New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Weathering a Storm

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday February 13, 2013 - 11:31:00 PM

When someone with mental illness goes through a difficult time period, it is important to take steps to take extra care of oneself. Too much of a crisis, if not dealt with well enough, can trigger a return of acute mental illness. The difficult event by itself, in the absence of quitting medications, is sometimes enough to trigger a relapse. On the other hand, such an event can get a person destabilized and upset to the point where we stop taking medication. The return of acute symptoms can happen either way. (And, in fact, sometimes a person with very severe schizophrenia has a relapse with no apparent event as a trigger.) 

Generally, before a relapse takes place, there are early warning signs that can be recognized and heeded. Not eating and sleeping properly can be a sign of impending acute illness and can also create stress that can accelerate progression toward such a relapse. 

A person with mental illness should not attempt an extreme diet. (By the way, diet pills should be avoided, since they are a narcotic and can trigger psychosis or mania.) 

In my case, getting a lot of exercise, such as long walks across town, has been a sign of trouble. When the body gets purified from a lot of exercise and possibly from not eating much, it triggers a part of the nervous system that can make some people more mentally ill. 

When sedentary, I might be less physically healthy, yet I am mentally more stabilized. Perhaps when the body purifies itself, it gets a lot of the medication out of the person's system. Antipsychotic medication seems to work partly through limiting a person's energy. It is a myth and is not correct that enough exercise will cure everything including mental illness. What you end up with is an extremely fit but psychotic person. 

Episodes of extreme anxiety coupled with immobility are sometimes a warning sign. Another might be extreme levels of irritability. A major mental "break" is often preceded by observable lower-level symptoms or other problems. 

Getting through a difficult period of time should include vigilance for all of the early warning signs mentioned above. Sometimes, events that are excessively upsetting can overwhelm someone with mental illness, since we are already predisposed to getting ill. During a difficult time, a person with mental illness should receive as much support as possible from family, treatment practitioners and friends. We should not be afraid to ask for help from the appropriate person. 

During a difficult period, we should not try to make major changes. If a close relative or friend has just passed away, it is not the time to try quitting smoking or to attempt extreme weight loss. In fact, sometimes comfort food can be a calming and stabilizing influence. 

If overwhelmed with a never-ending plate of tasks, a person with mental illness might do well to accept that not everything is going to get done. We should prioritize, and accomplish the very important things, while everything else should be treated as optional. 

Keeping one's time structured and temporarily taking extra medication (according to doctor's orders) are two more measures toward remaining stabilized. 

Too much idle time frees the mind to create more problems, such as negative thoughts or possibly delusions. Doing something interesting, or at least something that fills the time, can improve one's mood and provide a feeling of accomplishment. Temporarily increasing antipsychotic medication can be insulating and can prevent more symptoms from coming up. 

A person with mental illness going through a short-term difficult period should receive praise from oneself for each small or large accomplishment, and should try to steer their thoughts toward hope and optimism. 

When the path of life is a bit rockier, it should not automatically mean that someone with mental illness will become acutely ill again. When more years without relapse are under one's belt, it can be viewed as an accomplishment, since these illnesses can be very insidious in their ability to reverse a person's progress.