A Guide to Recovery
Welcome to the guide! Everything below will contain everything you need to do to recovery for a mental health issue. While this guide can very much apply to general mental well being as well as non-disorder mental health issues, it is centered on overcoming what would be diagnosed as a mental health disorder. Mental health issues become a disorder when it has persisted for over six months and impacts your daily life.
+ Preface: Let the right one in.
Mental health issues can be difficult for us to understand, especially when they apply to ourselves. In a world that constantly attempts to define normal, often by focusing on what's different, it's hard to tell what is and isn't something to be concerned about. To get a general idea of what might be a warning sign of declining mental health, let's look at the American Psychiatric Association's list of signs to look out for:
- Social withdrawal and loss of interest in others
- An unusual drop in functioning, especially at school or work.
- Problems with concentration, memory, or logical thought and speech.
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, or touch.
- Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity.
- Fear or suspiciousness of others, or a strong nervous feeling.
- Dramatic sleep and appetite changes.
- Rapid or dramatic mood swings.
- Thoughts of suicide or harm to self or others.
You may be looking at this list thinking, "well, I've experienced all of those things!" It's actually normal to experience these behaviors, thoughts, or feelings; however, the longevity of them is often a strong sign that something may be wrong. For example, not wanting to go out and be with your friends, or a decline in concentration can be common after the loss of a loved one. What may be diagnosed as depression if it existed for six months, would likely be called a reactive depression if it was for a brief period after a major crisis. A reactive depression shows the same signs and symptoms of clinical depression, but is in response to an event that often warrants such a response.
Something that should be kept in mind is the Social Media Theory. This theory suggests that we're very much inclined to embody signs and symptoms we're told we may have, despite not really having them. Think about those late night ads on T.V that start shouting, "Are you depressed?! Feeling anxious?! Don't live with depression and anxiety anymore! Try our pill today!" You may think to yourself, "I'm feeling both of those! I must be depressed." Perhaps this doesn't apply to you, but tons of people become mentally unwell because they are told that they are or seem to be.
+ Chapter 1: Lost at sea.
So here we are. Alone, anxious, and unsure- which only makes us more anxious. Even the smallest of chores has become overwhelming. There's an intense fear of what happens next, but an almost disdain towards making a change today. You're at the point where you know something is wrong, that you need help, but where do you even begin? For many, this is the hardest it will be. This is the part in which you mentally commit to getting better. Tell yourself that it's time to move on. That things have gone too far. What you're dealing with is painful, and it's a pain that's going to stop.
It's important to understand that you're capable of moving past this. The depression that has brought you to the point of being unable to cry. The anxiety that has made it impossible to continue with school or work. All of these things can be treated and controlled. It will require a lifestyle change, but it's a change that will positively impact your entire life. The way you view and approach the world will be infinitely more beautiful, simply because it's in spite of how you currently see things.
Within this guide, we will cover all of the lifestyle changes required to get better. In summary, you'll need to seek professional help. It's critical that we admit that we need to see someone who specializes in this. Think of it as going to the mental gym and getting a personal trainer. We'll also want to go over the option of medication. You've heard a lot of bad things, but you're tempted by the rapid pace at which they work; plus, you have a friend that takes them and they're doing great. Then of course there's the parts you can work on now, like diet and exercise. Did you know that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you happy? Or that eating right can make you less anxious?
+ Chapter 2: A leg to stand on.
Getting started can be a very confusing step in your road to recovery. Where do you go first? What exactly do you do now that you're fairly certain you're mentally unwell? If you have insurance, the process is fairly simple: call your doctor. The same doctor you go to for check ups or other basic illnesses. Setup an appointment, let them know how you're feeling, and talk to them about treating mental illness. If you don't have insurance, paragraph three will explain what you can do.
Seeing your primary care physician is the first step in fully recovering from mental health issues. Your physician, while not specializing in mental health care, is trained to deal with the basics of most mental illnesses. They can help you setup an appointment with a good therapist, as well as get you started on fast acting medication. As well, they can diagnose you, giving you and anyone involved in your recovery a better understanding.
If you don't have insurance, the process of getting started can be a bit more complicated. You may have to pay out of pocket to head to a walk-in clinic and get access to a primary care physician. Typically, a walk-in clinic charges $50 for a full checkup. Continuing, any therapy and medication you need covered will come at an out of pocket price. Thankfully, you can apply for disability to aid you in your recovery if money is an issue. If you're unable to afford insurance and care, and consider yourself unable to work because of your mental health issues, click here to apply for disability. Not only will disability give you around $600 a month to take care of yourself, but it will open the doors for you to get free medicare and medical insurance to cover the rest of your care. Further, you can qualify for food stamps or living assistance.
If you have insurance and feel comfortable calling your primary care physician, you're ready to head to the next chapter. If you need to apply for disability, things will take a bit longer, but are well worth the wait. If possible, it's recommended that you see a walk-in clinic and get started on medication. Even if the expenses make things really tight for the next few months, you will be reimbursed by the government for your costs. If that is not at all possible, I recommend you skip to the chapters related to diet and exercise so that you can focus on those key aspects of recovery while you wait to hear back from disability.
The process of disability can be slow, but ultimately you will be evaluated by a doctor, at no cost, and they will determine if your illness qualifies you for disability. While applying for disability, you should also take a moment to apply for medicare. It's very possible that you will qualify right away; however, if you don't qualify, you can re-apply for medicare after you qualify for disability and you will certainly qualify for medicare. Should you qualify for disability, there are many therapists who will see you before you receive your funding. That is, they will help you now and you can pay them back once your disability check comes in. If you qualify for medicare, you should get a booklet in the mail that lists all of the primary care providers that accept medicare in your area. At this point, you're ready for the next chapter.
+ Chapter 3: One pill to rule them all.
To take, or not to take, that is the question... You've read posts about them, seen youtube videos explaining big pharmas goal to enslave humanity, and you even heard a friend of a friend took them and hasn't been the same since. So what's the deal with these medications? You may already know that you're for sure not going to take them. That's perfectly fine. Medication is not required to recover from mental health issues. If you're absolutely against or unwilling to take medication, you can skip right to the next chapter. If you're curious, read on.
The reason people often take medications is because of how simple and fast they are. You take a pill once a day and within a month you start to feel much better. Of course, this isn't always the case, but for many people it's just that simple. They're also very cheap, especially compared to therapy. With insurance, medication is often free, but is usually about $5 a month. So, cheap, fast, and easy to use.
There are two main types of medication you're likely to go over with your physician. Benzodiazepines and SSRIs. Benzodiazepines, such as xanax and ativan, are fast acting, safe, and used primarily to quell a panic attack. The major risk that comes with Benzodiazepines is that they can be addicting. If you've had issues with substance abuse in the past, these should be skipped. The addiction tends to come from the power these drugs have in stopping anxiety. If you're life is completely overwhelmed by anxiety, imagine having the ability to almost immediately fix that. One pill and the anxiety is all gone. To be safe, these medications should only ever be taken when needed, and only for a short time.
SSRI's, or Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are a bit more complicated than Benzodiazepines. They take weeks, or even months to work, can often make you sick before they start working, and sometimes need to be changed before they can really impact your daily life. They are, however, better to take in the long term than Benzodiazepines. It would be okay to think of Benzodiazepines as a quick fix, while seeing SSRI's like Paxil or Lexapro as the long term approach. Taking both together is fairly common. If you're going to take one of these, expect to feel a bit down before you start to get better. The nature of these medications is that they take time for your body to adjust to. You may feel nauseated, dizzy, anxious, or even depressed. Once the medication sets in, though, things start to rapidly get better. If that isn't the case, you may want to take a different SSRI. Sadly, not all SSRIs work for everyone. It seems that one drug tends to work better for some, while being worse for others. That very fact, coupled with feeling sick while waiting for it to possibly work, is often a big turn off with these medications. As well, a very small amount of people report long-term issues even after quitting taking an SSRI. Your doctor can help you determine if these downsides outweigh the positives.
There are several herbal supplements that get thrown out there as a suggestion for treating mental health issues. It should be noted that 'herbal' or 'natural' does not mean safe or healthy. If you're interested in trying an herbal supplement, like St. John's Wart, you should talk this over with your physician. While generally safe, St. John's Wort is known to have a long list of bad interactions with other medications. Most notably, other anxiety medications or diabetic medications. Research on St. John's Wort has varied throughout the years, but has most recently been shown to be less effective than some of the older anti-anxiety medications.
Those against medication cite a wide variety of reasons, from completely out-of-touch conspiracies to research papers detailing serious side effects. Being as realistic as possible, there are downsides to taking medication that scientific research backs. However, the overwhelming conclusion, based on years of scientific research, is that medications are safe to take for most people. If you want to do your own research, we highly recommend reading research papers that are free to access on google scholar. A lot of people have biases that lean either way, so be cautious where you get your research from. If the website you're looking at doesn't have links to research papers showing proof of their claims, it's best to move on. Another thing to keep in mind is the reviews you read online don't normally give a good sample of the medication. That is, most people who leave reviews about a medication often do so because it didn't work for them. If the medication worked, the person is usually too busy getting their life back on track to bother talking about it.
Ultimately, only you can decide if medication is right for you. For the vast majority of people dealing with mental health issues, medication combined with therapy is safe, effective, and quick to treat the issues at hand. While the negatives can potentially be serious, they're often rare and short-term.
+ Chapter 4: Luking for Obiwan.
Terrible title aside, who would Luke be without Obiwan? Like young Skywalker, you're a person of great potential. It's important that we find someone to guide our thoughts and behavior. Someone like Obiwan that can discipline us and give us the tools with which we can recover from our mental health issues.
Many people feel apprehensive about talking with a therapist. Agreeing to start seeing a therapist means admitting that you're dealing with a problem; admitting you need help. The stigmatism against mental health issues also makes people uneasy about seeing a therapist. If having these issues is seen as a thing to be ashamed of, how much more real does it become when you're seeing a therapist?
The reality of seeing a therapist is far from the negative that society tends to associate it with. A skilled therapist can help you transform your thinking and behavior in the most beautiful way. Beyond teaching you how to liberate your mind from the anxiety and depression, a therapist can help you discover what you want for your life. You may go to a friend or family member for advice, but their advice will likely have some sort of bias. A therapist, on the other hand, will reflect with you and help you discern what you want. The clarity that comes with seeing a therapist is very much like the state of mind a Jedi apprentice finds when they learn from a master Jedi.
Hopefully you're feeling a little bit more comfortable seeking professional help. This step can be uncomfortable at first, but your therapist will quickly become your closest friend- in the truest sense. Someone who unbiasedly sits with you. With no judgement, they listen to your every word. Instead of waiting for their time to talk, they eagerly ponder over what you have to say. That said, let's get you a therapist!
Choosing a therapist is something worth putting time into. Some details to consider: gender, religious or nonreligious themes, or perhaps a specialty in dealing with LGBTQ+ issues. Finding a therapist means finding someone you will mesh with and feel comfortable talking with for an extended time. If you're uncomfortable talking with the opposite or same sex, try finding a therapist of the sex you're most comfortable around. As well, a religious theme may be important you. If that's the case, there are many Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist themed therapists all over the country. Other religions may have a tougher time finding someone who appeals to their religious beliefs, but you can decide if that's worth investing more time to find. Of course, if you're not religious, finding a therapist who does not incorporate religious themes can be critical to your relationship with them. Ultimately, you should spend some time choosing someone who you would see as an equal.
The next big decision when deciding on a therapist is understanding what form of therapy they practice. Below I will briefly cover some of the more popular practices right now. These are not the only ones you'll find in your search, and perhaps not the best fit for you. If you come across something you've not seen before, make sure to research and ask the therapist questions about it before you commit.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This form of therapy isn't concerned so much with what started the mental health problems; rather, it's focus is on changing the thoughts and behaviors that directly cause the problem. This can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months, but often not too much longer. You'll be hands on with this one, and many days you'll even have home work.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. This is becoming the standard for a lot of countries outside of the U.S.A. There's a combination of CBT with mindful mediation going on here. Imagine facing the problem, but learning how to sit and be with it. The idea here is that, because we fight things, we struggle. So rather than struggling, we learn to accept. In the case of a Panic Attack, you'd learn how to tolerate and accept the attacks; therefor, no longer fearing them.
Humanistic, or Person-Centered Therapy. I mention this because it seems to be on the rise; though, still a bit unknown. Usually when we imagine therapy, we picture our selves laying on a couch and talking to a therapist who's writing things down. Humanistic therapy is similar to that image. In this mode of help, your therapist will work to help you reflect on deep and meaningful thoughts in your mind. You have all the answers and 'cures' you need, and it'll be their job to help you bring about those answers. This is really helpful for people who're struggling with a lot of stress.
Deciding which one is really a matter of knowing what kind of person you are. Do you like straight forward problem solving, as well as working with tools? CBT is great for that kind of mind. Maybe you're the kind of person who really appreciates calm environments and talking things out. Humanistic is ideal for that kind of thinking. Perhaps you're a little bit of both worlds? DBT's the place for you.
Still, if you're really hard pressed to decide, know that all forms of therapy are very effective! Actually, a recent study suggested that it's not so much the mode of therapy that matters, but the therapist. Even further, it's about you and your willingness to get better. You'll be okay no matter which way you go.
+ Chapter 5: The Third Pillar.
Without self-mastery, the Jedi believed mastery over the Force would be impossible. To the Jedi, meditation allowed the user to achieve inner peace, harmony, and serenity; the three core principles of the Jedi Code. Even the Sith Order employed meditation as a key point of practice. Believing that meditation had the ability to not only sharpen the mind of a Sith, but give them strength and regenerate their wounds.
There's a lot to be said about meditation in our times. A practice that so often gets confused with the almost fictional results it draws. Like it's use in mastering the Force, modern day meditation has shown to not only aid in self-mastery, but truly heal our wounds and strengthen us. Within the context of mental health issues, meditation can be a way to heal mental wounds, reflect on and reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even help to stop panic attacks. Many forms of meditation exist, but this guide best works with Mindfulness and Body Scanning based meditations. Both of these forms can be found in numerous therapies that you may try.
Depending on your interests, or even lack of interest, it's worth practicing the breathing techniques that meditation has. These breathing techniques are great for reducing anxiety. To start, take a moment to breathe in deeply, slowly exhaling through pursed lips. Try to concentrate on the process of breathing; not the actual breaths, but what it feels like to breathe. Place your hands on your stomach and notice the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. If it helps, close your eyes and continue to monitor your breathing. When you feel comfortable with this breathing, try to take notice of the rest of your body. While sitting down, place your feet directly on the floor. Take note of how the floor feels, perhaps even press your feet down and note the pressure. Make you way towards your hands and take notice how they feel resting on the keyboard and mouse. The point of this exercise is to become aware of not only your breathing, but your body and how it feels at any given time. Incorporating these techniques while feeling anxious or upset can be a great way of understanding where you are, mentally.
Meditation is a process, best viewed as an active practice; not a means to an end, nor having a goal. Certainly, there's much to cover when it comes to meditation, so this guide will not explore the subject further. If you'd like to incorporate meditation into your daily life, which I highly recommend, I'd suggest using this link.