I recently gave a keynote presentation at Diabetes Linkup, a conference for Type 2 Diabetes bloggers, on the topic of overcoming stigma to connect with peers online. I was sharing lessons learned from the past four years of sharing about my brain. Whether it’s diabetes or mental illness, the challenges we run into online and the ways we can overcome them are very similar. Here are the five lessons I shared:
When it comes to dealing with horrible, weird, upsetting, terrifying intrusive thoughts or whatever else your brain is throwing up when you’re struggling with mental illness, learning to practice accepting the stuff in your head and shifting your focus to doing the things that will actually make you healthy, can stop the struggle in your head.
When it comes to avoiding anxiety triggers, approach them in the same way you would if you had a physical injury: understand what’s causing the pain and stop that, do specific exercises to recover from the injury, and then gradually but consistently reintroduce the trigger, learning to embrace it in a healthy way so you don’t run into the same problems again in the future.
I often hear people talking about “normal” and wanting things to be the way they used to be before they got diagnosed with a mental illness. But normal and the way things used to be is what led to the way things are. Being normal is a lot like sitting in a psychologist’s waiting room–it’s something you do before you get a diagnosis. Instead of going back to “normal”, go to a completely different place, a much, much healthier place:
Sometimes it’s valuable to deal with symptoms so you can then free yourself up to tackle your real problems. But when it comes to recovering from a mental illness, focusing only on the symptoms can cause you to keep on feeding the problem and engaging in lots of unhealthy behaviors that only make the illness worse over the long-term. If you’ve got a lion on your back gnawing away, and it’s causing you lots of pain, don’t just take something …
Don’t get into the habit of thinking there are good places for meditation or bad places. Like many things we do in the hope of making a task easier, we only create barriers when we insist we require something before we do something else. If you find you have trouble meditating in certain places, meditate there more. It will help your meditation skills improve while simultaneously decreasing the excuses in your life.
Doing behavioral therapies like Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are tough. And to be successful at those you need to do a lot of other tough things like eat well and exercise and communicate better. Taking care of your mental and physical health takes a lot of work and, unfortunately, there’s this very persistent myth that in order to do lots of hard work, you have to be “motivated”. But chasing motivation and waiting for …
All you need is your brain. You don’t even need expensive shoes or Under Armor or a helmet to meditate. Of course, you could wear all of that while you meditate if you wanted to. You could wear a pink apron and a yellow dress and boxing gloves if you wanted to. But you don’t have to. You already have the one thing you need to start meditating. You woke up with it.