How I cope with my mental health

‘But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.’— Albert Camus, A Happy Death

Three years ago, I didn’t know about anxiety, depression or any other mental illnesses. I wasn’t empowered nor knowledgable in that area. I didn’t know that I even have anxiety and depression, nor did I know both symptoms. What changed? Unemployment and death of a family member.

2017 was the toughest year whereby I was in between jobs to avoid myself being unemployed, and to avoid being a disappointment to my family. I was juggling more than two jobs at the same time, and I was also trying my best to finish my MBA at a local university. I was also living with my parents. At that time, I was experiencing the most toxic stress that I have ever experienced in my entire life. I was working for more than 10 hours, from morning until night, every day. The only break I have was sleep. My sleep duration was short, and my sleep patterns were erratic. Consequently, the workaholism that I chose to adapt impact my relationship with friends, family and myself.

A few weeks before Eid, I received a piece of sudden news that my aunt from my mother’s side passed away. My aunt was my mother’s younger brother’s wife. My family is very close to my uncle’s family, and the loss of my aunt left a mark. That Syawal month was the first month that my family experience mutual numbness. We loved her, and her death made us misses her. All of us grieved for her death, especially her family, but how I grieved almost cost me my life because I was very suicidal and I decided to choose death over life. A few weeks later, I was seeing a therapist after a closed friend of mine intervened and recommended a private clinic. Honestly, I did try to schedule a few appointments at public hospitals, but I was hesitating of showing myself. After the third time of scheduling an appointment, and this time at a private clinic, I chose to show up. I did show up one session every two weeks and talk to my therapist for 75–90 minutes. The insurance company that I subscribed didn’t cover talk therapies, and I have to use my own money to pay for each session I attended.

I wouldn’t get into too many details, but the traumatic experiences were enough to damage my childhood and how I see life, in general. Consequently, I stop crying since I was nine years old until I reached adulthood. At a young age, I saw sadness and vulnerability as weakness. I was not emotionally present in majority part of my life, and that impact the indifference within myself. How I feel, how I think, and how I act were not connected. In short, my whole self was not at sync.

I wasn’t prescribed to any medication because I have a history of taking more than I should. So, I sought to talk therapy and exploring treatments that could help my mental health condition. The first treatment that I studied with my therapist was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I tried CBT for a year, and it turns out that my mental health condition was not getting better. Therefore, my therapist recommended me advancing into another treatment called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I was continually seeing my therapist until the day that I had to move out of my family’s house and my country in late October 2018 because I got a new job that requires me to relocate myself to another country.

What kind of tools did I use for CBT?

  1. Journaling my thoughts in a spreadsheet that covers Situation (who, what, when, where), Feelings (rate my emotion 0–100%) and Thoughts (what was going through my mind as I started to feel this way).
  2. Identifying protective factors that have been valuable to me during difficult times, how have I used these factors to my advantage in the past, what type of protective factors that I would like to improve, how things might be different if I am able to improve those factors and what are the specific steps/actions that might help make goals into reality.
  3. Stress management.
  4. Mindfulness exercises that utilise my five senses: identify what are the five things I can see, identify what are the four things I can feel, identify what are the three things I can hear, identify what are the two things I can smell and identify what is the one thing I can taste.
  5. Relaxation technique that covers deep breathing, imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.
  6. Sleep hygiene that includes sleep diary, daily activity diary, behavioural activation worksheet, weekly activity schedule and pleasurable activities catalogue.
  7. Designing my plan to keep myself safe even when I am feeling really low. This plan includes areas such as:
  • List the most important reasons why I want to be safe and happy.
  • What situations make it more difficult for me to keep myself safe.
  • List the feelings I may have and the way I may act when I start to feel as I might harm myself.
  • What are some things I can do to make my surroundings safer?
  • List the things that I can do to help me cope.

What kind of tools did I use for ACT?

  1. Observing Self technique that requires awareness, attention and focus. Few examples of how I use this technique; observing myself like the chessboard — it contains the chess pieces (thoughts & feelings) but this chessboard is not invested in winning or observing myself like the sky — weather and clouds represented thoughts and feelings, and both do not harm the sky.
  2. Bull’s Eye worksheet that measures if I am acting consistently or not with my values in work, education, leisure, relationships and personal growth.
  3. Value Action Hierarchy that allows me to identify my values, goals, barriers, strategies and actions.
  4. When I feel too overwhelmed with consuming information online, I would go off-the-grid and practice forest bathing.

Does my mental health improve? After I left my country in late October 2018; yes. My mental health condition improved because I am outside of my comfort zone, and I am challenged by life to be wholly independent and survive. I have tried distance therapy with the same therapist, but I stop my therapy in late March 2019 because I felt too overwhelmed with life. I attempted suicide because I was discriminated against my mental health and due to that experience, I gave in to depression, and I chose death. However, I survived from the darkest part of my life, and I learned a few valuable lessons of life. Its time to go back at using the tools that I have learned to make sure that I am back on my wagon.

After I read Matt Haig’s book; Reasons To Stay Alive and Notes On A Nervous Planet, I feel inspired by his stories. In this new chapter of my life, I have decided to make a list of my reasons to stay alive and share my list, publicly as Matt Haig’s did in his book. This action is my way as a form of self-validation, sharing experiences/knowledge and mindfulness on how I can control my social media timeline. This post is my testimonial of what I have let myself gone through, to make sure that I am mentally healthy (not just physically and spiritually healthy). Let’s compare notes. What’s yours?

 

The post was originally published on Medium.

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