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I’ve been at uni this year. It’s been a fairly mixed experience (though the down sides hardly rate as serious on a scale of suffering. Just the pettiness of bureaucrats, academics spouting contradictions (without realising) – that kind of thing.).

I did a uni subject on aid programs. There were the usual academic articles and also a doco done by World Vision. The doco was about some entrepreneurs trying to help an African village. (They didn’t have much of a briefing, from what I can gather: so they were set up a bit, I think.) The doco was goodish, it won’t be revolutionising documentary making any time soon. It simply showed the story of these people struggling with the situation in the village (the usual egos, conflicts, incomprehensions, miscommunications and so on). After watching it, reading the academic articles felt lame. The doco showed far more of the complexity of the situation; and the real struggles that development work deals with.

This reminded me of something I’d learned when I was younger. Probably because I was introverted and heady, I’d have trouble communicating my thoughts and feelings. So I’d try and use abstract systems to explain (it was my personal experience that people were having understanding; so I’d remove myself from the picture and talk more generally; trying to use a system of understanding we could both share). It gradually dawned on me that this didn’t work. That what communicates most powerfully is what is most personal (most individual).

This goes against what is taken seriously as informative in our society – abstraction, generalisation, facts and figures. (These are essential, it is how we communicate them that I’m talking about.) It is when the individual is removed that something is taken seriously – which makes it less interesting (and so boring ourselves comes to be valued – ‘discipline’).

But we should be most engaged with what is important. Which means that we tell human stories about it. They do need to be about important things, and they do need to be well told – but the best communication happens humanly not abstractly (and surely the important things deserve the best communication).

There are two broad ways to do this:

  • personal experiences (our own or others) – an incident from your life, or stories from others’ lives (whether as a documentary or in whatever form).
  • ‘typical’ stories. By which I mean things like medical diagnostic case studies. Done well these aren’t just lists of symptoms, but they give a sense of what the human experience of the condition. (It needn’t be medical. It could be the way of life of a particular group, or exploring how a system of philosophy impacts a way of life. It could be a narrative about the difficulties of learing a particular discipline.) These aren’t stories about any particular person; but they do give a sense of the human experience involved.

If something is important; it is worth trying our best to communicate well about it. And this means talking about human experience.


Today, I’m delighted to present a guest post from Stacey Leibowitz-Levy. Comments, as always, are very welcome.


Making choices that are helpful in preventing relapse and maintaining wellbeing on a day to day basis are essential skills required to live effectively with mental illness. These kinds of practical steps are based on key awarenesses of acceptance – coming to terms with the reality of your diagnosis, and separateness – recognizing the illness as separate from you. These kinds of awarenesses in turn allow for the application of foundational tools for managing mental illness of taking responsibility, being proactive, knowing yourself and educating yourself. But how do these foundational aspects translate in the day to day struggle of living with mental illness? Let’s explore some core practical considerations for minimizing relapse and staying in a healthy space.


Nurture Your Healthy Parts

Your mental illness is only a small part of who you are. By remembering this and maintaining a focus on and nurturing your health parts you can go a long way toward staying stable. Notice where things are working for you and ensure you put the time and energy into fostering these healthy spaces. If for instance your work is particularly rewarding or you have a talent for art that you would like to nurture, or your relationship with your children brings you much joy, don’t overlook these healthy elements. Invest time and energy in sustaining and growing them. This helps you build and empower yourself, thereby generating internal and external resources which will bolster a space of stability.


Your Treatment Plan is Sacred

The medication, counseling and other commitments you have made to staying stable should be viewed as non-negotiables in your life. Make sure you understand the treatment you are receiving and are comfortable with your choices because once you have bought into them, the discipline and responsibility for adherence is fundamentally yours. By sticking to your treatment plan, you are ensuring a basis for maintaining your mental health. At times, this may be challenging (e.g. managing the side effects of medication, finding the energy and motivation to attend therapy), requiring you to be proactive with regards to your care, but a commitment to adherence to treatment is foundational to staying stable.


Get the Support You Need

Recognize what you need in terms of support and do your utmost to get it! Both informal support networks (family, friends, and workmates) and formal support networks (therapists, doctors) are essential to maintain your wellbeing. Maximize your supports and make sure you use them as effectively as possible. For instance, if you know you often have a relapse around the festive season, alert friends and family to this and ensure you have the company you need. Remember that you also have the option of broadening your support system through the availability of online communities, online counseling and professional support.


Stamp Out Stress

Managing stress is a key factor in maintaining mental stability. Recognize the situations that generate stress for you and where possible avoid them or modify them. In situations where stress is unavoidable, equip yourself with the basic tools for managing stress (e.g. breathing techniques, controlling negative thought processes).


Be Body Conscious

As the saying goes: “A healthy body, a healthy mind”. Taking care of your body
is an essential aspect of maintaining your mental wellbeing on a day to day basis. Making sure you eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise are underpinning features that are only going to boost your mental stability. You may have noticed the impact of neglecting any one of these areas. Not getting enough sleep, for example, increases stress and could potentially have a snowball effect that heightens the risk of relapse. So be aware of your body and be responsive to its needs. You can take this further by engaging in pursuits such as yoga or tai chi that encourage mindfulness and bodily awareness.


Go Beyond Yourself

Extend beyond yourself by developing a contemplative/spiritual practice and/or involving yourself in acts of giving to others (e.g. volunteering at a children’s home). This will serve to empower you, expand your frame of reference and ground you in a notion of reality that shrinks the space that your mental illness can occupy. These kinds of pursuits also provide meaning, structure and a sense of community.

This article has outlined some key aspects of the nitty gritty of staying stable when living with mental illness. These suggestions are meant to be helpful and supportive and not a source of guilt, stress or pressure for anyone reading this article. There may be times when the intensity of mental illness is overwhelming and it becomes difficult to maintain these guidelines.


Author Bio:

Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a licensed psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She has wide ranging skills and expertise in the areas of trauma, complex trauma, anxiety, stress and adjustment issues. She is the editor for e-counseling.com. In her spare time, Stacey loves going on holiday, discovering and exploring new places.