A couple of months ago I started writing down the things that I think have helped me deal with my illness. A lot of them are based on mistakes I made that it seems when they were changed made my overall life better… This is just advice I give myself but if you see anything that doesn’t look reasonable please let me know.
My cheat sheet:
Tips for dealing with schizophrenia… What I think has worked for me so far…
If you have a serious chronic illness the best thing to do is to throw the kitchen sink at it. Don’t expect any one method or modality to solve your problem. Scientifically you won’t know what really helped but if you do all the things that are likely to help and avoid all the things that harm you will have a better shot of making a recovery. Try not to rationalize sabotaging your health by eating bad foods, smoking or other unhealthy practices. The stricter you are with yourself the sooner you will get well.
Don’t stay in a stressful situation longer than you have to. Be responsible but don’t be a masochist. People will always try to push you into roles that don’t suit you. Ignore people who try to shove ‘shoulds’ down your throat. If your job is ruining your health and you don’t have a family to support consider giving it up, changing jobs or going on disability. It’s pure ignorance to think that money is more important than your health but unfortunately that is the mixed message our culture sends us.
Help the helpless but don’t stress yourself out to help people who do so little in return for you even though they could. There are too many takers out there.
Don’t befriend people who are sadistic, duplicitous and bullying. Mild teasing is one thing but abuse is not worth your time. Choose a different friend.
Take responsibility for your health. If you are overweight you can’t entirely blame your medication. You have to find ways to manage impulses to eat just like everyone else.
Avoid complaining. While it is good to recognize problems, complaining is usually disempowering because it can actually makes it more difficult for you to make the changes that you need to do to make you happier. It can even put you at a strategic disadvantage if you are planning to leave a bad situation since others might anticipate your actions and sabotage your efforts for change.
Learn how to set reachable goals. You can’t do everything people without a mental illness can but you might surprise yourself with what you are capable of with a little bit of planning and discipline.
Be flexible with your career path. Move on quickly if a particular job isn’t working out.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Do not envy others. Everyone will have their share of serious problems sooner or later.
Manage your finances by tracking income and expenses on a monthly basis. Avoid using credit cards or at least use them for emergency and mandatory expenses only and pay them off immediately. If you want something big save up for it.
Eat at home as much as possible. You will save money and you will be healthier.
Some mental health professionals haven’t really figured out their lives either so a bit of their advice should be taken with a grain of salt.
Exercise. Try to make it fun though: get a pedometer, walk with friends, join a gym.
Try weight training with dumbbells at home. They are a great substitute if you can’t make it to the gym and give a quick shot of endorphins if you are feeling down.
Strive for 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.
Give up smoking. Use nicotine replacement as long as you think you need to if it helps your withdrawal and mental illness symptoms.
Make to do lists. Also keep a Done list at the end of your day. A done list or daily journal is great to motivate you especially if you struggle with negative symptoms. It really helps to keep a journal of tasks completed every day so that you can see real progress.
There are a lot of social and cognitive skills that healthy people practice intuitively. As a mental health patient we have to consciously study our own habits and work to modify our behavior much harder than the average person. Repetition of good habits strengthens good neural connections but it takes a lot of effort and repetitions to reprogram a new habit and a lot of time for an old habit to die away.
Practice looking people in the eye. (Don’t stare them down though.)
Learn about diaphragmatic breathing. It can be great to help you relax in a tense situation.
Turn off the TV as much as possible. Also avoid movies such as action or violent films if they are likely to upset or overstimulate you.
Cultivate humor. You may not want to irritate everyone else with silly puns all the time but read jokes, watch funny shows and even practice making up your own jokes. Irony good!
Even though it makes us a little uncomfortable, self-doubt and skepticism about our own conclusions and beliefs is extremely desirable and a sign of a healthy mind. Continually question and challenge your own thoughts and beliefs. If you do not practice the habit of questioning your thoughts you may be headed for a delusion. Hallucinations are only going to harm you if they are not challenged or ignored by you. The beliefs that survive the gauntlet of your scrutiny are your values.
Allow yourself some time each day to purposely do nothing or at least do something almost completely non productive. Have fun but keep in mind that fun is a diversion to recharge yourself, not a full time job.
Facebook is great for connecting and sharing with people. Just try to be respectful and be careful about how much you disclose online. There is still a lot of stigma out there! If you have any facebook friends who are also consumers, you may want inform them nicely not to disclose too much about your mental health background online.
Until you have better resistance, stop putting garbage in your brain. Be very choosy about what TV shows and movies you watch and what music you listen to. Pay attention to lyrics when you hear music – is this really the attitude you want to adopt for yourself?
Cut down or preferably eliminate caffeine. You will sleep better and feel better.
Drink very little or preferably no alcohol. It will make you very depressed if you can’t manage it.
Look after and serve the elderly and sick people in your family. They need you, and it is nice to be needed.
You often will learn more by hanging around with good people than you will from reading books.
Write down your personal victory sheet: Brainstorm and list everything you have accomplished so far in your life. Learning to read, getting an award, etc. Review it when you are feeling down on yourself and think about what you would like to add to it periodically.
Make bucket list of all the things you want to be, do and own before you die. Start doing them.
The people you hang around will influence your behavior and habits dramatically. Try to spend more time with people you want to be more like.
Avoid the temptation to be cynical or sarcastic as much as possible. Try to stay on the lighter side of humor.
Listen to other people’s problems and think how you would feel if it was happening to you.
Pursue a hobby. Explore new skills too.
Listening to very slow tempo music on headphones can be a great relaxation tool.
It’s better to have a few nice things than a lot of junk.
Always research a big purchase. Use coupons a lot too.
Don’t dwell in the past. In most ways it is pretty irrelevant.
Learn to use a computer or tablet. If used properly they can be great tools for learning and managing your life.
Don’t gamble. If you win your money easily you probably don’t deserve it.
Be very kind to the people closest to you. They are the ones that matter most. Ironically we have a tendency of acting kinder to strangers than our own families.
Read self help books and books on psychology. Try to figure out what works for you. Learn methods of controlling anger and handling small frustrations. Consider joining a support group if one is available.
Whether or not you like to pray, every night before you go to bed review the things you are thankful for that day.
Brush your teeth and floss every day. Get back on track to it if you slip up.
Practice waiting patiently. Waiting at a doctor’s office or in line at grocery stores is actually very good therapy.
Get in the habit of writing. It can really help organize your thoughts. If you have problems with word salad edit your writing over and over again until it really looks and sounds right. If you write well you will also be able to talk to people more confidently and coherently.
Choose your battles wisely. Let others think they are right. Don’t waste time arguing with other peoples delusions when you have enough of your own. However, when talking with someone you can usually find some common ground.
Don’t confuse depression with the need to pass gas!
Finding decent meds may take a lot of trial and error. Cooperate with your doctor in trying to figure out optimal dosages and how to deal with side effects. Don’t stop your meds on your own. Do everything you can to improve your physical health in the meantime.
Don’t rush as much as possible. Make a conscious habit of talking and eating slowly.
Work is essentially solving problems. Satisfying work is solving problems you are both good at and enjoy.
The process of healing is very slow and there will be setbacks. Don’t let these scare you into thinking you are having a full relapse.
Be kind to yourself and others as much as possible.
Write your own cheat sheet like this one.
A few Books that I have found helpful along the way…
Mental Health Through Will Training - Dr. Abraham A. Low
Manage Your Fears Manage Your Anger - Dr. Abraham A. Low
Self-help for Fear and Anger: The Recovery Method - Robert Courtade
Dr. Low’s books are used frequently in Recovery Inc. meetings. They are very useful for learning how to handle small frustrations and deal with some symptoms of mental illness. If Dr. Low’s books seem too difficult for you to understand I suggest reading the short book by Robert Courtade first.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff - Richard Carlson
Very easy going philosophy of life presented in short digestible essays
Emotional Intelligence - Daniel Goleman
Good overview of why how anger and fear can short circuit our brains and why intellectual approaches often fail when getting along with other people.
Dale Carnegie’s Books
His various books offer good tips on getting along with others, managing anxiety
7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey
Nice book for learning about effective role management and other techniques that apply to life in general and not just business
Positive Addiction - William Glasser, M.D.
Good ideas on breaking bad habits by getting addicted to good habits
Stress Without Distress - Hans Sael
Biological explanation of stress and how you might combat it
Doing the Right Thing: Being Ethical in an Unethical World - Thomas Plante
Good light introduction to philosophy and applications of ethics though a bit slanted toward Catholic doctrine. Offers a lot of thoughtful exercises.
Random Acts of Kindness - Conari Press
Many short anecdotes about how people perform kind acts in everyday life.
Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders - Aaron Beck
Presents methods for observing and altering thought patterns
100 Simple Secrets of Happy People - David Niven, PhD
Short essays on what happy behavior actually appears to look like clinically
Zig Ziglar’s Books
A few of his ideas seem to me a little too religious and political but he had great practical advice on setting goals, doing bucket lists or dream sheets and building motivation.
Life 101 Books
Some ideas in these books are a little questionable to me but has some interesting philosophical, practical and ethical techniques and viewpoints.
7 Weeks to Optimum Health - Andrew Weil, M.D.
Pretty interesting ideas in alternative medicine. I believe that supplements and diet changes are good in addition to though not as a substitute for psychiatric treatment.
Nutritional Healing - Phyllis A. Balch
Some interesting vitamin supplemental information. Best to talk to your doctors though before using any of these though.
American Lung Association : 7 steps to smoke free life
Very helpful book for the process of quitting smoking.
Get a financial life - Beth Kobliner
Some basic financial principles for young people but a lot of ideas that apply to older folk too.
Suz Orman’s books
Some of Suz Orman’s financial strategies are way beyond my current abilities, but I think she has a useful perspectives on why money is important and how to go about improving one’s ability to handle it.
Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy - Robert Hazen and James Trefil
A very comprehensive introduction to science for lay people
Cosmos - Carl Sagan
Another great classic general science book.
Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter
This one is pretty advanced and not an entirely easy read. Considerations of why or why not the mind is a machine. Also covers a lot about isomorphisms in the form of similarities between the works of mathematician Kurt Godel, artist M.C. Escher and composer J.S. Bach.
The Emperors New Mind - Roger Penrose
Some more technical considerations from math, computer science, biology and physics of why the brain may be more than a deterministic machine.
Imitation of Christ - Thomas A. Kempis
Christian classic but has a lot of good ideas on being humble and patient for everyone else too
The Bible (whatever version works for you)
Creative visualization - Shakti Gawain
Interesting alternative and somewhat mystic approach to obtaining a better life. Not really sure if its methods really work for me but you might want to check it out for yourself. I like what the author says about the principles of be, do and have.
The Pretty Good Joke Book - Garrison Keillor
A lot of funny short jokes collected from various sources.
Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson
Cute comic but also delves into a lot of deep subjects too
Websites I recommend:
Nice calorie counter and social dieting app
Great site for info and forums on the disease
Good general medical site
Pretty easy to use system for overview of all your bank accounts. Not great at tracking cash expenses though.
The standard in personal financial software. If you can’t afford the new version you can pick up older version disks on eBay pretty cheap.
The famous fitness expert.
Fun and educational videos
The main social media site for us to connect to “normal” people.