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February 15, 2013
Pebbles, Potholes, and Perspective
Living with Mental Illness Requires Self-Discipline
by Sarah Hancock

Some people think that mental illness is really just an excuse for lack of self-discipline or laziness. I mean, how many people have you seen on TV, in the movies, around your neighborhood, church or home that appear a little off their rocker, loopy or truly ill. You may think, "Why doesn't he just get out of bed? Why doesn't he just think positive? Why can't he work a full-time job? Why does he waste so much time checking and rechecking things? If he'd exercise just an ounce of self-discipline, his life and circumstance could be completely reversed!" You'd probably be really surprised how much self-discipline is required to successfully live with mental illness. Let me give you an idea of what it's like.

First of all, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because of the patience required when dealing with psychiatric medications. It takes four to six weeks for medications to start working, meaning that you have to take them on a regular basis without any evidence that they are working for three to five weeks. Self-discipline is also required to make sure that medications are always filled on time.

Second, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because of the strict schedule you have to keep in order to get enough sleep. My doctor told me that unless I got at least ten hours of sleep, my medication would not have enough time to reset my brain. Try being an adult who needs at least ten hours of sleep. It requires a loving support system and a lot of sacrifice on everyone's part. It also requires learning how to be more efficient with your limited time: turning off computers, phones, televisions and taking your medicines at least an hour before you intend to fall asleep. If a person is manic, it requires a lot of communication with their doctor to regulate and adjust things so that sleeping is possible.

Third, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because the better you eat, the better your brain will work. Who can say enough about proper nutrition? I'm not going to go into it, but a healthy diet equals a healthy brain. In addition to the obvious, the majority of psychiatric medications cause weight management issues because they turn off the "I'm feeling full" switch in your brain so you feel like you're always starving. You may be familiar with the "Freshman Fifteen." Many people on a medication called Haldol have what we call the "Haldol Hundred." Haldol isn't the only medication which causes weight gain. Weight gain is often one of the leading causes why people I know stop taking their medications.

There are actually quite a few foods which don't interact well with medications. Warning labels are attached to many medication bottles cautioning people not to eat grapefruit. And remember how parents don't want their kids to bounce off the walls on a sugar high? Many people I know (including myself) who deal with psychiatric symptoms actually mitigate some symptoms when they strictly guard their sugar intake. It's hard to go to activities where all the refreshments are cookies, brownies and cake, especially when everyone around you is indulging. Finally, regarding caffeine, cut it out if you or your loved ones have symptoms of anxiety, behavioral problems or mood instability! You will be amazed at the difference it makes.

Fourth, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because of all the scheduling involved! Scheduling time for exercise, doctor or counselor appointments and advocating for yourself or your loved one to have time to themselves to unwind and de-stress are vital. Even though they are vital, they are nearly impossible to do without self-discipline.

Fifth, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because where do you get the motivation from if your brain chemical makeup doesn't allow you to be or create motivation. It takes a lot of self-discipline to continue doing things you know you need to do when there is no ounce of interest or motivation to do so. There is a difference between external motivation and internal motivation. Often times the external motivation is there, but the umph needed to get out of bed or take a shower just isn't there because you feel like your brain has turned off and your body had turned to led because your brain chemicals are out of whack.

Sixth, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because, even though your body doesn't get the endorphin rush during or after exercising, you need to do it to stay healthy. People told me again and again that if I just got moving I'd feel better. I'd go for a walk or go to the gym and feel like my brain and body were more heavy laden during and after the exercise. I was always jealous of those who got that endorphin rush. I think that is part of the reason that the Haldol Hundred is such an accurate description.

Seventh, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because you've got to know your limits and stay within them. Anyone, with or without mental illness, needs to know their limits and stay within them. Unfortunately, as members of the Church, we often don't know how to say "no" because we have a built-in "must do all I can for everyone I can" sixth sense. While this assists us in serving our neighbors, it can be detrimental for our health. Throw in a mental illness and you've got a mess on your hands. I've learned that since my symptoms are largely affected by stress and lack of sleep, there are certain things I just can't do. Girl's Camp, for one example, although a bucketload of fun, would not be good for me to do simply because if I do, I know I will never get to sleep on time, especially as a leader. It is difficult in any situation when people try and talk you into or out of things others can do. My advice, when you tell someone "no" mean it. There is always someone else who can do it. When someone tells you "no," it's not necessarily because they don't want to do it, it's because they can't! Find someone who can.

Eighth, successfully living with mental illness requires self-discipline because there is a lot of scheduling required. Many different disorders make it difficult to organize your thoughts. Let me ask you, how can you keep a schedule when you can't organize your thoughts? It just unwinds from there. Planning and carrying out things is an essential part of living successfully, regardless of the situation you find yourself in. Many psychiatric disorders cloud thoughts. To make matters worse, most medication slows down and clouds the thought process, compounding the problem. (This, too, requires self-discipline. How can you keep taking your medication when everything you experience seems to nullify the reason you take the medication in the first place? In the long run, for me, I've decided that medication is the best option. Some people chose otherwise for the very reason listed above.)

Well, there you have it. Eight reasons why living with mental illness requires self-discipline. If you think someone living with a mental illness lacks self-discipline, review this list and tell me you'd be able to do it better. It's exhausting, but do-able. It's not easy to always keep up, no one can 100% of the time. I can't. But, I feel pretty good when I do!

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