If you have a serious, persistent mental illness (SPMI), than you have been told over and over again how to “recover” from an episode of your illness. Focus on self-care. Make sure you’re getting enough rest. Take it easy, try not to overwhelm yourself. Make sure you’re taking your medications and seeing your doctor/therapist/other practitioners as scheduled. Get on a schedule, including a regular sleep schedule. Maintain person hygiene and eating routines. Avoid triggers and use your support system. Utilize positive coping skills and avoid negative ones (including drugs and alcohol).
Sound about right?
These are not bad things, and I am by no means saying that you should not do them. I am purely saying these are not the only things that you should be doing to get better. And that is where I think people with mental illness are short-changed in many ways. Because while recovering from a deep depression, an episode of psychosis, a period of prolonged anxiety, a manic episode, etc. that may or may not have required hospitalization, numerous people have been experiencing losses in lots of other areas of their lives.
You see, mental sickness rarely happens overnight. Occasionally it does, but usually it comes on slowly and goes away slowly. That means that the important areas of someone’s life, such as my own, begin to be neglected slowly, over time, until they get worse and worse and contribute greatly to overall mood and functioning. So in my case, as my mood begins to deteriorate into mania or depression, I begin to neglect the other important components of life happiness. Then I’m fully in my depressive or manic state for one-unknown weeks, continuing to ignore my obligations.
Eventually, my chemical depression breaks, my life is a mess because I have been neglecting it; so now I am situationally depressed until my current 4-6 week cycle repeats and I am ready for another chemically depressed state.
Eventually, my chemical depression breaks, my life is a mess because I have been neglecting it; so now I am situationally depressed until my current 4-6 week cycle repeats and I am ready for another chemically depressed state. During this time, I may also experience periods of mania, chronic neck pain from an accident that I was injured in during January 2014, anxiety or panic attacks, PTSD symptoms, or any bonus number of physical problems that I have. As you can see, 4-6 weeks gets cut down to a lot less. Therefore, I haven’t moved beyond the “self care” stage of care in…quite some time. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. If this sounds like someone you know, they are not alone.
So the Massey Approach to Recovery may not be earth-shattering in its novelty, but I’m hoping it will shatter some earths in the forms of changing lives—mine included! Instead of picking one area—the most basic, self care—and focusing purely on that, I am going to take a more well-rounded approach to dealing with ALL the areas we need in order to live a fulfilling, happy, healthy life!
The first thing to realize is that everyone’s list of goal areas will be different. I like lists of ten, because it’s a nice round number that makes everything after easier (10 areas of life, 10 specific goals, rate your happiness 1-10, rate your pain 1-10, etc. Our brains are used to thinking in “10s”). I will list my Top Ten Goal Areas and why I feel they are important (they will be discussed in more detail in future blogs), but it’s important for everyone to personalize your own Top Ten Goal List. I recommend taking some time, should you decide to try this, and sitting down in a calm and quiet area to reflect on what YOUR Top Ten Areas in Life are that You want to focus on. They may not be the same as mine, and that is okay!
- Marriage (or Primary Support/Person in your life)
You likely have a “rock” in your life, whether it’s a significant other, a sibling, a parent, a friend, or someone else. If you don’t have a “rock” yet, then getting one will be a priority (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about some ways to meet quality people)! Maintain this relationship! Reinvest, reconnect, have quality time, a health and intimate relationship, and put the work in to make sure you both feel happy and supported!
- Family & Friends (or Additional Supports/People in your life)
Most people have additional people in their life beyond their main support person (once again, we can work on this if you don’t) that are meaningful to them and also provide support to them. Make sure you take the time to invest in those relationships as well. For me, this means different goals related to spending time with friends nearby, Meetup to meet new people, more reconnecting with friends back in Ohio, and more intimate contact with family members.
- Personal Care
Yes, Personal Care is still important. It’s just not the ONLY important thing. You still need to do everything in that first paragraph- like use coping skills, watch out for triggers, avoid isolation, go to your appointments, and take your meds. Regular sleep schedules, hygiene, eating, and hydration are also important. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of personal self-care is listening to your own body!
This is a broad category, but an extremely important one. To me, Self-Improvement includes things that literally improve you! That can range from yoga, meditation, and visualization to education to positive psychology. We will talk a lot about this, as not only is it extremely important, but something that I think is incredibly overlooked as a part of recovery. If you’re not putting in work to improve yourself, at best you’re maintaining, but most likely you’ve been declining.
- Health & Fitness
Arguably interconnected with self-improvement, I thought Health & Fitness deserved its own category simply because of the extent of content and goals that it covered. One of the most important things to do here is include your goals involved-and in more terms than just pounds lost (more on this later)! Additionally included are diet, exercise, strength, and medical.
- Giving Back
Most psychiatrists argue about nearly everything- what medications work better, what therapies to use, what hospitals are better, different doctors, diagnoses, etc. However nearly all of them agree that two things help depressed patients improve- exercise and giving back. Altruism is a big part of my life. Volunteering in and out of my field, donating what I can, choosing the national & local charities I support, and everyday kindnesses that I perform all fall in here.
- Following My Dreams (Or Career, Or Education)
Obviously, this is a big one. This is huge. If you don’t have a goal or purpose in life (which is why I personally call it Following My Dreams, because work/school can be just a part of that) than it is going to be that much harder to struggle forward. If you literally do not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, that makes having a sleep schedule pretty hard! People need passion!
- Fun & Recreation
This one is simple—People need FUN in their life!! I am super excited to write about this category! Why is this never stressed to people with mental health issues? In fact, it is often discouraged or stigmatized. I remember saying at a certain job that I needed to take my mental health leave I was applying for on a beach, and was told that would be denied because it would be considered a vacation. Fun & Rec includes lots of good stuff including travel, food & drink, games, hobbies, interests, relaxation, and writing a Bucket List!
Organization is key to good mental health, as well as the whole Massey Approach to Recovery. Have you ever noticed that when your house/car/office/life/brain is disorganized with stuff just tossed around how you feel more anxious, more depressed or manic, and less productive? This is not in your head. Multiple studies have shown this correlation. This category includes organizing your physical and mental worlds through a multitude of methods. It also includes utilizing technology to organize your world. Perhaps the most important part of this category, however, is the implementation of the Bullet Journal, which is the backbone for my approach.
Finances go on the list because it is a constant problem for so many people, myself included. Things like budgets, debt, loans, credit cards/score, savings, retirement, and banking fall under this category. There are actually a lot of resources out there to help you manage your money, credit, and budget these days. It’s about knowing some basic skills, getting your finances in order, applying to applicable resources, living off a budget that is realistic to your income, and practicing good habits. I know that made it sound really easy on paper, but I personally had to go through credit counseling—and then again with my husband after we got married for his credit cards—so really, I get how difficult it really is!
In order for this approach to work, I believe that three things are key: Organization, Self-Reflection, and Listening to Yourself. Organization is important because though there are ten overall areas of focus, we will still be looking at just a few at a time- I chose three areas/month and rotate my focal points. I do still believe in my training of not overwhelming people who are recovering from being sick! I just think that we can do more than what we are given credit for sometimes. Self-Reflection is needed due to the fact that this whole process is so personalized; you have to look at what is best for YOU instead of trying to follow what I did word for word. Look at my model, consider it, and change what you need to, then try what will work for you. Also, it is very important to evaluate what is and is not working for you as this process continues. Finally, Listening to Yourself is crucial. Crucial for just about every step on this list, but also for inspiring change in your self and your life! Your body will try to tell you if something is or is not working; if you’re doing too much or not enough; or if you need to focus on something else. Listen to your fire!!
I am really excited to start sharing the details of the Massey Approach with you, now that you know more about the overall approach. This is when the ride really takes off!
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