Understanding mental illness

I have found understanding mental illness is one of the easiest ways to begin taking control of it.

Being able to recognise the symptoms of your illness will help you to control the impact it has on your every day life.

Think of it this way, imagine you broke your leg.. If you didn’t know about the break, the pain alone would worry you wouldn’t it? You’d wonder what was causing the pain, why you had the pain and what was going to happen next.

It’s the same for mental illness. Understanding mental illness, knowing the symptoms, causes less worry. It also gives you a chance to find ways to prevent your symptoms and rationalise with yourself better.

You can remind yourself that it’s your mental illness talking.

You can’t remind yourself that what you are feeling is a direct result of your mental health issues, without first knowing it is.

From my experience, understanding mental illness can actually make you feel better in general.

Once you have a firm grip on your specific issues, you will find you have started to automatically register the symptoms you are suffering from. You may even feel a sense of mental preparation. All of this combined will metaphorically lift some of the weight from your shoulders.

How to understand your mental illness

You could simply Google the symptoms of your specific illness and be done with it. However, how much of that are you going to take in and actually remember? My suggestion is a little more complex than that.

I want you to grab a small diary, or even a notebook will do, and obviously a pen!

For the next 4 weeks I want those items to be like another limb, you need to take them everywhere you go.

Week 1-2

The first two weeks, every time you have a feeling that you think may be a symptom I want you to write it down. I also want you to add the time and the day/date (if you aren’t actually using a diary!). You need to do this consistently for 2 weeks.

Example,

March

Monday 26th

2:00pm.

I had butterflies and felt queasy come on when I spoke to my neighbour.

Week 3-4

Once the 2 weeks are up and you are now beginning week 3. I want you to dedicate at the very least 30 minutes of your time to researching your specific mental health disorder.

Make sure you also specifically, look into “uncommon symptoms”. It isn’t unusual for an uncommon symptom to slip the net on most symptom lists. This often causes a lot of people to wrongly believe a symptom they are having is from another illness entirely. Of course this adds more unnecessary worry and stress.

Now you have your list of symptoms I want you to write them down in the back of your notebook.

Now, you need to carry on for the next two weeks. Every time you have a symptom, you do exactly the same routine as before. Apart from this time, you are also going to tick off the symptom in the back of your book. Not just the first time you experience it, every time.

Example,

Symptoms

• Overwhelming fear ☆☆☆☆

• Sudden extreme loss of confidence ☆

How this research helps you with understanding your mental illness

The logic behind this method sounds pretty complex but once you’ve wrapped your head around it, it’s actually pretty simple. Because of this, I’m going to explain using commonly asked questions.

Why can’t I just do the same thing all month as it’s so similar?

It’s a very fair point. The differences between the tasks are relatively small. However, There is a very big reason behind it. Remember I told you a lot of the more unusual symptoms are very rarely mentioned? Well this is what I feel makes the results of this methodology more detailed than the standard guidelines on understanding mental illness. If you research before, you begin there is a very high possibility that you will unwittingly, only notice the occurrence of the most commonly referred to symptoms. You will unknowingly, begin to look out for them. This can cause you to miss symptoms that are more prominent to you personally.

Why do I need to be so specific? Is the time of day it happened actually important?

Believe it or not, yes it is. It may seem odd as surely what the symptoms are is more important than when they occur but, you’d be surprised. I created this method specifically to learn the ins and outs of my mental illness. That is what this method will do, it will help you with understanding your mental illness. Not the illness as a whole your individual struggle with it.

An example of this in action, some people have severe anxiety attacks in the evenings. It’s one thing to know what your symptoms are, but knowing whether there is a pattern to those symptoms. That gives you a real head start when it comes to understanding mental illness.

Using your research to understand your mental illness

You know what research you need to collect and you also know why you need it. Now, let’s put it to good use.

You should have your index of mental health symptoms in the back of your book. These should have check marks next to those you have experienced. Not only which symptoms you have had but also how many times you’ve had them. You can use this list to grasp which symptoms you fall victim too and what ones have the most frequent impact on you.

Go through your diary and write down the timings. Once you have them all in one place in front of you, highlight them. So for example, you could make 2:00pm green 8:00am pink and so on and so forth. See which colours are most popular on your sheet and look for a pattern. Do you regularly experience fear of an evening? Do you have moments of severe panic first thing in the morning?

If you find you have specific patterns, you can then go on to figure out what is happening in your day during those specific time frames. It certainly worked well for me.

Doing this you may be able to figure out exactly what is causing the symptoms. You work that out, you have a good chance of changing your routines and behaviours to alleviate some of your symptoms.

For me personally, understanding my specific mental health needs as an individual, really was a huge stepping stone towards controlling my illness. I got a grip on what I needed to work on, instead of focusing on the ‘guidelines’ of the illness. It wasnt long before I started to see a huge improvement. It also seemed to speed up the proces as it meant I could figure out specific ways to treat the symptoms I was suffering with.

*Please note, Bare in mind, with mental health there is no ‘one size fits all’. Just because a specific symptom isn’t recorded it doesn’t mean it isn’t something you are experiencing because of your mental health illness. It also doesn’t mean it is.
Take into consideration that if you are having symptoms that are possibly connected to your specific mental health disorder it is always best to check with a qualified medical health professional.

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5 Replies to “Understanding mental illness”

  1. I find research the best way to understand mental health. However there is so much detail and many different kinds of mental health.
    It’s a big step to understand your own mental health and it’s a good thing to start doing it as you can avoid triggers etc!

    Kelly

  2. Such an interesting read!
    I’ve found that even without mental illness in mind, taking notes in a diary about moods and emotions can be so helpful. Everyone has – to some degree – harmful thoughts, bad habits, unpredictable moods, and irrational behavior. Looking at those objectively helped me a lot in becoming more balanced and understanding myself better.

    1. Definitely! It can help you get to know yourself so much better! It can really help you kick any negative habits!

  3. As someone who does not have mental illness I find I learn more about the illness when I read posts such as this, it makes me more understanding of others and know how to behave around others with similar situation.

    1. You know what? I think you are absolutely amazing for saying that. So many people who aren’t affected have no intention of even trying to be understanding of those who do suffer! You are such a lovely person!

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