STOP OVERTHINKING: 24 Ways of Coping with Severe Mental Illness

© 2022 by Mio Angelo of “MentallyIllInAmerica.family.blog”

This guidebook is the result of my having lived with schizoaffective disorder for 24 years.

It is organized into 24 sections.

So, without further ado…

Support System – Building a support system may be difficult to do when you are acutely ill. For me, the goal was to endear myself to empathetic individuals (i.e. mental health providers, longtime friends, family members, and acquaintances). This may take time, depending on factors such as stigma and who is willing to stand by you no matter what (i.e. mental health providers for sure).

Accepting a Diagnosis – It is difficult to come to terms with having an illness, that, for all intents and purposes, lasts a lifetime. I went through the stages of grief (and still do from time to time), to get my footing, and realize that I have a mental illness. It’s not a death sentence, and I handle it to the best of my ability, each and every day.

Medication Compliance – If you have a severe mental illness, there is nothing more important to your health than taking prescribed psychiatric medication. It takes time and patience in order to find the right combination of medicine to help you feel better. My wish for you is that (even if you don’t see it now), you decide to take medication, so that you can have a better life.

Dealing with Symptoms – Not everyone experiences mental illness the same way. For instance, I have ongoing symptoms, making my illness chronic in nature. There is not much letup of symptoms for me, but some people have remission of their symptoms. If your situation happens to be similar to mine, it is important that you read this entire guidebook, in order to tap into all the tools at your disposal.

Personal Hygiene – This is a battle for me. And, it is a battle for a lot of people. I am learning, however, that overthinking is part of the reason I am having so many troubles in this area. I am also beginning to look at each day as an opportunity—a set of possibilities. And, when I view my days in this fashion, I feel a bit more optimistic about my daily activities.

Diet and Exercise – I have to hand it to those individuals who find hope with their diets and exercise. I am getting there, but progress is slow. Progress is progress though, and I am working on building habits that are sustainable (i.e. walking every once in awhile and leaving food on my plate). One can tailor their goals in whichever ways help them. For me, I continue to try (and will do so), until some amount of change sticks.

Budgeting – The Federal Trade Commission is the key to learning more about budgeting. There are worksheets, and a lot of helpful information at “Consumer.gov.”

Keeping a Schedule – Don’t be like me. I spent years not being able to commit to a schedule, which some of it was indeed illness related, but some of it was also analysis paralysis. “Just do it,” as the ad says. You’ll be glad you did!

Social Skills – All of my relationships have improved with my having better social skills. And, you attain better social skills with practice. Better social skills equate to having a better support system as well!

Boundaries – Henry Cloud wrote an awesome book called, “Boundaries,” and it was an instant help to the millions of people who needed it. I highly recommend your checking it out—either through your local library, or at a book store—but, do check it out!

Family – I have learned that one’s traditional family is often overrated, and that family is ultimately, who you want them to be. They’re the people who you learn about in Henry Cloud’s “Boundaries,” for instance, and they’re the people who are around for a lifetime!

Friendship – Some days, I survive completely on the good fortune, that I have people that care about me, who want the best for me, and who would do nearly anything for me. This is friendship. It’s something special, and it’s usually independent of family.

Affordable Therapy – We’ve all been told to go to therapy, but many people cannot afford it. A therapist who operates on a sliding fee scale, is an optimal choice for some, but may still be out of a given person’s reach. In that case, I implore you to lean on your other mental health providers, as much as you can. The system is designed to help you succeed, and providers’ jobs are to facilitate that success.

Religion – It took many years of back and forth, for me to “grab a hold of” a set of religious beliefs, that work for me. I did not come by my belief system lightly, I put myself through the paces in order to get to where I am today, which if you ask anyone who knows me, I am doing better than many of my constituents! That said, things are kept pretty real, with ongoing symptoms that have little letup.

Contingency Plan – I feel that everyone with a psychiatric illness, needs some sort of contingency plan. While mine is not written out, I stay true to the mission by letting key people in my support system know when things are bad, and that I have 0 intentions on making a plan to do anything to harm myself. This approach is hard won, as I have not been inpatient for 21 years. But, everyone is different. For you, your best bet may be to have a contract with your mental health providers—anything that holds you accountable and keeps you safe when things are tough.

Hardships – A lot of what I think about in terms of hardships lie in the financial realm. For instance, many people on disability are already living in government housing. Everyone’s circumstances are different, yes, but for a lot of people on disability, their government payments cover only the basics, and pave the way for quite a stressful financial situation. Individuals with severe mental illness, should not be afraid to reach out to organizations in their communities who serve to help. Places such as food banks and power companies (who will often provide discounts), can make a great deal of difference in how one gets along from month to month.

Employment – Not everyone with mental illness is on disability. Many people are able to work. Some people’s illnesses are not severe in nature, and things are managed optimally with meds.

Disability – For those people with severe mental illness whose symptoms are in remission, they may be able to go back to work. In the U.S., for example, individuals receiving disability payments from Social Security, are allowed to make a certain amount of money while on disability. It’s important to know the laws where you live, should you have the ability to return to work one day.

Giving Back – I do what I do on “MentallyIllInAmerica.family.blog” to help myself and others. It is my hope that I am imparting at least some information that others find useful, and this is one way in which I am able to give back. I do it, as I am able, and my site is as good a way as any, for me to make a difference.

Hobbies – I have learned that if you can afford a hobby, it will help you. Hobbies are oftentimes therapeutic and they reenergize. There isn’t much by way of learning or entertainment, that can compete with a good hobby.

Romantic Relationships – I believe that dating and seeking a romantic relationship is possible for almost anyone who has stability. I think the quality of your experience will depend almost exclusively on how well you are doing overall, how kind you are, and how you generally relate to others. Romantic relationships can be fulfilling and may help you with your mental health.

Vices – Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all have unhealthy behaviors that sometimes have a hold on us. For me, I have learned to manage these behaviors, by limiting the time I spend on them, and by limiting the resources I commit to them. This kind of healthy “management,” if you will, will usually do the trick, unless I am getting too attached to my vices, in which case, I may require outside assistance. If you’re reading this guidebook, you’re probably accustomed to seeking help, so please don’t be indifferent to asking for help for your problem vices.

Help for Support Persons – It is so important to take care of yourself, when you are a caregiver. And, maybe you’re not a caregiver exactly, but you are a member of someone’s support team. That too, requires you to take good care of yourself and reenergize often. There are a number of books for caregivers and support people out there. Anything by E. Fuller Torrey, is a good choice in my book (pun intended).

Inspirational Quotes – In the final section of this guidebook, I will list some quotes that have helped me to be a better person, a goal setter, and someone who takes responsibility for my actions. Here are some quotes… 1. I fight for my health every day in ways most people don’t understand. I’m not lazy. I’m a warrior. 2. Sufficient sleep, exercise, healthy food, friendship, and peace of mind are necessities, not luxuries. And, 3. Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.