycle has been reassuring in itself. I have always found comfort in getting to know myself better; as it helps me feel grounded and focused on the moment. Through being able to pin-point where I am in the cycle, I can see that no matter how bad things are, better times are coming - and that there will always be a moment in which I can turn things around again.
Now I have recognised this cycle, and the symptoms to look out for, I am interested in finding out ways to lessen the duration and intensity of the Spiral and Brain Fog stages - or at least make them easier to manage. And, I am hoping to elongate the motivation gained from the Spark and the ability to live 'normally'* and happily when Functioning.
Does this cycle sound familiar to you? How do you stay motivated and able to function 'normally'*?
*Disclaimer: I say normal, normally and normality in quotes as there isn't a true normal; only what is 'normal' to us personally.