How to Escape Your Mental Illness (or Not)

I’m in my 30s now.

Expectations I had for my 30s:

  1. I would be married check
  2. I would own a house. (I think the fact that I used to own a house counts for this one.)check
  3. I would have a career. x
  4. I would still live in Albuquerque. x
  5. I would no longer struggle with mental illness. x

Well, two out of five. Not what I had been hoping for.

Number five is pretty ridiculous. It took twenty years to disavow myself of the idea that there was something I could do to get rid of my mental health challenges. In the last ten years, here are the things I thought would let me escape my mental illness:

  1. Wherever you go, there you are. Moving to a new city, state, or country will not rid you of your mental illness.
  2. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are no miracle drugs for mental illness.
  3. Falling in love will not make you feel less alone. If you feel alone and lonely, you will still feel alone and lonely once you’re past the honeymoon period.
  4. A new job, haircut, pet, car, computer, outfit, etc. might make you feel better for a few minutes, but it will fade and you might feel worse after.
  5. More money, more problems. Well maybe not, but more money won’t get rid of your mental health problems.

The most important lesson I learned from the above list is: Wherever you go, there you are. I can’t escape myself. It bears repeating. You can’t escape yourself.

If you think where you are living, working, or who you are with is the problem, and then you replace one of those things with a new city, job, or person and you find history repeating itself, then you are the problem. I mean that in the nicest possible way. If you are the problem, then only you can fix it and the circumstances of your life have no bearing on it.

Things I’ve learned actually can help with mental illness:

  1. Learning how to spend time with me, myself, and I. Get comfortable spending time alone, so that you don’t feel lonely when everyone leaves at the end of the day.
  2. Taking up a hobby or five. If you have something to do when you’re alone, you won’t dread it and you might find joy.
  3. Embracing silence. I spent years filling silence with music, audiobooks, and TV. There is peace in silence, in observing your own thoughts. Meditation.
  4. Sitting in the sun. You don’t have guilt yourself for not exercising. Simply taking whatever activity you’re doing — reading, writing, knitting, surfing the internet, etc. — outside, can go a long way to improving your mood and/or anxiety level.
  5. Asking for a hug or getting a snuggle from a loved one or pet. Physical contact with friends, family, and pets has been clinically proven to improve mood and lower anxiety.

What have you learned helps lift your mood and lower your anxiety?


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