You will note that, contrary to shying away, mental illness is something I run head first into; not only am I fascinated by every aspect of it, but I live with it and around it – myself, my friends, my family – we’re all somewhere on the spectrum of mental health, and from the common to the severe, disorders affect many. I have a relatively common mood disorder, and I’m running a business. I like to pretend that I have all my shit together and know what I’m doing, that my disorder makes no difference to my ability to cope. But it so. Totally. Does.
“The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” (Watch Lawrence of Arabia on your next classic movie marathon.)
SO. How? The how is the biggest part, for me. How can I manage a) a business b) a disorder c) a diploma d) a normal, happy life? I am not too shy to tell you that I do not necessarily succeed at all of these things simultaneously – when school gets crazy busy, my relationship suffers, when the business is going well, I skip school work, and when everything gets crazy, so do I!*
I feel I’ve compiled a humble but useful amount of experience on how to cope with all this hectic stuff going on at once, and I’d really (really) like to share that with you, in the form of a list! I love a good list.
1. Have a Schedule. Yes, this is great for everyone but, my mentally unique friend, it is especially useful for you. And, what’s more, it doesn’t have to be everybody else’s schedule. I spend some periods of time with a great 9-5 mentality, so that I don’t get out of sorts. Sooner or later, I inevitably go through a major bout of mania or depression, and that means working into the small hours of the morning, or sleeping for an entire afternoon – schedule your weirdness in. I can’t explain how good it feels to allow myself a bit of time to break down. Since I’ve become aware of my own patterns, I can spot mania beginning, and plan around it – cram in extra time to be creative, allow time in the middle of the night for organising things. The same goes for when you’re feeling down – when you can feel it coming, let your schedule go easy on you – more time to sleep at night, more breaks, more time to nurture yourself.
2. Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. I don’t seem like it, but a huge part of me is a perfectionist. It’s a part I have to fight with, because being a perfectionist and being very emotional doesn’t mix very well. My way around this is to ask of myself what I’d ask of an employee. Would I expect them to stay on for an extra two hours, when they’ve already been working for three more hours than we’d planned? Would I demand that they be up at 2am, worrying about how to respond to emails? Would I ask them to skip meals so that they can do the work I want doing? Generally, this brings me back to reality when I get carried away. You are only human, and your health and well-being has to come first! (You can rely on me to give you a stern talking to.)
3. Don’t Wait For Motivation. You know the drill. You have not brushed your teeth yet today. It’s 3pm. You’ve finally made it out of bed, eaten something, and you’re at the desk ready to work, but you’re just not ~inspired~ enough to start responding to emails/finish painting your sketch/packing up orders. I have a secret to tell you. When you feel like this, inspiration isn’t going to hit you. There is no magic surge of energy waiting to fill your system with joy and motivation. You feel like shit today, but you can do this, one step at a time. Which brings me to:
4. Take It Once Step at a Time. Give yourself an hour, and make a list of all the things you can get done in that hour. It might be one thing, it might be twelve, but write it down. Then, take it one item at a time, focusing on just one thing. I promise, you can make it through that list, and you can feel the sweet satisfaction of crossing each item off of it. Ah. Pride.
So, let’s think this through. Let’s say you’re having a bad day – if you’re feeling down at the moment, that’s okay, because you should have scheduled in some extra time to rest. You needn’t feel guilty for this extra relaxed day, because you are practising the art of Not Being So Hard On Yourself. But when push comes to shove, you know what you have to get done today, and you’re not going to rely on motivation to do it. You’re gonna take it a step at a time and get it done.
*I speak lightly about going crazy because it makes it easier for me to talk about – if you are offended by this term tell me, I will listen, I will stop saying it. My version of going crazy is screaming, ranting, hitting, running, losing it, being terrified of nothing in particular, hallucinating, intense panic and dread.