Friday, July 11, 2008

A Rambling List of Helpful Ideas

This is just brainstorming now. Thinking of things that help with mental illness:
-find a good family physician
-have your overall health checked carefully
-have blood tests done to check thyroid, fasting glucose, ferritin (a measure of iron stores), B12 levels (a vitamin), and other basic bloodwork
-allow time in your daily life for rest, relaxation, hobbies, or other simple pleasures. It's particularly good to actually build this time right into your schedule
-have some structure in your day -- get up at roughly the same time, try to go to bed around the same time, eat meals consistently
-try to appreciate the simple pleasures of life -- the taste of your toast in the morning, the colour of the flowers, the texture of the sidewalk -- see, feel, experience, enjoy what you can
-do meditative things. For some this is a meditation class, for others it might be listening to music, a quiet evening walk, for others it could be a workout, for others it could be prayer or another religious activity
-examine your willing to make changes, to let go of things (small and large) that are unhealthy for you, inconsistent with your personality or lifestyle; be willing to add things (small and large) that are healthy for you, consistent with your personality, values, and lifestyle. Be careful about these decisions though, because a depressive state can cause you to feel unhappy about every external thing, and your depressive symptoms may therefore prompt you to make changes that are not really helpful to you. Imagine that your mind is like the "senate", make sure all the different opinions are heard, from a depressed perspective, to an intellectual perspective, to a happy perspective, etc. Then decide & make changes if necessary. Some changes are hard to make -- e.g. letting go of the need to keep up with the mortgage by maintaining an extremely unpleasant job -- maybe you need to consider letting go of the house, simplifying your life, and doing something with your time that is more enjoyable or meaningful.
-do altruistic activities, in some way. Volunteer. Help others out. Do what you can.
Here's a link to search for volunteer opportunities in Vancouver:
-exercise. every day. in moderation.
-eat healthy food. learn about nutrition. insist on the best quality your budget will allow. If you indulge once in a while in decadent foods, make it something REALLY GOOD. Not McDonalds.
-no more than 1 or 2 drinks of alcohol per day, ever. (it is possible that very light regular drinking is healthier than not drinking at all. But if you ever drink more than 2 per day, it is very bad for your emotional and physical health; also some people may not be able to healthily drink at all.
-don't smoke.
-don't use street drugs. There's a big marijuana lobby out there that makes claims about the health virtues of cannabis. Go examine the evidence for yourself. It's not good for you!
-reserve a little bit of energy, every day, or every week, for friendships. For many of us, this is an energy-consuming activity, and we neglect this. The energy could be spent in conversation, in doing an activity, or in expressing something positive about your friendship.
-be willing to move away from, or let go of, friendships that are not healthy for you.
-be willing to make new friends. This can be hard to do. You may need to try many different ways to meet new friends, such as joining recreational groups, clubs, churches (in my opinion, one need not have to espouse the literal belief system of a church to benefit from its social community, altruistic focus, and positive values), formal or informal educational classes (e.g. an acting class, or an art class, etc.), or internet sites (be careful of course!)
-be willing to try new things. a new activity. a new hobby. a new skill. a new language. a new place to travel. a new group.
Here's a link to Vancouver community centres; you can find the various programs & services they offer:
Here's a link to other classes & programs through the Vancouver school board:

-some people change their lives for the better through months or years of slow, steady open to this. Others can make a "radical life change", where improvements in life, meaning, and joy can happen almost immediately. Be open to this too.
-consider finding a therapist. you may need to give this time, just like any new experience. But be willing to change therapists, if the one you find doesn't feel right, or if you feel that you aren't getting anywhere after giving it a good chance.
-consider other types of therapy: if you have had only open-ended, "classical" psychotherapy, consider trying cognitive-behavioural therapy. And vice-versa.
-consider seeing a psychiatrist. You may need to give this time too, and may need to see a different one if the experience doesn't feel right to you.
-consider medications. Some patients I've seen have had life stories that sound like their problems would be solved by talking things through, by working things out in talking therapy. Sometimes they have given this years of effort, but have not improved. Then they try an antidepressant, or find a combination of medications, and feel truly well for the first time in their lives. For others, they have the opposite story: they may have tried one medication after another to treat their symptoms. Nothing works. Then they engage in a good psychotherapy experience, and this becomes the first treatment that helps; sometimes these patients may discontinue their medications. For the majority of patients I see with chronic or recurrent depression, though, what seems to help best is a mixture of psychotherapy, a medication combination, and healthy lifestyle changes.

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