Contributed by Tonya Rosenberg
Don't buy into stereotypes. Hollywood has portrayed mental illness as something completely scary, untreatable, and even unclean. But the reality is that you likely know, work with, are neighbors with or are related to people who have a diagnosed mental illness, who are receiving treatment for that illness, and are functioning "normally." A diagnosis doesn't make you a freak, or dangerous, or a bad person. It just makes you a person with an illness that requires treatment...just like diabetes or any number of other illnesses.
Don't give up. Sometimes people have a difficult time finding a doctor who can help, or the right treatment. My daughter is seven years old and has early onset bipolar disorder. We had to go through lots of testing, several medication combos, various behavior trainings, and even a stint at a mental hospital before we struck on the right combo of meds for her. It was hard, it was scary and it was sometimes painful to see her suffering inside so much...but we didn't give up, and now she's a much happier child living a nearly typical seven year old life.
Follow your doctor's orders. If your prescription says to take one pill a day at bedtime, DO IT. Don't stop taking meds, change the doseage or time of day, or otherwise deviate from the doctor's instructions on your own. If you don't take the meds prescribed AS they are prescribed, you can actually set yourself up to fail with that medication. If you feel a med taken at bedtime is keeping you awake, talk to your doctor about changing the time of day you take it...but do NOT do it on your own. Don't decide to wean yourself off of a med you think isn't working...consult your physician and follow his/her instructions. Also be aware that some over the counter medications can interact badly with prescription meds...causing them to not work at their maximum capability, creating stomach upset, etc. ALWAYS tell your doctor and pharmacist what meds you're taking, even if it's something as simple as Tylenol.
Consider adding talk therapy to your treatment plan. Medications can be wonderful, and even necessary, for feeling better. But talk therapy can be extremely helpful as well. A well trained therapist can help you find ways of coping with difficulties, of changing patterns of behavior that interfere with your feeling better, etc.
Find the RIGHT doctors for YOU. If a doctor is insulting, makes you feel rushed, doesn't listen to your questions...keep looking. A doctor that is right for you will make you feel comfortable, will not put you down, will be knowledgeable about your diagnosis and the latest treatments available, will have a friendly and welcoming office staff, and will generally make you not dread going to see him/her. Listen to your instincts. If you just get a bad "vibe," where you feel like you're intruding on him/her just by being there, consider looking for a replacement. It's also generally recommended that, if medication is a part of your treatment, you see a psychiatrist. S/he will have the best knowledge and up-to-date information on mental illnesses and treatments.
Be patient. This is, by far, the hardest thing. By the time you actually take that step to seek help, you want whatever is going wrong to be OVER, NOW. Unfortunately, it usually doesn't happen that way. Some meds used in the treatment of mental illnesses must "build up" in one's system before it begins to work. Sometimes there are side-effects that are unpleasant enough that you want to stop that med and try something else. Sometimes a med just won't do it for you and you'll have to go back to the drawing board and try again. It's frustrating, especially when you want so badly to feel better, but these things take time. Hang in there.
Find support. This board is one wonderful source for finding supportive, understanding people who "get" where you're at and what you're dealing with. Finding in-person support is highly recommended as well.
Schedule "ME" time frequently. It's not a fun fantasy, it's a NECESSITY. Carve out some time for yourself as often as possible. Do NOT use this time to run errands, do chores, or otherwise catch up on stuff that needs doing. Take this time to get reacquainted with YOU. Take a class, hang out at the library, feed the ducks at the park...whatever makes you feel refreshed and boosts your energy. Whether you are a stay at home mother or work outside the home, you need to have some time to wind down. You'll be much better able to tend to everyone else's needs if you've tended to your own.
Take care of yourself. I know we all hear "diet and exercise," and many times a lot of us probably say "UGH, this again?!" But, truthfully, there are scientifically proven benefits to daily moderate exercise and a healthy food intake. Drink LOTS of water, get plenty of sleep, eat healthfully and move. It will make a huge difference.
Keep a journal. I'm really bad at this one, but some people swear by it. Keeping a journal helps to organize your thoughts, enables you to vent and rage without hurting others, and after a time can even help you see personal patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.
Tell others what you need/want. It will wear you out and wear you down to try living up to what you think others expect of you. Your family and friends are not psychic...they don't know that what you really want right now is a thirty minute walk alone, or a nap, or help with the laundry. And they WON'T know what you need, or how best to help you, unless you can identify your needs and express them to those around you. If you want your husband to help more around the house, for example, tell him specifically what it is you need (i.e. "Please put away the dishes.")
Be realistic. If you weren't Martha Stewart or June Cleaver before having a baby, don't expect to live up to some "ideal" after having a child. And even if you WERE Martha Stewart or June Cleaver before having children, understand that kids make your life totally different, and that's okay. Sometimes it's hard to remember that becoming a parent doesn't mean you are no longer "you," it just means that you are growing and changing and experiencing life. Change can be a good thing.
Know your worth. Whether you are a stay at home mom, a part time employee, a full time employee, a student, or some combination of the above, know that you're a valuable, important, interesting, vibrant human being. It's okay if you aren't earning a paycheck, or if you aren't home all day with your kids. You'll do what you need to do, and everything will work out. Understand, also, that stay at home moms are jealous of "working" moms, and "working" moms are jealous of stay at home moms. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but ultimately we're all just trying to be good people.
"Where there is life, there is hope." That's one of my favorite quotes, one I have to remind myself of from time to time. As long as you're alive, you have potential and your path in life is open to you. Sometimes the pain of depression and other mental illnesses can be so great that you just want the pain to end. Know that harming yourself isn't the answer, that the pain can end for you without taking that kind of step. You must extend a hand to receive a helping hand in return. Ask for help if life ever gets that painful for you.