You can’t wish depression away.

This is a conversation I had online about how to cure depression. I read something in a group I belong to that I felt needed some comments from someone who had been there. However, it was a waste of my time to even try.

You can’t wave the victim flag and the victor flag at the same time. As long as people are stuck in the same old broken story that people’s mental health is entirely due to their attitude, they will continue to be sick. This is victim blaming at its finest. We don’t blame people who have diabetes for their bodies not working properly.  So why do we blame people with depression for their minds not working properly?  We must get over the idea that body and mind are separate in order to heal.

The Original post – “This is a special request that only a true friend can give and I appreciate all you Beautiful people out there,so I post this- I have a Beautiful Friend called Ruth who fights depression every day,She has an Absolute heart of Gold so I thought what better way than to show how much she is loved by others.Would you be so kind as to post a lovely heart or picture that you have done so I can save it to show she has support and well wishes because she just could do with that extra boost that she can’t do for herself right now!!! Thank you kindly and I can’t wait to share with her your Beautiful posts and love- God bless you All.”

I waited for a few hours before replying.  It was a knee-jerk response, and I wanted to cool down first.

I replied – “From personal experience – take her for a walk outside. Take her out for lunch and feed her healthy food. Depression is fed by inactivity and junk food – fried foods, few vegetables, too much carbs, too much sugar. It is something that can be overcome. It requires a lot of work, but the results are worth it. Pretty pictures will not do it.”

One person commented – “Anything done with love is a great idea. Maybe it isn’t a solution. But, it may put a smile on her face. Or even stop the tears. And that is positive.”

My reply – “Yes, love and positivity are good. However, I’m aiming for something more permanent than a quick fix. It requires a lot of self-discipline, which is super hard when you are depressed. It is like pushing a heavy ball up a muddy slope. But – the view from the top is so much better than the one at the bottom. We don’t treat diabetes and heart disease by kind thoughts. They require complete lifestyle changes. Depression is the same. Full disclosure- I am bipolar and have hospitalized myself twice. I take medicine daily. But the best medicine I take is self-care. Journaling is part of that. So is eating well and getting regular exercise.”

Another person replied – “Art journaling would be a great thing for Ruth – Art heals, for sure.”

By this point I was getting frustrated.  Nobody was listening.

The original poster said  – “I appreciate your comments and Ruth does try very hard with diet but its abuse from others that causes alot of her depression its not just from not trying other methods because she does really try,she just needed to know people love with a genuine love right now xxx”



I read a post about how to help someone with depression. It said that you should encourage them to talk about it. That is insane. Sure, there are often things that need to get out. But there is no “cure” in just talking.

We must remember that our bodies are not separate from our minds and spirits. What affects one part affects the rest. We must stop thinking about depression as a mind issue, but a body issue that affects the mind.

My personal experience is that it is far healthier to take them for a walk outside with you while you talk. And feed them healthy food. Then show them how to take care of themselves.

I’ve hospitalized myself twice for bipolar disorder, so I’m not on the sidelines pontificating here. I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness for since 1999, and in that time have learned how to take care of myself so well that my psychiatrist only sees me once a year. This means I do far more than just take my medicine (which I do, twice a day). I eat well, exercise, journal, and make art. I am a regular person with a regular 40 hour a week job. I do not rely on others to take care of me. I have learned to not blame others or situations for how I feel.

We must get back in touch with self-care. We do not have to ever experience depression. It requires a lot of work but it is worth it. No longer will we feel overwhelmed and controlled by our moods. This does not mean that we are “up” all the time. The point is not to just feel good all the time, but to feel everything with intention. We have control over how we feel.

Depression is a symptom of an imbalance – not enough sleep and exercise being part of it. Perhaps these examples will help give perspective –

When a tire is flat because it has a hole in it, you don’t put tape over it and drive on. We don’t say it is “depressed”. We look for the reason for the problem and fix it.

We don’t diagnose plants as “depressed” when their leaves droop or turn yellow. We find out what they are getting too much of or too little of and fix it. Too much or too little sun, water, or nutrients will make a plant droop and then die. The same is true for people.

When a car has run out of gas, we don’t say it is “depressed”. We put gas in it, and ideally we put in gas that doesn’t have additives in it. Better gas means that the car runs better. Food is the fuel that our bodies use. Better food, better results.

When we spend all of our money in our bank account and don’t put any in, we don’t say that the account is “depressed”. We either need to not waste our money or make more. Our energy levels are the same. We cannot continually expend energy without rest. However, too much rest is also bad. Our bodies are made to be used. Exercise builds up our “bank account”, but we also must take time to get enough sleep and schedule in times of inactivity in order to rebuild and refresh.

Talking about it is a waste of time. You wouldn’t expect a person with diabetes to “talk about it” to get over a low blood sugar episode. You wouldn’t expect a person with high blood pressure to “talk about it” to lower it. Certainly, they both might benefit from a little research into what they are doing or not doing for their health, but then they will only truly get better if they start acting on that realization.

Search for what you can do to help yourself. Start small. Keep doing it. It is easy to look at the big picture and feel overwhelmed. It is easy to come up with reasons why you can’t do it. Mental and physical health is not easy. Nobody else can do it for you. Your best source of medicine is to take care of yourself in any way you can.

Not letting the disease win.

Sometimes my motivation to do something is simply so that the disease will not win.

I have bipolar disorder, which is a polite way of saying I am manic-depressive. I’ve noticed that I tend to become unbalanced when I stop taking care of myself. The biggest thing I can do to take care of myself is to make sure I get enough sleep and avoid stress. Eating well and exercising also help a lot.

It is easy to equate avoiding stress with not doing anything that is difficult. But to me that is letting the disease win. It is very important for me to not let it win so I set goals and reach for them so that I get stronger. And every time I achieve one of these goals it makes it easier for me the next time.

It makes it easier for me to look at this disease when it says “No, you can’t do that” or “That is too hard for you.” and say “But look at these four other things I’ve done and I did them just fine.”

That is why I take classes. One of the hardest classes was the pastoral care class that was downtown on Tuesday nights. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of taking a class every Tuesday for nearly three months. Then it was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of having to drive myself downtown at night. It was hard for me to even imagine asking my boss for that time off to do it. But I did it, and I did it because I knew that what I was doing was important. I did it because I didn’t want the disease to win.

While I knew that what I was going to learn from the class was going to be important, what I was going to learn from just attending the class was going to be even more important. It was going to teach me that I can take care of myself.

I used to be really good at driving. I used to drive myself everywhere alone for hours at a time. I drove by myself to Washington, DC work one summer. That was a 10 hour drive, one way.

But then something changed when my bipolar disorder manifested. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I went on a camping trip and I got so unwell that I had to be driven home. Everything I owned had to be packed up for me by my friends, and I had to have someone else take me home.

It affected me, not only because it was embarrassing, but also because I don’t want to be a burden to other people. I don’t want to get to a point where I have to have someone else rescue me. So it is important for me to not put myself in situations where I think I’m going to fail.

But that sometimes meant that for years I didn’t put myself in any situations at all. It meant that sometimes I only did things that were safe. And when I only do things that are safe, I don’t grow or get stronger.

And that is letting the disease win.

And I can’t let it win.

We have to be weak to be strong.

We are taught how to be strong, but we aren’t taught how to be human. Weakness is seen as a bad thing. Loss is glossed over.

We are lying to ourselves and to each other.

In our lies we are killing ourselves.

Sometimes the death is dramatic – A school shooting. A suicide.

Sometimes the death is slower – Fifty years stuck in a job, a marriage, a life that doesn’t fit, doesn’t feel real.

In our desperation to conform, to put on a happy face, we lie to ourselves and deny our basic humanity.

One thing I try to tell people when I visit with them in hard circumstances (a death, a divorce, a dismissal from a job) is “It is OK to say ‘This sucks.'” Invariably they take me up on it.

I think this is what we all need – permission to be honest about our feelings, which is at the core, permission to be human. We spend so long putting on a happy face that we stop knowing what our real face is anymore.

I just found out that a friend I knew from high school has killed himself. Things hadn’t been going well but nobody expected him to take his life.

A few months ago a lady told me that her teenaged stepdaughter had committed suicide. She was distraught over being dumped by a boy.

My father attempted taking his own life several times in my childhood. His grandfather was successful, if you can think of killing yourself as something to succeed at.

These losses are all holes. We are lesser because they are not with us.

I wish there was a better answer than calling the police or the shrinks when someone is suicidal. I envision an intervention, an escape, where people are retrained how to take care of themselves. Not medicine and shock therapy, but true healing. I envision a vacation, a spa for the soul.

I committed myself twice. Twice I knew that I wasn’t well and I sought help. Twice I was in a mental hospital. I didn’t learn anything useful in either one. It was only when I got out and started reading about bipolar disorder for myself that I started to get better.

I wasn’t “healed” when I left the hospital. They let you out when the insurance benefits stop.

I started to heal when I started to take care of myself, but I feel that I should have been taught some of these skills in the hospital. It is hard to look out for yourself when it is your mind that is the part that is broken.

The best medicine is self care, and prevention. I’ve learned that there is a fine line for me for how much I can deviate in my routine.

The basics? No caffeine. Limited (or no) processed sugar. Drink lots of water. Avoid all stimulants. Regular exercise. Creating, in one form or another, every day. Making time to be alone, and time to be with friends. Learning to speak my truth, and set boundaries.

Sure I take my medicine. But I need a lot less than many people because I don’t get as off balance.

When I stop doing what I know I need to do to take care of myself I feel that I “have let my flame get low”. All I have to do to build it back up is to start doing those things again.

These are the skills that mental hospitals should teach. These are the skills that all hospitals should teach.

But until they get the clue, it is time for us to teach ourselves.

Mental health is not an accident. It is a lot of work.

Peacemaker – heal thyself.

I am feeling very grateful and blessed right now. I’ve just been granted the opportunity to take a class in nonviolent conflict resolution at a price I can afford. Then when I mentioned it to a member of the library administration, he suggested it may be possible to do it for free, with the library paying the difference. And then facilitate such meetings for the library. Basically, get paid to make peace and foster understanding, right where I am.

I feel like a door is opening.

It isn’t opening on its own. I’ve done a lot of work to get here.

Many years ago I was afraid to go anywhere but my neighborhood. I was afraid of driving. My bipolar disorder had scared me into staying close to home. I’d gone a few hours away from home years ago and had enough of a problem with my disorder that all my stuff had to be packed up for me and I had to be driven home. It was embarrassing. It was frightening. It was enough to keep me from traveling by myself for many years.

And then I decided that I could not let this diagnosis define me. I could not let it tell me what to do. So I started pushing myself. I started taking classes, on my own, downtown. Sure, it isn’t another city, but downtown Nashville has always scared me. Well, really it is the drivers and not the destination, but you get the point.

So I took a class called “Diversity in Dialogue” through the Scarritt Bennett center. That introduced me to the circle process, where people learn how to listen to each other openly. I took a second class to try to understand how the process works. I think that this kind of open, honest communication is what the world most needs.

I also took a class on Pastoral Care. That was far more intensive, but added to my training. It too was downtown, and it challenged me even further.

I attended a “Southern Sulha” – based on the Middle Eastern conflict resolution process.

I tutor students with learning disabilities and/or have English. I’ve done this for at least five years, most recently kindergartners.

I’ve read dozens of books to help me understand different perspectives, different cultures, and how to relate to people.

I keep taking classes and going to events that are all leading toward this goal.

It is like I am doing an independent study, and creating my own curriculum. Some of the classes have been paid for by work or my former church.

What is the thing that unites them?

Peace. Peaceful understanding. People actually listening to each other. Not debating. Being OK with having different viewpoints. There’s more, but that is a good start.

The irony? I don’t talk to my brother. Long time readers of this blog know the story. It was more peaceful to sever the relationship than to continue it. Every time we talked there was a huge misunderstanding and fight. No matter what I said he twisted it into something malicious. It seemed healthier to quit than continue.

Sometimes you have to know how not to do something in order to know how to do it. I know what peaceful communication isn’t. I know what pain results from it. And I also know it takes two to communicate.

“Our cabin”

My husband and I have discovered the ideal home away from home. We’ve found out that nearby state parks have cabins that people can rent. This is genius. We get all the fun of a cabin, without the worry.



We don’t have to fool with a mortgage. Not like we could afford another mortgage anyway, unless we inherit a lot. We are both government employees. They pay us in benefits, not in actual salary.

We don’t have to worry about somebody breaking into it while we aren’t there. There are rangers around, and hey, if one is damaged for some reason (vandals, wild animals, or by bad weather) we can just pick another cabin.

We are starting to think of it as “our cabin”. We tried it out once and it was a nice retreat. It is just an hour away. We can get there not using the freeway. Just driving there is like going back in time. The drive alone is part of the fun.

The interesting thing for me is that the place we have chosen is a place I went many years ago when I was active in the SCA, a medieval reenactment group. In a way, it was a test to go there. The last time I was there I wasn’t quite well.

That was before I was diagnosed as bipolar, and more importantly, before I learned how to take care of myself. Just taking the pills that I’m prescribed isn’t the same thing. I didn’t know how important it was for me to get a good night’s sleep and enough water and food. I didn’t get enough of any of those things when I would go to events, and there was a lot of stimulation. There are a lot of people and a lot of things going on. This is a recipe for disaster when you are bipolar.

I was a little concerned the first time we went that I’d remember that bad experience and relive it a little.

Here’s the field where I started to notice that something was up. This time I was fine.


The sunset was very pretty.


I’m always mindful of going off the deep end. But I’m also mindful that I don’t want to live my life in fear of another episode. If I avoid anything that I think might trigger another period of strangeness, I might as well just hide away at home right now. It is important for me to push myself and stretch.

Otherwise, I’ve let this disease win.

I’m constantly pushing myself, in all areas.

It is why I took classes in pastoral care. They were every week for months, and I had to drive myself downtown to go to them. I knew it was important to take this class and I was grateful for the opportunity, but I was afraid. I was afraid that I’d get lost, or the car would break down, or the stress of being in downtown Nashville traffic would be too much. People aren’t very nice drivers here, and I try to avoid being behind the wheel in busy traffic as much as possible. But for this, I did it, and I’m glad. I proved to myself that I could.

And I’m using that as a stepping stone to more things.

So for the same reason, I’m going to this cabin. It isn’t just any cabin. I love going, of course. It is like a little retreat. But this particular one has this field in view. While we are eating breakfast, lunch, and supper I can see it. And every time I see it I remember, and I think how grateful I am that I’m OK. And I’m mindful of how fragile “normal” is, and how much work I have to put in to it to keep it going.

And then I look out the bedroom window and the trees look like they are making an archway, just like in a medieval church entrance.


Maybe a some of my recovery is where I put my attention. Look at the past, at the old field where I realized I was losing my grip on reality – or look the other way, and see a doorway?

I’m glad I went, and I’ll go back. It is important to face my fears.

Psych test – how to get sane in spite of your doctor.

I make no bones about the fact that I go to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as bipolar about fifteen years ago and I take medicine for it. At least I admit that I need help and I take it.

Many years ago I was getting free health insurance. I wasn’t employed and we had a sort of state run system. Essentially, you got what you paid for. It was better than nothing. I’d had several different doctors when I lived in Chattanooga, but when I moved to Nashville I didn’t have as many choices.

The only doctor that was listed for mental health did not speak English as his first language. It might not have even been his second language. While I’m OK with a doctor knowing multiple languages, I feel it important that if you are going to be a psych doctor, your first language needs to be the same as the patient you are supposed to be helping.

There aren’t any non-language tests for the psych doctors. It isn’t like they can listen to your brain with a stethoscope, or hook you up to a machine to see how you are doing. They have to talk to you and listen to you, and be able to understand what you say. They need to also be able to understand nuance and idioms. All of this is lost if they don’t share the language.

One day the doctor said that if I “felt special” I should take this certain pill. I think he meant if I felt like I had special powers, because it was an antipsychotic medicine. But with what he said, he basically wanted me to feel like crap most of the time.

He sure succeeded with that one. One of the medicines he had me on was Depakote. What a terrible drug. It took me four hours to get to sleep, and then I’d sleep for ten and twelve hours. When I was awake I couldn’t concentrate on anything. There was no way that I could return to the working world or even consider going back to school on that medicine. If I kept taking it, then I’d have become indigent and perhaps homeless.

When I told him about these problems, he said “That’s normal.”

That isn’t normal. It might be the normal for the medicine. But it isn’t normal for a functioning human. Perhaps his goal was to make me a zombie. He was making good headway on that one.

One day he set me up with a graduate student and he wanted to give me a test. For some reason I knew the questions for the test and how to answer it. I guess I’d already come across them somewhere. I felt it was so tedious and insulting. I didn’t want to do it. I refused to take it, but he wouldn’t continue on the exam (or give me my prescription) unless I did it. So really, I had no choice.

As a last-ditch effort to get out of this pointless waste of time I pointed out that I was properly oriented as to day and time – I was there for my appointment. He wasn’t buying it.

The questions that I remember include: spell “world” backwards. Count backwards from 100 by sevens. Recite the president’s names in order, as far back as I can remember.

He also gave three words – perhaps they are pen, doorknob, and spoon. I had to repeat them back to him. But then about ten minutes later, after other questions, he asked me to say them again.

None of this had anything to do with if I could cope with reality. None of it had anything to do with how I was managing on a day to day basis.

I stopped going to this doctor after this. Because this was a state-run scheme, I didn’t have another option at the time. I slowly tapered off on my medicine and then just went on my own for a while. I did fine for a bit, but when I crashed, I crashed hard. I’d been self-medicating with pot and that seemed to do the trick for a while but then I decided to stop smoking that. It didn’t take long before things started to get really weird again and I needed help.

The mental health doctors I’d seen hadn’t taught me how to take care of myself. In fact, they had taught me how to be dependent on them. This is very common with medicine the way it is run these days.

In the meantime I found another doctor, and another kind of medicine. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I could sleep well, and I could think again. No crazy highs and lows.

But better, I had learned something about how to take care of myself. I’d learned that avoiding caffeine and sugar helped a lot. I learned that healthy eating and getting regular moderate exercise helped. I learned that making sure I get a decent night’s rest was essential. I learned that staying away from people and situations that agitated me was very calming.

No doctor told me this. They wanted to test me with irrelevant questions and give me pills that made me stupid. They didn’t care about me as a person or my future.

It is very hard to fight for yourself when your doctor is turning you into a zombie. Then again, when you are in your right mind it is hard enough to stand up for your rights against a doctor. There is the idea that they are the authority – they know best. They aren’t working with you to get healthy – they are dictating what pills to take. They are treating symptoms and not causes. They aren’t promoting health. They are treating diseases. They have it all backwards.

But when your mind is what is affected, it is even harder to stand up for yourself.

Doctors should ask these questions instead – What are you eating? What are your hobbies? What do you do for exercise? What do you do for a job? What do you read? What do you do when you hang out with friends?

All of these things can indicate if a person is off balance. Fix those and the person will stop having such wild mood swings. I propose that bipolar disorder is a reaction to being overstimulated in an unhealthy way. I propose that it isn’t a disease so much as a symptom of an imbalance in life. Fix the balance, and you fix the problem. Perhaps it is more common among highly sensitive individuals. Perhaps if doctors address the cause, they’ll find the cure.

In the meantime, we the patients have to take matters into our own hands and get going with taking care of ourselves.

The empty cross


I love this shape. It is the cross, the intersection of heaven and earth, but empty. It is filled with the wearer.

I love that it is a quatrefoil. It reminds me of a four leaf clover. It looks medieval, yet the place I bought it from calls it “Moroccan.” It isn’t just one thing, and that kind of thing makes me really happy.

It reminds me of the bead that launched my love of beads way back when I worked in Washington D.C.


I loved that bead so much that I got a tattoo of it. In fact, it was my first tattoo.


I’ve since added to it, as you can see. But it is the center of the design.

This tattoo reminds me that God is always with me. It got it after the first time I was in the hospital for my bipolar disorder. They take away all of your “stuff” when you are in a mental hospital. That is the one place where you need something solid to hold on to. Me? I chose to have a reminder of God’s love with me. I figured they couldn’t take this from me.

But this symbol – this empty cross, I like even more. It is the same shape as that bead of course, but it means more because it is less. By having the center of it empty, it shows the wearer through it. It reminds me that I carry God with me, and so does everyone else.

I made this version of the empty cross necklace with green, orange, and purple. I’m not sure why these colors keep standing out for me. I like them, sure. They seem a little more vibrant than I normally work with though.


I’m a little limited on these crosses – the batch I have only comes in green, and it is a bright green at that. No hiding it! But in a way I like that too. Green is a color of growth, and this vibrant green is a good reminder to be alive in my faith.


Sometimes my energy gets really low. It isn’t a great feeling. I don’t want to be up all the time, but I certainly don’t want to sink into the doldrums either.

I have let my flame get really low the past two weekends. I have noticed it and recommitted myself. I find it is important to commit to a practice of mindfulness, of intention, of purpose. When I stray from that practice I don’t notice it right away. I notice a week or two later when everything starts to not work correctly.

Perhaps some of this comes from being bipolar. Perhaps it is normal for humans to have mood swings that can leave them feeling so worthless they don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t know. I know I’m bipolar and I know that this is what I experience.

Sometimes getting out from under this funk feels like pushing a rock up a big hill. It feels like I never get anywhere. It feels like it is all work all the time and it never gets easier.

But I’ve been here before. I remember. It is slow going and requires patience and discipline, but it gets better. The problem comes when it gets going really well and I stop doing all the things I know I should do and I start to slide back down that hill again.

I was off last Friday, as usual. I didn’t have any solid plans. This is always a bad start. There were some things I could do, but nothing I had to do. I was tempted to skip yoga, but I knew that would mean I would stay at home and the funk would get worse. I pulled myself out of bed and went. My heart wasn’t in it but I knew that I was doing something good for myself. Just doing that gave me a little more energy.

A Hasidic Rabbi pointed out once that you can’t burn down a tree with a match, but if you chop the tree up into little pieces, you can. This is a useful thought. In part it means that it is OK to break up tasks into little pieces. Sometimes we think that if we can’t do it all, we shouldn’t even do a little bit of it. It also means that just doing a little bit of something can give you enough energy to do a little bit more of it.

When my flame is low and I’m recommitting myself, I have to be very intentional about what I do.

I avoid all fried food.
I eat no meat.
I skip spicy food.
I go back to my exercise routine – walking, yoga, water aerobics.
I craft in some way – bead, draw, paint.
I write.
I avoid processed sugar.
I avoid “retail therapy”.

I already have given up smoking and caffeine. These two are really bad for mental health.

Sometimes something as simple as washing the dishes or doing the laundry can be healing. It is something that when I notice later I’ve done it, I feel better. Vacuuming doesn’t seem to have this affect – it doesn’t produce a visible result. Sometimes just noticing that there is less clutter helps my head.

What is it about doing these things that makes me feel better? Is it eating vegetarian that makes me feel better, or the fact that I have chosen to do something that I feel is good for me? Half of this is getting past what the Buddhists call “the monkey mind.” That is the part of your mind that is all “gimme gimme gimme”. It doesn’t care about what is healthy or right or good. It is your inner toddler.

It is hard to fight the monkey mind. It makes you think it is you.

I try not to go overboard on this. I have learned to have patience with myself. It is a slow process of re-entry. It isn’t wise to swing the pendulum too far one way or another. When you are sick, you don’t want to run a marathon. It is good to do things carefully.

It is just like driving. If you notice you are getting out of the lane, you don’t want to yank the steering wheel too sharply. You are better off gently steering back into the correct lane. If you yank the wheel, you might veer off in the wrong direction.

If you are in a yoga pose and you notice you are getting wobbly, you don’t want to over correct. You are better off making micro adjustments. If you overcorrect you’ll likely fall.

This is exactly the same thing. The only problem is that when your mind gets out of the lane or wobbly you don’t have a lot of feedback. You don’t have a way of noticing it. You notice when you crash into the guardrail. You notice when you fall on the floor. Good mental health requires you notice before that happens.

Friday wasn’t a 10. It was more like a 5. But I know if I’d not paid attention and started to steer things in a better direction, it would have been a 2. I’m ok with a 5. And I know that tomorrow I’ll try again.

Thriving with a mental health diagnosis.

This is about mental health. Some of it is about depression, because that is something that many people wrestle with. But some of it applies to mental health in general. These are things that I’ve discovered that have helped me. I offer them to you with the hope that they may be of use to you as well.

Depression feeds on itself. It has its own gravity. It is like a planet that is larger than you, sucking you into its own orbit, making it hard to escape. But you can. Inch by inch, step by step, you can get further away from it. You have the power and control. It is a thing, a force outside of you. It isn’t you. Do not let your diagnosis be your definition. You aren’t mentally ill. You have a mental health diagnosis. It is very hard to be objective about your own care when it is your mind that is affected, but it isn’t impossible. It takes a lot of work, but it is completely worth it. Every little step counts.

I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was in my early 30s. I’m in my mid 40s now. I’ve hospitalized myself twice – the last time was over 12 years ago. Both times I realized that I needed help. Since then I’ve bought a house, gotten married, and been at the same job far longer than I can believe. I’ve become a stable adult SINCE my diagnosis. If it weren’t for my diagnosis, I’d probably be homeless now. It isn’t the illness that is the problem – it is what you do with it. You can live very well with a mental health diagnosis- you have the power.

There are steps you can take to take control of this condition, to not let it be in charge. Every little tiny thing you do is a positive step towards health, and each step generates a little more energy to be able to do the next step. You won’t be able to do it all at once, and you will fall and fail several times. This is normal. This is normal for everybody – not just those with a mental health diagnosis.

You won’t be able to do it all at first. But doing something is better than doing nothing. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is worth it. You are worth it. The disease will tell you otherwise. But I’m here, standing on the shore, having waded through the rapids and slipped on the rocks, and I’m telling you there is hope after diagnosis, and there is a way. There is a way to feel better, even to feel great.

It isn’t going to happen on its own, though. You have to do something.

Take your medicine every day. This isn’t like an antibiotic, where you take it for ten days and then you are done. You have to come to grips with the fact that this is a chronic illness. Chronic means forever. That alone can get you a little depressed. But – here’s a way to think of it. Without medicine, you will get worse. With medicine, you will be fine. We are lucky to live in a time where we have medicine to take. Medicine is essential, and taking it is a step in the right direction. Taking your medicine isn’t a sign of weakness – it is a sign that you want to get well. It is the opposite. It is a step on this path to health.

I like to think of mental health medicine as the same as medicine for diabetes. I used to think I could do all this on my own, that I could just eat right and exercise and I wouldn’t have to take pills at all. But if I had diabetes, I wouldn’t think that way, I’m pretty sure. I’d do what I could to help myself, and I’d take my medicine. We forget that we are biochemical machines – being in a human body is being part of a moving chemistry experiment. We are faulty in bits – it isn’t perfect. So we take medicine in order to fix what doesn’t work well. It is the same with glasses – if you have bad vision, you wear glasses or contacts. You don’t think you can adjust what you eat and do and suddenly see better. Props are healthy. It isn’t admitting weakness to ask for help. It is healthy.

Work with your doctor. If your medicine needs to be adjusted, tell her. Sometimes our body chemistry changes and the medicine no longer works. If your doctor doesn’t listen to you, get another doctor. I had one who treated me like a stupid child. He also said “That’s normal” when I said that I couldn’t concentrate enough to read and I was sleeping 10-12 hours a day. That isn’t normal. And a doctor who thinks that is isn’t a doctor, he is a quack.

Yes, it is hard to find another doctor. Making any change is hard – you feel like you are pushing a huge rock up a hill. You just want to sit there on that hill and just let things happen to you. This is the disease talking. If you let it win this conversation, it will keep winning. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Every step you take gets you stronger.

Eating well and getting regular exercise is essential. It isn’t about a starvation diet at all – it is about making good choices with food. It is about seeing food as healing. It is about movement too – about intentionally incorporating moving into your daily routine. The human body isn’t meant to sit for hours at a time. You’ll feel much better if you move. It will be hard to do at first. It gets better. It gets amazing. You’ll be creaky and whiny at first. Keep on going. It gets better.

When I first started working out, I felt like I was going to die. It hurt, I was worn out, I was sore. It was really hard. I hated the class. I hated being there. I wanted the class to end. I puttered through, doing only about half the routine. But I felt better after the class was over. I felt glad that I had gotten through it, and done something good for myself. And then I got stronger, and now the classes seem easy. This is the trick. Stay with it. Of course it hurts at the beginning. You aren’t in shape. But keep going. Every good thing you do is a step towards healing.

Find what is right for you. I’m going to tell you what I do that works for me. It has taken me years to figure this out, and I’m OK with the idea that this may change. Currently I do yoga, water aerobics, and I walk.

I do yoga for 10-15 minutes every morning. I also take a yoga class every week. I have made a commitment to myself to do this. I’ve noticed that if I decide to skip one morning, or the class once a week, then I start to want to skip every day or every week, and then it is a month I’ve not had my class. My body and my head let me know that this isn’t good. Push through that resistance, that desire to not do what is good for you. Go ahead and do it, and you’ll feel better afterwards. You’ve won that battle.

There is something amazing about yoga. It unkinks your body and your head. It isn’t just exercise. It teaches balance, both physically and mentally. It teaches about acceptance of where you are, and gently pushing yourself to get better and stronger. Yoga is like a massage you give yourself. I recommend it highly. I’m grateful that my local YMCA teaches classes. There are many different kinds of yoga classes. Some are very basic, some are very advanced. If you go to one class and it is too much or too little for you, go to a different one with a different teacher.

I do water aerobics, at least twice a week. The class I take is taught by a very energetic teacher. I had thought that water aerobics was just for arthritic little old ladies, and while it can be, it doesn’t have to be. It can be a very vigorous cardio exercise with resistance. The water provides support and resistance at the same time. This exercise is great on your joints – you can move them and not hurt them like you would with land exercises. Also, water aerobics is fabulous for your core. Having a sexy belly does wonders for your self-esteem.

I walk every day at lunch for 20 minutes. I’ve had to bring my lunch to work to make this work out. I have changed how I work as well, and I get in a mile and a half. Again, every little bit counts. Even ten minutes of walking is better than none.

I’ve had to give up a lot to do these things. There is only so much time in the week when you work a full time job. But I’ve found that being healthy is more important than reading ten books a week. You have to figure out your priorities and find a healthy balance. Sometimes you can do several things at once – you can listen to an audiobook or a podcast while walking or gardening, for instance.

What you eat is important too. Why go through the effort of exercise if you aren’t going to put good fuel in your body? Balance is important here. If you eat a lot of high-energy foods (caffeine and processed sugar) you’ll crash hard. If you eat a lot of low-energy foods (junk food, fried, processed, meat) you’ll just drag through your day. You have been taught by our society that you need these things to get through your day. You don’t. Our culture lies about a lot of things, and is totally unaware of consequences. This is why so many people are dying of preventable diseases. Don’t be them. You have a choice, and you have control.

I eat yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast, along with grapes and bananas. Eat organic when possible. Eat more vegetables than meat. When you do eat meat, eat fish. Don’t eat anything fried. No sodas, and avoid processed sugar. It causes a crash. I’ve gone without caffeine for over 5 years. Caffiene is a cheat – it over balances. Drink mostly water, with some fruit juice. Go natural as much as possible. Eat real food, not processed. Again, you won’t be able to do everything at once. That is normal. Even doing one thing is a great start. This is kind of like learning how to juggle. You won’t be able to have all the balls up in the air at once. But do one, and get used to it, then do another. Patience yields progress.

Get outside. Get some natural sunshine. Go for a walk outside, or garden.

There is no substitute for sleep. Get enough sleep every day. You can’t shortchange yourself on that.

Avoid overstimulation. For me, this means avoiding the news. It isn’t news, so much as bad news. I can’t handle it. I’m overwhelmed. I feel helpless. I started by not watching the news. I would read it instead. Then even that got to too much. If you can, reduce noise around you. This is at work and at home. Too much noise jangles our nerves. The same is true with a lot of visual stimulation. I try to make sure the TV is off at 9:15, and I’m in bed by 10. I need time to wind down. I read before bed, but nothing stimulating or exciting. Usually non-fiction does the trick.

Find a creative outlet. Bead, paint, sew, make music. Do whatever makes you happy. It won’t be perfect at first. Nobody ever is. That isn’t the point. Get over your need for control and perfection and allow yourself the ability to play again. This is play. This is fun. It is the opposite of work. Allow “mistakes” – let yourself discover. I also highly recommend writing in a journal. Writing is essential. Write every day. Not only will you get things out, you will learn things.

Seek the company of good people. If someone is constantly bringing you down, they aren’t a friend. Friends are helpful, not destructive. Understand you may have issues with your boundaries. A lot of us do. Look at my post called “Survival books” under “Resources” and pick one. Read it. It will help a lot. You also might be a “highly sensitive person” – there are books in that list for that too. I’ve learned a lot from those books that have helped me understand how to deal with this diagnosis. You aren’t alone.

This is what I do to turn around depression. I look at what I’m doing that is different from my usual routine. Usually I’ve started eating more candy, or I’ve not gotten enough sleep, or I’ve slacked off on my exercise. I redouble my efforts. Drop the candy and pick up the walking shoes. You’ll turn this funk around. There will be times where you will want to slack off. Don’t. That creates negative energy. When you feel “I don’t want to exercise/eat well/ go to sleep on time” see it as a cranky toddler. Be the adult – you are in charge. If you slack off, it will win energy and get you to do it again. Then you are in a hole again.

I find having a faith is important. I read the Daily Office every day – it is a selection of three Bible readings. It is a regular structure. If left to my own devices I’ll read whatever I come across from a random page flip. And then I’ll not read at all. I’ve discovered that having regular habits is very important. I pray regularly. I’ve also developed a habit of thankfulness and gratitude. I find this is essential.