Sally’s been thinking…about a mental health toolbox

I’m thinking just how helpful it is to have a gifted and compassionate therapist, who has recently been contributing to my toolbox. I thought it would be helpful to share some of the ideas she shared and ideas I’ve gleamed from others.

At the very top of my toolbox is medication. We are still working on the perfect combination, but the process is worth it. Feeling much better allows me to focus on “following doctor’s orders.” I don’t always agree with his decisions, but I follow religiously. There are a couple of very pricey medications that don’t seem to be helpful. I am fortunate in not experiencing too much in the way of side effects, but who wants to take a handful of medications every day? Well, I’m not happy about it, but they act much the same as the lane regulator on my car. Sometimes I find it annoying. Yet it is extremely valuable in keeping me driving in my own lane. The same is true for my medications. They keep me in my lane.

In the little divider box of my toolbox I keep symptoms at the ready. It’s not as if I spend all my time wondering if I’m moving toward depression or mania, but knowing my early symptoms keeps me from falling too far or soaring too high. So, how do I know depression is on its way? The first one is wanting to go to bed or stay in bed even if I’m not tired. I am vigilant about that, making my bed even before dressing each morning. Another sign that depression is on its way is my lack of desire to do basic tasks. Nothing seems worth doing and nothing seems interesting. More than thirty minutes playing computer games is another sure sign. The final sign that alerts me is my lack of conversation. I feel I have nothing to say.

Now, what about the hypomania? Although I have little to say when headed toward depression, one of the key warning signs of abnormal energy rising is that I have a lot to say on a lot of subjects. Talking faster, moving faster, deciding faster are all warning signs. I am naturally a rapid thinker, able to conceptualize anything you throw at me. However when headed to an unnatural high, I have so many ideas racing in my mind that I must stop and write them down. Being the belle of the ball is not my most comfortable style so when I find myself flitting from person to person I remain alert.

So, what do I do when these signs and symptoms appear, I lift the divider box of my toolbox and find just the right tool. From coloring to counting; writing with my non-dominant hand, walking background and doing regular tasks with my right, not left hand. Tapping, crunching, popping those little bubbles in mailers are all good tools for me. I tell my friends what is going on and invite them to visit me, take me out somewhere, or give me a call. Withdrawal is not helpful and even if I have little to say, being surrounded by people who care pull me a ways out of my hole. Not everyone can do this, but a few close friends sure helps.

Now, what about the hypomania? The most helpful tool for me is playing the piano. Sometimes it is learning a new song, technique or notes. Sometimes it is banging out boogies, polkas and familiar tunes. To slow down, I play quietly, slowly and with purpose. I learned about “moment in time” long before mindfulness became a popular stress reducer. Living in the moment; not the past, not the future, develops a sense of gratitude and awareness that can keep me from rushing and not focusing on the next task at hand.

Some of these tools may be helpful to you. Others may not. My hope is that these do help or spark a new idea that is more useful. You matter. Take the time to figure out a toolbox for yourself.

Until next time,