how many different kinds of depression are there? how many different kinds of anxiety disorders? how about bipolar, or eating disorders or schizophrenia?
there are as many different types of mental illnesses are there are people diagnosed with a mental illness.
i don’t mean to dismiss clinical diagnoses. health problems are categorized for good reason – to help with identifying and treating them.
what i do mean is that each person’s mental illness is different. like tree bark, as pictured above. i was walking outside last weekend and noticed how each tree has completely different bark. some is thick, some is thin. some is smooth, some is cracked and grainy. some is covered in moss, others covered in stripes. all bark serves the same purpose, but is unique to the individual tree.
the tree bark reminded me of how my body and mind experience depression and anxiety differently from any other person. we may share certain symptoms or take the same medication, but mental illness plays out differently in the context of each of our lives.
understanding and appreciating the uniqueness of our own mental illness is critical.
- get to know your symptoms. even though it is hard to do, look at yourself and learn how your illness impacts you, both physically and mentally. this is especially important if you will be taking medication for your illness.
- having a solid understanding of your symptoms will help you get the treatment you need. your illness is unique to you – remember this at each and every doctor’s visit. advocate for yourself. ask questions. push back if you need to. nobody knows your body or mind better than you do.
- knowing your symptoms will also help you know if you are becoming unsafe or suicidal. get to know the warning signs of a potential emergency. for some, this may be escalating energy and for others, it may be extreme fatigue. i have worked hard to become aware of any warning signs, and i have a safety plan in place in case my symptoms continue to escalate.
- because our experiences with mental illnesses are unique, treatment takes time. i wish there was an antidepressant that could take away sadness as quickly as Advil wipes out a headache. unfortunately, treatment can take weeks, months and sometimes years. we may need to try different medications or different types of therapy. as hard as it is, try to have patience and hold on to hope. you will find the treatment(s) that work for you. because we are each unique there is not an out-of-the-box solution for mental illness. think outside of the box about your treatment – if you are creative, look for an arts therapist. if you like people, consider joining a support group.
- use your uniqueness to develop your own coping skills. treatment by a doctor or therapist alone is not enough to ease your mental illness. coping skills are so critical for our ability to live our daily lives with mental illness. movement is a coping skill for me, so i love to dance or do yoga. i also love music, so i listen to certain songs that help me when i am feeling down. being in nature is calming for me, so i try to take lots of walks. i have learned these things about myself and i am using my interests to help me cope. maybe for you it’s cooking, gardening, kickboxing, running or woodworking. i also am aware of my negative coping skills – overeating, drinking or sleeping too much – so i am on the lookout and try to substitute those with positive coping skills.
so take some time to get to know your own bark. where are the rough patches? where are the smooth patches? learn to appreciate the uniqueness of your mental illness. by knowing ourselves better, we will seek out the treatment and develop the coping skills best suited to our individual needs. because one thing we all have in common is that we deserve the best.