Managing mental illness is a series of right decisions. It is taking ownership of your diagnosis and making it your job to manage it properly. To manage mental illness successfully, it is critical that you have an effective treatment plan tailored to your needs.
I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or social worker. Graduating at the top of my class from the School of Hard Knocks is my only mental health credential. I am not qualified to suggest or prescribe medicine. So I won’t.
In good conscience, the only advice I can offer is what works or doesn’t work for me. Treatment plans are not one size fits all. What works for me may not work for you. What works for you may not work for me.
I have been managing bipolar disorder for twenty-five years, so I have learned what works for me by trial and error. Today I share with you the five must-have elements in my treatment plan that help me maintain my balance.
Here are five elements that may enhance your treatment plan.
1. Faith in God (or a Higher Power)
I am a flawed but faithful follower of Jesus Christ. I find my hope in Him. He truly is my refuge and strength. I don’t know how people navigate life, much less mental illness, without faith.
It is not my job to shove my beliefs down your throat. Sharing the gospel is important, and I’d love to share it with you sometime. But I also believe Jesus Christ’s story speaks for itself better than I ever could.
I can’t make you follow Jesus Christ, but I encourage you to believe that you are part of something bigger than yourself. That there is a higher power at work in the universe.
Knowing you are a part of something bigger and knowing you serve a unique purpose in the world helps keep you alive when your flawed brain chemistry whispers in your ear you’d be better off dead.
2. The Right Psychiatrist
In the twenty-five years since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have had three psychiatrists. Two are exceptional doctors. I believe in them implicitly, and they have helped me stay relatively stable through the years.
I had a horrific experience with the third psychiatrist. Why did I stick with him for four years? I didn’t have insurance. I was too sick to hold a job, and he was the psychiatrist the state provided.
I am grateful for the treatment I received during those four years, and I believe my psychiatrist did the best he could with the limited resources available. But he had me on so many medications that I couldn’t tell whether I was coming or going!
When I qualified for disability benefits and received Medicare, I picked my current psychiatrist and my quality of life improved exponentially.
Not everyone has the privilege of choosing their own psychiatrist. If you do, find one you trust. Find one who is easily accessible. Find one who really understands how medication works. Find one who you believe in and who believes in you.
I have to be brutally honest. I hate therapy. Sharing my innermost thoughts with a therapist as they nod, stare blankly at me and take notes leaves me cold. I have gone to different therapists over the years. Some were better than others, but I finally realized that therapy was not for me.
And that’s okay. Because remember what I said about treatment plans not being one size fits all? Just because therapy doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t be the key to keeping you balanced. Therapy is a critical part of most people’s treatment plans, but there are other therapeutic practices available for those of us who don’t like it.
Prayer, writing, music and books are therapeutic outlets for me. You may love to paint or color. Exercise, nature or photography may help you through the difficult moments of your life. There is no right or wrong choice. It is simply a matter of finding something therapeutic that works for you.
4. Solid Support System
We were not meant to do life alone. God created Eve because He knew that Adam needed a helpmate.
When you live with mental illness, a solid support system is crucial. You need people you love and trust to notice when you are going off the rails and steer you toward help as gently or forcibly as necessary.
Finding the right support system is not an easy task. Your support system must look out for your best interests while leaving room for you to grow and take ownership of your life. They have to see you as a evolving person, not just a checklist of symptoms.
Some people you believe are your greatest supporters run like hell when it is crunch time. As the years go by, it becomes clear who will to walk through the valleys with you. The people who take your calls and return your texts when you are at your worst—those are your people.
5. Strong Self-Care Routine
I recently wrote an entire post about self-care. It is that important. It takes more than the right doctor and the right drug therapy to stay balanced.
It takes knowing you need a little extra TLC because your brain works differently than everyone else’s. It is loving yourself enough to put your well-being first, even when others call you selfish.
It is knowing you can’t miss that trip to the gym because you don’t feel like it. It is skipping that second martini because you know better. It is turning down an invitation for an evening out with your friends because you know it will be a late night, and you need sleep more than you need fun.
You can’t pour into anyone else’s life if your glass is empty. Self-care is not something you do after you check everything else off your to-do list. Self-care is when you pencil in yourself at the top of the list, so you take care of yourself first. Only then can you take care of others too.
Be Your Own Advocate
These are the elements of my treatment plan that have served me well through the years. Some of these tools may work for you. But maybe they won’t, and that’s okay.
Because I wrote this post to provide guidelines—a place to start. Be your own advocate. The right treatment plan for anyone takes trial and error and persistence. Find what works for you and do that.
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