The Relapse Series Pt 2: When the smallest of steps are the biggest of achievements!
Okay, here we are… the second blog in the relapse series. If you haven’t read the first one or could do with a reminder, you might want to give it a read as this post builds directly on top of it.
My last post described how I created an individually-tailored blueprint which, since then, has been an invaluable tool to help me recognise the signs of having a set back, and what I can do to address the symptoms.
I also mentioned how I try to use ‘well me’ to help ‘not-so-well-me’ and that’s exactly what I’ve done for the contents of this post too.
So here we go!
A big lesson I’ve learnt over the years is that no matter how hard I work at recovery, or how much of a priority I make it, I still get bad days/weeks, etc. Overall, they are nowhere near as intrusive as the worst from my past; the intensity and length combined just don't have the same impact, but they still hurt. There are still days where I can barely get out of bed, when I find thinking clearly very difficult, have little appetite, and torture myself with negative and upsetting thoughts. And that’s just the depression side of it - panic attacks and terrifying obsessions have had me in the same state many times in the past. Learning to accept that I will still have bad days, doesn't mean I'm giving up on hope, it just means that when very low I don't add disappointment and anger about it to the rest of the not-so-nice feelings I'm experiencing at the time.
****Again, as with all my other posts, you absolutely do not need to read this part if you think you might find it upsetting. I find it helpful to share my own story within these blogs as it gives my writing context and can help people to feel less alone but you don’t need to read it at all, just skip down to the next section ‘Start Small Prompt Sheet’.****
The picture above was taken in early 2011: pre-baby; engaged but not yet married and living with untreated anxiety, depression and OCD – blimey, what a catch! For many years, when my symptoms increased and I felt very low, this was my favourite thing to do... correction - when feeling very low, this was very often the ONLY thing I could do. Despite my face looking relatively peaceful, I can tell you that on the inside I'm struggling. I know what I've done here... I've gotten in from work on a Friday, stuck a dressing gown on over my clothes, grabbed a duvet, joined forces with my beautiful cat Archer - boy do I miss him, and well, stayed like that until I had to get ready for work again. I may or may not have made it to bed, but even if I had, 'getting up' would have involved dragging the duvet down to the sofa and… well, that was that - that was my weekend!
Although I wasn't in this condition all the time, this picture represents me at my worse whilst still working and holding down a full-time job. (I looked far worse than that when in the throes of severe postnatal OCD but I have no pictures of that time and if I’m honest, I’m pretty glad about that!).
When I felt like I did above, one of the things that I found hard to muster was motivation. I could barely put one foot in front of the other let alone actually start thinking about how to do something productive. Especially if it was OCD that was playing up, I’d be so lost in thoughts or rituals that ideas about how to start my day would be completely inaccessible to me.
So this is what I use now…
Start Small Prompt Sheet
Again, I wrote this prompt sheet when feeling well. I imagined myself to be at my absolute worst and thought about what would make me feel better and help me get going. I know that when I’m feeling rough I won’t want to read lots or have to sift for information, so every point is listed clearly and split into different sections. It’s designed to be as easy to read, understand and select from as possible so I won’t have to waste energy on trying to understand lengthy notes.
These are the questions I asked myself when creating this prompt.
1) What helps me feel better?
2) How easy or hard are they? How much effort do they require?
3) What’s the payoff? The ratio of how much effort is involved in completing an activity to how likely it is to make me feel better? I’ve starred the bits that make me feel better quickest.
4) Can I save energy by doing a couple of things in one go? Woah, steady there!... 😊 but things like brushing my teeth whilst in the bathroom or trying to eat something whilst putting the kettle on.
I then split the suggestions into sections so that I can see easily how to make a broad approach.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s not pretty, this is still my original one, I’ve added to it and scribbled on it as and when, but it works for me. I feel rather attached to it. But we're all different and you know you - think about what will pick you up when you feel low. If it would help making your prompt sheet look beautiful and bright do it. If you'd like to adorn it with glittery pictures of unicorns, or diagrams, or graffiti or motivational quotes, do it. This is all about doing what works for us as individuals when we feel low. Use the ideas ‘well you’ has, to help support and motivate ‘not-so-well' you.
And talking of which, something I don’t do enough of, but aim to in the future, is to recognise and acknowledge achievements. I’ve been thinking about laminating this sheet so I can do a great big tick or perform a celebratory cross-off every time I accomplish something on the list.
When I’m feeling low, I’m often not in the mood to recognise what I have achieved, so doing this makes its really obvious. It's free, it doesn’t take much effort and it forces me to say – ‘Look what I managed to do today!’.
Just as an added example, this brilliant idea was created by my friend Jen. A variety of activities are written on sticks (which are colour coded depending on the type of activity). They are then moved according to whether they are on the to-do list or the achieved list. It's another great way of giving clear direction without too much effort and it's also really clear to see what has been achieved. You really can be as creative with this as you like.
I do have to mention that despite having my prompt sheet available to me, it doesn’t have a 100% success rate; nothing I’ve tried does and I personally believe it would be unrealistic to think it would do. I do, however, know that it helps me far more often than it doesn't, and even on the days it doesn’t work, looking at the prompt sheet is always a reminder that the majority of the time I am well enough to totally support myself and live a normal life. It reminds me that I care enough about myself to have put things into place to help me feel better, and sometimes, it’s that reminder, that can help give me the motivation I need to be a little kinder to myself or even to get going.
Right okay, I think that's it for this post. Please remember different things work for different people, and if this isn't a strategy that would help you, there will be other things out there for you to try so please don't feel disheartened.
Also, I find it's very easy to fall into the 'reading about recovery without actually doing any practical recovery work' habit, so if you do think an idea will help you, whether you've found it from here or another site, please give it a go (I'm saying that to myself as much as anyone else! 😊)
Until the next time....
Just an added note:
I am a qualified teacher which means I am able to talk about teaching and learning strategies until the cows come home and I use my knowledge of these to help me explain the processes I go through when dealing with my mental health conditions in the hope it makes it really clear for others to see. I am not a qualified doctor, therapist, psychiatrist or any other medical professional. I know these strategies because I attended therapy sessions with a professional. If you are struggling please, please seek professional help. I hate the fact this sounds like a 'get out of being sued' disclaimer but I wouldn't be doing right by anyone if I didn't encourage those suffering to get help. I share this because I know how I felt when I was really low and would have given anything to see the kind of examples I'm providing now and to know that I wasn't alone. So please, if you need support, ask for it. For ways of asking for help please see here.
For the full disclaimer please see here.