By Sterling Pohlmann
My schizoaffective diagnosis came in 2002. This means I experience hallucinations, white-knuckle highs, and soul crushing lows simultaneously. I write this in the hopes that it can help others manage their own illness better.
Stick To A Routine
Doing the same thing every day – day in and day out-may not sound exciting, because it’s not. But it keeps me on task helping me avoid lost time due to being easily distracted. Knowing what I need to be worrying about in the present allows for appropriate responses to external and internal concerns. It also helps my body to know when it’s time to wake up, go to work, or go to sleep. Knowing where I need to be and what I need to be doing based on what time it is also helps reduce general anxiety and stress.
Taking meds every day is one of the most crucial aspects of managing mental illness. I get meds through the VA. Not everyone has reliable and affordable access to care and meds. And while meds aren’t the only piece to the puzzle, they are crucial to stability for me. One of the biggest struggles is to find a combination of meds that work for you. Side effects are common and sometimes you have to pick which ones are tolerable. For example, after taking a new med, I was less foggy mentally. It was like when the winter inversion is lifted by the spring rains and you realize just how far you can really see. I’m holding down a full-time job and am an A student in college. These things were impossible for me just a few years ago. Being high functioning is rare with or without the right meds. Some people can while others can’t. Self loathing is a common result of the shame of our struggles. But just because you may not be able to do what I’m doing now does not mean you can’t get to a healthy and stable place even if that place looks different than the one I’m in.
Getting Regular Restful Sleep
Restful sleep is the hardest one for me. I’m a night owl and often can’t sleep until five minutes before my alarm goes off in the morning. And when things quiet down at night and I’m left to my own devices, my thoughts go to extremely dark and unhealthy places. Hence, night-time is the hardest part of my day. I meditate to go to sleep. It doesn’t always work, but after years of nightly practice, it is now easier than ever. Sleep is important for everyone, but getting good, regular, restful sleep is crucial for those of us with a mental illness. It is every bit as critical as consistently taking meds. Without it, my focus and concentration dips, while my frustration and anger rise. My medications do a good job of making me tired, but meditation helps me control my mind instead of letting my mind control me.
Diet And Exercise
Workouts are painful, but they help me process negative emotions physically. While a body like Dwayne Johnson’s won’t happen, that is not my goal. My goal is to keep my body healthy because I can’t have a healthy mind in an unhealthy body. My medication is more effective when I’m physically healthier. Not everything can be solved by a good night’s sleep, medication, and exercise but they give me a fighting chance at keeping my demons at bay. Life is not about avoiding problems. It’s about fighting to give yourself problems you are good at solving. Your success may look different than mine, but it will be no less successful.
Create A Healthy Living Space
Be aware of what your mind and body are consuming and adjust what’s unhealthy to what is healthier. A Sci-Fi book I read talked about a stasis field that kept the crew of a spaceship alive. To create the life you want requires turning your living space into a stasis field that builds you up instead of letting you down. Good music, good books, and positive pictures displayed all play a role in your mood. These elements play to your advantage or disadvantage. Choose wisely. But the biggest issue isn’t decluttering your apartment, car, or by putting up pleasant light and soothing music. Establishing and enforcing boundaries is critical. Sometimes it’s not going to a party. Sometimes it’s calling off of work. And other times it’s cutting out unhealthy people from your life like a precancerous polyp. Most mentally ill people attract people who feed on the vulnerable like moths to flame. And to those people you will always be whatever version of you they had the most power over. With them growth is impossible, but without them growth is inevitable.
Much in the same way that an orchestra rarely is carried aloft by one single player, all of these elements work together to provide me with a healthy and stable baseline. The effect on my mental health is a product that is more than the sum of its parts. All I can do is tell you what works for me. You must find what works best for you. I believe optimizing a few areas of my life by 1 or 2 percent have had an immense impact. You can’t change who you were. You can’t even change who you are. But everyday you wake up is a chance to change who you become. It’s like working out. If you look in the mirror right after you work out, you will see no difference. But if you do it everyday for a year, you will. These coping mechanisms work the same way. It is amazing how strong I became once I had no other choice. It’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly in the sense that once it forms a cocoon, it is broken down to the cellular level. The only thing that remains are its wings, which were there the whole time. They were unseen, but they were always there, as are yours.
Sterling PohUsually found with his nose buried in a book, Sterling Pohlmann pays special attention to reading and writing Sci-Fi while ignoring housework, much to his wife’s dismay. He served in the Army, lived for several years in Hawaii, and spent a month in Japan. He is a bad cook, a good guitarist, and no one laughs harder at his jokes than he does. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1979 where he currently lives with his wife of 12 years.lmann is an Army veteran, musician, and writer living in the western United States.
Sterling’s work can be found at sterlingpohlmann.com or on Patreon at patreon.com/sterlingpohlmann