I’ll be spending the day with family. Singing, jamming and eating. I am cooking a turkey, making stuffing, mashed potatoes and garlic buttery beans and cherry tomatoes with apple pie and ice cream for dessert. We have so much to be thankful for!
I have always needed a lot of sleep — more than my peers, it always seemed. When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness back in 1997 (at the age of 32), and was prescribed medication to take every day for the rest of my life, I asked my psychiatrist if I could drink alcohol while taking this medication. He said I could, as long as the alcohol did not interfere with my sleep. Then I asked, how much sleep should I get every night. His response was simply, “Enough sleep”. What does that mean? He said, “whatever is enough for you.”
Since that time, I have learned that enough sleep for me changes throughout the month. But I, for sure, need 9 hours minimum a night, and occasionally, more like 10 -13 hours. I know that the medication I take makes me sleep longer hours, but it is necessary to keep me well. When I do not take my medication, I can get by with 8 hours a night regularly, but then I am mentally unwell. Without medication, I experience frequent and persistent delusions.
Last week, I did not get what my psychiatrist would call enough sleep. I had a fun weekend listening to live music, however, I was out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, getting only between 6.5 – 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Then on Tuesday night, I only slept 4.5 hours. I had commitments later in the week, so I couldn’t even sleep in to make up for the lost hours. I found that I responded to events throughout the week much more emotionally than I would have if I had enough sleep. My emotional reactions were exaggerated. After one incident last week, my husband, whom I have been with for over 4 years, said he had never seen me so angry before. Also, I was doing more emotional eating than usual, and had no energy to do regular tasks like preparing healthy meals or cleaning up dishes. Nor was I going to the gym. Everything was done quickly, and for convenience — whatever didn’t take too much time. Then on Thursday, I felt the need to leave my volunteer job early, as I had become completely unraveled, feeling unwell.
Finally on Friday night, I was able to catch up on lost sleep. I slept for 13 hours,and that was after a 5 hour nap in the afternoon. Then I slept some more on Saturday night. I am now back to my usual self, ready to continue my regular routine. But did I ever pay a hefty price for not taking better care of myself last week! Making sleep a priority for me is a big part of my self-care. I think the last time I had felt that much sleep deprivation was when I had been living in my car during the winter, back in 2009. Let’s hope I have learned that lesson now, and plan my social activities accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult since my husband is a night owl; so I always have to remind myself that I cannot keep up with his late hours. A learning opportunity, for sure.
How much sleep is enough for you? Only you can evaluate the number of hours. Are you getting it?
Many years ago, I was in a training session with my colleagues at work and I was getting really frustrated as I thought I wasn’t picking up what was being taught as quickly as I thought I should. I was expressing some of my frustrations out loud and the trainer noted, “Wow, that’s a lot of negative self-talk going on in your head”. I had never thought about it before, but her statement really gave me pause. From that point on I tried really hard to change my negative thoughts to positive ones.
I have heard that negative thoughts and feelings travel through the brain more quickly than positive ones. So, it takes a lot of effort to change your thinking to positive ones.
My natural inner dialogue at the time was “I will never pick this up”, “This is too hard”, “I am not smart enough”. Little did I know that all this negative self-talk was causing more stress in my life. Something I really did not need as stress is a big trigger to my mental illness.
Soon, I started changing my thoughts to positive ones, beginning with my inner dialogue, or positive self-talk. I would say to myself, “today is going to be a good day”, “With lots of practice I will become great at this”, “I’ll give it another try” or “I’ll try to make it work”.
According to The Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of positive thinking are many:
Increased life span
Lower rates of depression
Lower levels of distress
Greater resistance to the common cold
Better psychological and physical well-being
Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
It is unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.
So, work hard at changing those negative thoughts to positive ones. Talk to yourself as though you were your own best friend. Praise yourself, give compliments, be kind to yourself. Your body and mind will benefit from it.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a small but hugely insightful self-help book. This book provided me with four simple guidelines to personal freedom. Yes, they are simply laid out and very clear, but these four agreements have taken me years to put into action and will take many more years to master. It is a book you will want to have in your own home library, and read over and over again.
The Four Agreements (as outlined on the inner book jacket) are:
BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best , and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
Not surprisingly, the agreement that helped me the most when I first read this book, was Always Do Your Best. I was gifted this book in 2005 by two different friends. One was for my 40th birthday. It was very timely as I was quite ill, experiencing delusions frequently throughout every day for years. I was also quite the perfectionist in my younger years, so I really struggled with many events that were happening in my life at that time, such as being laid off from work, and losing access to my daughter (my oldest daughter had decided to go live with her father full-time – a crushing blow to my self-esteem and feelings of self-worth). All of this was due to my illness, but I did not understand that at the time. The agreement, of always doing your best and that your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, really resonated with me. I soon realized, I was always doing my best, but that changed from day to day. At times, my best was to simply get out of bed and get dressed. That was my best. On other days I could accomplish so much more. But as a result of this agreement, I did not beat myself up for those days when I really was unwell, and could barely function. I knew that I was truly doing my best and that my best changed depending on my wellness. I still remind myself of this even today, as delusions occasionally creep back into my reality. I could have many regrets about those lost years I experienced when I was homeless and estranged from everyone, but this book saved me from self-judgment and regret. As a result, I am a much happier person.
I am still working on all four agreements, practicing, re-reading and hopefully, one day before I leave this planet, I will have mastered them all.
Routines are so important to me that I consider them a part of my self-care.
A few years ago, when I had been recently discharged from The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre and was very happily living in my new home – my daily routine was very different than it is now.
It all started with making my bed! Each morning, I would get up, make my bed, get dressed, have breakfast and get out of the apartment by 10 am. At this early stage of recovery, I did not have any friends (sadly, this often happens after a prolonged period of mental illness or addiction where you become estranged from everyone important to you). My only supporters were my then 16 year old daughter, Julia, and my Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) from The Royal. I am a people person, and a pretty friendly kind of lady, so, in order to meet people, I would go to the same coffee shop every day. Soon the baristas all knew my name, or at least recognized my face as a regular and would remember my order. I would also meet other regulars who would go to read the paper or work on their computers or just meet with other friends and chat. The coffee shop became my Cheers, the place like on TV where everyone knows your name.
Soon after, I started facilitating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group and a group I co-created, Journaling as a Wellness Tool, for women. I would share my routine in these groups and link it to my own wellness.
Often, I would be asked: “Why is it important to you to make your bed?“
Making my bed, set me up for success every day. It was the first thing I did each morning and I could then check it off my list. It would give me a sense of pride and satisfaction. Not to mention, my Mom would be pleased since she raised me to make my bed every day! After this task was done, I could move on to other things, like getting dressed and so on. Also, when I came home later in the day, I would walk into my apartment and immediately see that my bed was neatly made and I would again feel good about having accomplished that task. My bed was made and I had made it! Kind of like in the nursery rhyme Little Jack Horner, “Oh what a good boy am I” That same feeling of pride.
Today, my routine is very different (including regular going to bed and wake up times), but the importance of making the bed in the morning remains.
If you don’t already make your bed every morning – challenge yourself to start this healthy routine. It will set you up for a successful day! Besides, there is nothing like getting into a neatly made bed at night to go to sleep. For me, the only thing that beats that is a bed made with freshly laundered sheets (which happens around our place once a week).
Since launching this blog, several people have asked me “What made you decide to write a blog?”
For many years, I had been toying with the idea. I journal regularly, and the thought of writing a blog appealed to me. After all, I enjoyed writing. But, I had my doubts that anyone would be interested in what I had to say.
In 2013, my cousin, Michele, introduced me to her blog http://www.modmissy.com, which is all about design. I was inspired, but didn’t take action. Later in 2018, my knitting friend advertised her blog, http://www.DrGailBeck.com. Again, I thought, I should really do this.
But it wasn’t until I met the amazingly vivacious and talented Onika Dainty (one of my fellow FACES for Mental Illness with the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) sponsored by Bell Let’s Talk) that I finally took the plunge. I was so inspired by Onika’s ambition to broadcast a weekly podcast about mental health and wellness http://www.daintydysh.com that I immediately set the goal of publishing a blog about mental health.
Within the past year, I attended a Family Support Group at The Royal in Ottawa that covered the topic of validation. Although this communication skill was not new to me, the session reminded me to use validation as an effective communication skill more often when communicating with my loved ones and peers.
Validation (as defined by dictionary.com) is: recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?… but how often did I want to offer advice on an issue instead; or not even meaning to – be judgmental? Or even worse, minimize the person’s feelings by beginning a sentence with “At least”. More often than I’d care to admit!
After sitting in on this seminar, I’d try to catch myself every time I was communicating with my loved ones and peers. Instead, I really listened to their concerns, without judgment or offering advice. I would say, “Wow, you seem really frustrated, stressed and angry”. Connecting with their emotions. Everyone needs to know that their feelings are normal and reasonable in the situation.
By validating people’s feelings, I found that they opened up to me more. They would want to engage further. In the case of my daughter, Julia (24), she would carve out more time in her very busy schedule to spend time with me. If your goal is to develop a closer relationship with people, then validation is key.
In this seminar, it was also emphasized that you do not have to agree with someone’s opinions or choices to acknowledge their emotions are valid. For example, a person does not have to agree or buy into the delusions someone is having in order to validate their feelings.
In hindsight, I really wish that people in my life had practised validation when I was in the depths of psychosis. Instead of connecting with the emotions I may have been feeling, they argued with me: “What you are saying is not true/real. You cannot be trusted. You are paranoid.” If instead they had said “Wow, you must feel stressed (vulnerable, spied-on, or exposed)” upon revealing to them that I believed there were cameras in my home and car; perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so alienated from everyone in my life. After all, how would you feel if you truly believed there were cameras in your home watching and listening to everything 24/7?
I know that by using validation as a communication skill, all of my relationships are much stronger, especially with my daughter, Julia. Since January, we have been meeting one day a week for lunch and we both enjoy connecting regularly.
It’s not perfect by any means, but the effort has paid off. Sometimes I slip into offering advice, but I always try to deliver the messages: I believe in you! and – You Matter! – through validation.