April 18, 2011

Stages of Recovery

When you're pulling through any type of emotional crisis, psychological upheaval, or other difficult period, it can help to have some kind of scale to measure your progress. My best friend and I invented the Stages of Recovery model about ten years ago. You can use it to determine how you're doing on your way back to being all right, to being fine, to being yourself.

There are three stages:

1) Active member of society. At this stage, although you may not be doing much else, you've returned to work if you're an employee and to school if you're a student. You're no longer skipping class or calling in sick. Even if you don't wash your hair before going, you actually leave your house at some point during the day.

2) Active member of the household. At this stage, you start doing a couple things to help the household run smoothly. You probably don't repaint the bathroom, but you put your dishes in the dishwasher, feed the cat, and take out the recycling. (NB: this stage is often expedited by living with someone--it's much easier to not be an active member of the household if you live alone.)

3) Active member of yourself. This is the best part--the return of personal hygiene, personal projects, and social activity. You feel good enough to do the things that make you feel even better. You make actual meals, reintroduce yourself to your razor, return to the gym, and see your friends. You finish your book, bake banana bread, give your bike a tune-up, and buy a new pair of shoes. You start thinking about the future and making plans for what you might do now that the crisis is past.

I know that not everyone will go through all the stages or necessarily go through them in this order but I like the stages of recovery because even when you're at stage one, you can congratulate yourself for what you are doing rather than focus on what you aren't doing. At stage one, even if your work clothes aren't exactly ironed or clean, at least you're earning your living. At stage two, it might be only spaghetti with sauce from a jar, but at least you made dinner. Then when you get to stage three, you get the double pay-off of doing things that give you pleasure, and feeling pleased about how far you've come.

NB: These stages are also applicable to recovery from physical illness.

April 10, 2011

Mental Health Mantras

There are a few phrases that I find helpful to repeat to myself during difficult times. All of them are things my sisters have said to me at one time or another. I found myself sharing them with a friend recently and subsequently decided to share them here. 

1) This isn't your new life. This is for when your problem or situation is so hard or overwhelming or lingering or agonizing that you can't imagine that you'll ever not feel this bad. Well, that's just not true. Overwhelming and agonizing is not your new life; it's just right now and it inevitably won't be like this forever. There exists a place where you're not struggling and it's called the future.

2) You're just a person in the world trying to work something out. This is for when you're beating yourself up over your situation or thinking that your problem or struggle means that you're bad or wrong or dumb. It's to remind you that you're just a person, doing what people do--that is, make tough decisions, react to tough luck, manage stress. It's life and you're living it and you're probably doing the best that you can.

3) Look out the window. This is for when what's going on is so all-consuming that you're living 100% in your head, going around and around with your thoughts, and can't stop.  Looking out the window--literally--allows you to remember that there's a world out there beyond your problem.  Look! That woman walking by doesn't seem too concerned about your situation; in fact, she seems to be enjoying the sunny day.  This isn't a suggestion to just forget your worries and enjoy spring, but when your mind is simultaneously stuck on overload and repeat, looking out the window and noticing that the world is still turning can break the cycle.

4) No one decision can ruin your life. This is for when you have to make an impossible decision and are worried that the wrong choice will ruin everything. Yes, of course, decisions about whether or not to move, whether or not to get married, whether to take one career path or another, and other big choices are important. And yes, they will impact the direction your life takes. But no one decision can make or break your life. That's just not how it works.

These might not all work for everyone in every situation, but they're worth a try.