The title of my blog, “Walking After Midnight,” may also refer to those of us with mental health issues. Our symptoms can separate us from the crowd, and leave us walking around in the dark, sometimes literally.
Many characters in the Bible felt the same despair that we feel. A few examples: “How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). “My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3) “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” (Habakkuk 1:2). We feel like we are walking in the dark, alone and with no help. Even when we know that there is help – friends, care providers, clergy, God – we feel judged, misunderstood, alone.
Your own experience may differ, but my symptoms come from depression, anxiety, mania, psychosis. All of these contribute to losses I have had in my life: Relationships, jobs, money, esteem. A place in society. Courage. Confidence. I could go on, ad infinitum. But boy is that depressing!
There is help, but sometimes it’s the wrong kind. People who have not experienced our own form of “madness” don’t get it. When we are suffering, it’s truly rare to find “Earth people” who say the right things. If you do have people in your life who know how to help, who love you – treasure them! If you don’t have anyone to support you – find someone! I heard recently that we should all have about five “go-to” people in our lives.
And don’t continue to expose your heart to those who don’t understand, to those who hurt you. Such people can make you feel small, or defective, every time you go to them. You deserve better than that. Value yourself, and go elsewhere.
Ultimately, in self defense, we must advocate for ourselves. We are responsible for our own recovery, for being as stable as we can be. Here are some of the ways.
- Remember that shame has no place in regard to your mental illness. It’s not your fault! You’re not any less valuable than anyone on the planet. This is my greatest struggle in my mental health recovery. I don’t fully accept that I have a mental illness, and I am always sabotaging my own progress. 😦 I mean always!
- Educate yourself when your symptoms are stable. That way you can gather information on who you are, and that you are not your illness! We are people – not our disease. But we can learn about that part of ourselves when we are well.
- Gather a support network. Not just groups, but people. People that know you, who understand you. People who will advocate for you in a way that works for you. This includes care providers, family, friends, and others who suffer. And yes, support groups are very helpful.
- Make a list of things that give you joy, and do them. Art? writing? dancing? It doesn’t have to serve a particular purpose, other than to make you happy.
- Maybe you find love in your work. Work is not necessarily paid-for employment. Maybe it’s helping others, or volunteering in some other way. Can you give someone rides to their appointments? Water their fish? Maybe you’d like to visit a nursing home with your dog or cat. There are actual programs for those who want to do pet therapy with their beloved animals. Animals have been known to help prolong life, lower blood pressure, relieve depression, and more.
- Don’t go off your medications.
- Don’t go off your medications. But if you’re determined, do it with medical supervision. Also, enlist a trusted friend or two to monitor your progress. They will tell you the truth, when no one else will.
- Think of things that make you feel rich, and do them. I like to walk around taking photographs of flowers, snow, foliage, or other things in nature. Do you like to go to the beach, or to the forest? Collect things?
- Make a short list of goals for yourself. I am finding it helpful to make a very small list of things to accomplish. We’re not talking twelve. By small I mean realistic and do-able. It may be as simple as taking a shower, or cooking breakfast. Maybe writing for fifteen minutes, or making a phone call.
- Ask for help! That’s a category in itself. Take advantage of the days when you’re feeling well to practice this! It seems to be the hardest skill for us! And don’t feel you’re burdening someone when you ask for help. People have said they feel helpless when I’m having symptoms. It can be a great joy for them to bless you! Don’t you love it when you can bless someone? It can be something small, like running an errand, or even doing your dishes. Lord knows that even an empty sink can be a source of happiness when we’re depressed or overwhelmed.
- How about having a support person go with you when you do something anxiety provoking? Maybe it’s going to therapy, or taking a walk. Some things are impossible, but possible with a friend.
- Build a spiritual life, a spiritual practice. And notice that it says “practice.” It is a daily thing.
- Write! Draw! Sing! or find some way to express your feelings and thoughts. Even if you keep the results to yourself, or throw them away, it’s healing to get them outside of your head. I used to spend many hours as a child expressing my sorrow in songs to the Lord. Just thinking of that makes me sad, but even the tears are healing, as in this scripture: “… [W]e know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)
- Make a safety plan specific to your own needs and symptoms. Keep it current as much as you can. Here is a template of one such safety plan (pdf).
- Don’t be embarrassed when you need to have more intensive therapy. The hospital or day treatment program is just another tool. It is not a judgment.
Can you think of other ways to help yourself? Other thoughts about “Walking After Midnight”? I would love to write a part 2a, or a part 2b (or not 2b lol).
So. That is “Walking After Midnight,” Part II. Part III will follow, eventually. Maybe. 🙂