5 Ways to Cope with a Diagnosis of Mental Illness

Hearing a diagnosis of mental illness can be heartbreaking for many. Some people feel relief at finally having a name to put to their issues, where others may become angry or afraid because they have a disorder to cope with.

However, a diagnosis is important because it means that you can move on to treatment. Doctors can use their experience with similar diagnoses to construct a personalized plan to address disorders, and advise you about future health risks. Most importantly, insurance companies will have a reason to apply aid now that they have a name for the condition.

cope
Credit to flickr.com user ccarlstead. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But what do you do with a diagnosis once you have one?

1. Learn

First, learn about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor to recommend books or websites, like nami.org, the official site of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Once you learn the basics, like what the symptoms of your illness are, you can transition to learning about treatments and what you can do to help your recovery.

2. Find Doctors

Next, create a treatment team. Ideally, you’d have a therapist and a psychiatrist–or nurse practitioner–who can prescribe medication for you. Presumably you already have one, if you have a diagnosis. But make sure your team is rounded out. There are low-cost options for mental health services out there. Try looking into support groups offered by local NAMI chapters or ant your local library. Ask your doctors if they offer sliding scale fees based on income. If you’re near a university, see if they have a graduate program for psychology, where a therapist-in-training can take you on as a client. Here’s a list of 406 free or low-cost clinics in Washington state, 138 of which offer mental health services.

3. Journal

Writing down your troubles is a proven way to start addressing them. If you have concerns about your diagnosis, write them down so you can bring them up with your doctors later. Scribble down what you plan to do as a result of this diagnosis, whether it be sharing your condition with loved ones or keeping it close to your chest. Figure out whether you need to adjust your treatment team, regarding whether or not you’re relating to the people responsible for your care.

4. Find a Team You

Team You, a term taken from the delightful blog Captain Awkward, is a term used to describe the supportive, unbiased people in your life like counselors, psychiatrists, parents, reliable sitters, religious figures, and friends who may or may not have kids of their own. This assistance is invaluable to a person dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness. Unfortunately, collecting a solid Team You takes time. If you’re a parent, then hopefully you have parent friends—ideally ones who you are comfortable explaining your struggle to. Attend groups from Meetup.com or local libraries. Try out classes, and take notes on your classmates as well as the subject material. Toddler groups are excellent places to search for potential allies, too.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable

Once you have a treatment team and a Team You in place, don’t flake out on them. Attend your doctor’s appointments and take your meds. Keep updating your journal regularly with shifts in your moods, so you can find out if the treatment plan you’ve been given is working. Keep up with your friends and allies.

A diagnosis of mental illness isn’t a life sentence. Many people can and do recover completely from their disorders, and more severe mental conditions can be managed. Help is out there. You are worth exploring every avenue of care.

The Importance of Team You, Part V

Team You, a term coined by advice writer Captain Awkward, is a group of people who support you in times of emergency. If you are fighting the grips of mania or coping with isolating depression, these allies are invaluable.

This is part one of a five-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Who Shouldn’t Be On Team You

If you’re like me, you’ve found that there are only a few precious people who can uphold the coveted Team You title, and a lot who can’t. Sometimes even close friends and family fit into that description. Even worse, they may insist on “helping” you, when all they do is harm. Cut them off at the knees. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

Phrases include:

  1. “Thank you, but I’ll be able to handle it. Specific, positive example of a Thing recently accomplished.”
  2. “Thanks for the suggestion to try [remedy which contradicts my medications]. I’ll think on that (for ten seconds).”

Then there are the maliciously ignorant. These are the people who loudly declare that conquering depression is just a matter of willpower, and if you’d just get out of bed, you’d be able to see how lazy you’ve been. Avoid these people like the plague they are.

Next is the person who actually wants to help, but always feels uncomfortable doing so and skirts around the fact that you have one or more mental illnesses. They may note, innocuously, that you’re “sick” quite often. Phrases include the ones above, but also: “It seems like you’ve noticed I have a problem today. Do you have any concrete and specific ideas about how to help me?”

Make sure they are as detailed as possible about the extent they’re willing to go, otherwise you’ll find it difficult to take their help—-or they’ll give more than they want to.

Someone who makes you feel guilty for needing their support is almost worse than the maliciously ignorant person. Try not to let them touch you, and if you find one one your Team You, boot them.

Others who shouldn’t be on Team You fall into the category of super passive-aggressives and “extreme” advice givers. Our brains are fragile enough as it is. Don’t let others fill them up with more toxins. If possible, excise these harmful influences from your life.

Thanks for reading our series on finding allies! Did we miss anything?

The Importance of Team You, Part IV

Team You, a term coined by advice writer Captain Awkward, is a group of people who support you in times of emergency. If you are fighting the grips of mania or coping with isolating depression, these allies are invaluable.

This is part one of a five-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

How to Avoid Burning Out Your Team

As everyone with bipolar disorder knows, living with a mental illness is exhausting. And although the people around us may not feel the exact effects that we do, dealing with someone who can’t stop talking or can’t get out bed is exhausting, too. Like many people with this disorder, I have lost friends due to either:

      1. relying on them too much
      2. driving them away with an overbearing manner during my manias
      3. losing touch with them during my depressions

The last two are subjects for different days, but please keep them in mind. The first is crucial to avoiding friend burn out. If our friends are to be our supporters and allies, we must support them, too. This means we can’t overwhelm them with bragging or obsessions or negative complaints, especially during periods of mania.

We also have to listen to their successes and problems in return. Every relationship is based around give and take. Strive for a healthy balance. Make sure to ask your friends to tell you when they need a break—and try not to be offended. This is exhausting for everyone, remember? I promise that it’s not personal.

Ideally, you’d have several friends’ brains to pick. If you don’t, please try to be patient. Journal your thoughts and feelings so that you don’t dump them on the few friends who have stuck around.

It might not seem fair to have to manage your effect of your mental illness on your friends. You’re right. It’s not. But, unfortunately, learning your limits and your friends’ is part of the whole. The more self-aware you are about your disorder, the better you’ll be able to control it—or react when an episode gets the best of you.

The Importance of Team You, Part III

Team You, a term coined by advice writer Captain Awkward, is a group of people who support you in times of emergency. If you are fighting the grips of mania or coping with isolating depression, these allies are invaluable.

This is part one of a five-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

When to Explain Your Disorder to Your New Friends

This section head is actually misleading. You can go full bore and spill everything on your first date—er, meeting—or you can wait until your friendships have been cemented a little. Either approach can work, though I’ve found that the latter is smoother for all involved.

Parent friends are tricky because at first you’re meeting for your kids, and only sometimes each other. Make sure to get to know them as a person first, and vice versa. Once your conversations turn to the personal, now you get to decide how to tell them. If you’re already pretty open about your condition, this is old hat. But if you’re not, you get to try and gauge their reaction and tailor your explanation. Fun!

When it comes to a parent friend, I look for the following signs by the third play date:

        1. Is this a trustworthy friend I feel comfortable with? Are they comfortable with me?
        2. What is their experience with bipolar disorder or even post-partum depression? Are they at ease talking about those topics?
        3. Are you living in a community that is insular, like a small town? People in larger cities tend to be a *little* more accepting of mental illnesses, and news in small towns gets around. Try to gauge if your friend is circumspect.

Once you decide that it’s time, there are several ways to tell them. You could take the conversational approach: “Sorry for losing touch with you. I deal with periodic depressions due to bipolar disorder, so I was pretty much out of it.” Or the formal approach: “I want to let you know that I have this disorder, and what it might mean when I’m manic/depressed.”

Your friend might have an “oh!” moment, where they quickly re-categorize everything they know about you. They might need some time off to process everything. They may even run. Let them do what they’re going to do. If they back off completely, let them go—they wouldn’t have made a good Team You member anyway.

The next process involves time. Time, time, and more time. Make friends with your friends. Get to know them. Rely on them, and try to be a person they can rely on, too. Write thank you notes. Apologize when you need to and celebrate your successes—together.

The Importance of Team You, Part II

Team You, a term coined by advice writer Captain Awkward, is a group of people who support you in times of emergency. If you are fighting the grips of mania or coping with isolating depression, these allies are invaluable.

This is part one of a five-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

How to Find Team You

Unfortunately, collecting a solid Team You takes time. If you’re a parent, then hopefully you have parent friends—ideally ones who you are comfortable explaining your struggle to. If you suffered from severe post-partum depression like I did, then that may not be the case.

One channel to find parent friends is story times at libraries, or, if you’re bold, a public park. If you can afford it, take a parenting class and take notes on both the subject and your classmates. Toddler groups are excellent places to search for potential allies, too.

Outside of the parent friend channels, MeetUp.com is an amazing resource to find like-minded people, provided you have steady access to a computer. You can attend parent groups, cooking groups, maybe even underwater basket weaving groups! Bipolar support groups can also be found at local libraries.

It also goes without saying that a quality therapist and psychiatrist treatment team is priceless—if you can afford them. There are sliding-scale counselors available. The Mental Health Mountie has compiled an incredible list at Captain Awkward of such providers in America and Canada.

Soon, if you’re lucky, you may run into a different problem: having too many friends.

The Importance of Team You, Part I

This is part one of a five-part series.
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

What is Team You?

One of the best concepts I’ve taken from the lovely Captain Awkward is that of Team You.  The term has never been clearly defined, but there is enough on their website to form a thorough idea of what it means.

Most times I’ve seen the term used, it’s due to an emergency (eg. “He left you? Time to call Team You”). But a person with bipolar disorder or not only has to deal with emergencies like relationship troubles or deaths in the family, but also mood episodes ranging from isolating depression to mania to full-blown psychosis.

That’s where Team You comes in. Who are they? Supportive, unbiased people in your life like counselors, psychiatrists, parents, reliable sitters, religious figures, and/or one or more friends (who may or may not have kids of their own).

In short, this is a group of people—online or off, professional or otherwise—who:
• Are willing to listen to you vent and then ask, “Have you talked with your therapist about this?”
• Preferably have knowledge or experience with mood disorders
• Can possibly identify when you’re sliding into an episode
• May be able to stage an intervention
• Don’t mind getting lunch with you on a bad day
• Generally give you solid advice
BONUS: May be able to watch your kids on occasion, especially during emergencies

A good Team You is not only effective at supporting your efforts at damage control, they also tend to keep you on an even keel during periods of stability. I am lucky enough to have a few friends with whom I can be completely honest about my ups and downs–and who can be honest with me about them, too!

People on Team You want you to be happy, healthy, and sane. They’re your supporters, your allies, and your friends. Sounds nice, right? Well, stick around; we’ll next be covering how to find Team You, how to avoid burning out your Team, and who shouldn’t be on it.

What qualities do you think people on Team You should have? Do you have people like that in your life?