Taking a semester off – 7 changes from my mental health break

July 14, 2017

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired lately and decided it might be a great time to reflect on my mental health break from January to now (in July). Specifically, I wanted to record all the positive changes I’ve made in my life so far in as condensed a form as possible. This will be a challenge… and it could get messy so let’s organize them into categories: physical/environmental and psychological changes.

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Physical/Environmental Changes

1. I decluttered my living spaces

At home, the family had a lot of unused items littered everywhere or shoved into closets. I, being a bit of an organizational freak, found that while I was trying to recover at home, my physical environment was distracting me so much that I had to do something about it. I found it therapeutic to go through each and every room and follow what is known as the “KonMari method” to declutter each space. The KonMari method was developed by a Japanese organizational consultant (when I realized these people existed I rethought my current career path for a bit haha) named Marie Kondo. Her methods described in her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing“, really helped me out while I decluttered the house. Essentially the pattern is the same: Remove everything from their current places, sort into categories like keep, donate, and trash, and then organize everything. Rinse and repeat.

What I noticed was that after a short while, decluttering didn’t feel like a chore – it felt more like a therapeutic project. Now, I’ve always had a passion for organization and cleaning but nevertheless I believe in the therapeutic effects of decluttering for everyone. Not just people with mental illnesses, but anyone who just wants to give themselves more breathing space in general. And it made a huge difference in my mood each day to wake up to a clean, organized, functional home. Plus, my family members and I had some precious bonding time from the process – mom, I’m talking about you and your 5 closets!

2. I organized all of my clothes. This includes shoes, ladies.

Another thing I did was go through every single clothing item I owned (I had a lot more than necessary) and decide what to donate and what to keep. I put this separate from the previous because I did something funky with my clothes – I created my own digital closet using an app called “Stylebook”. This meant that I could create outfits using my digital closet so that every time I go out, I just choose an outfit from my created outfits instead of fishing random clothes out haphazardly. I can also choose an outfit at night with the app and then just take out the necessary clothes in the morning and boom. An outfit that I love that took 10 seconds to find in the morning. It’s done wonders for me.

Now, granted, it took me over 10 hours to do all this (eek!) but the process was so valuable to me because it helped me really dig deep and decide if I’ll ever wear that 5-year old pair of jeans or that 5-year old pair of jammies. If any piece of clothing didn’t make me feel great while I was wearing it, it went into the donate pile. Anything that boosted me up, went to the keep pile, where I took pictures of the item and documented it in the Stylebook app.

My closet is still quite packed, but it is leaps and bounds more organized than it once was. And especially for anyone who suffers from depression like me, anything that makes your morning routine more streamlined is a blessing. Well, in general, moving more efficiently in the morning always adds some extra minutes to your morning social media browsing. Amirite?

3. I made my living spaces at home more functional

I love DIY projects and making spaces more functional. So much that there’s a lot of them and I can’t write a lot about all of them. I think I’ll probably just list them and add some pictures here and there.

a) Made an office for my dad (he likes taking naps from his work throughout the day. Hence the day bed).

b) Made a DIY corkboard organizer for my long necklaces (my trademark!) and chokers.

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c) Made a ‘hangout room’ upstairs, repurposing my previous bedroom.

d) Put my bed in what I previously called my ‘study room’ and converted it into my ‘bedroom’ (trying to make my living more simple), and decorated the walls with some posters that make me feel happy.

e) Created cable organizers out of some SKUBB IKEA bins (who else hates a pile of tangled wires?).

f) Put up a whiteboard to create monthly goals and daily to-dos. (Notice how imperfect it is…YES! & they say that people who tend to write upwards are more optimistic! 🙂 )

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g) Made a figure display case for my geeky, beautiful figures (I really like Vocaloid guys. Especially Miku.) Again, just trying to fill my living space with items that make me happy.

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h) Helped my sister build and organize a LINNMON/ALEX desk. (My family really likes IKEA guys. Need someone to build your IKEA furniture? I’m your girl!)

Psychological Changes

1. I let go of the things and people that/who did not serve me, or that/who brought me down.

This included things such as diary entries that I used to write that were highly negative in nature, or connections with people that brought me down or repeatedly hurt my recovery process. With the things that did not serve me, I ripped them up physically or else made a mental conviction not to use the item (such as when I quit League of Legends). With the people, this was a lot more difficult, but generally I let them know how they intentionally or unintentionally were hurting me, and then let them phase out of my life naturally. Sometimes I only did the latter. One problem with me is that I am sometimes too patient with people – so much so that I don’t realize when the presence of another individual in my life actually is bringing me further down. Perhaps I will write a future post on how to let go of things/people who do not serve you or who bring you down whether intentionally or unintentionally. It can be a finicky topic so I think it deserves its own post.

2. I automated my behaviours when I could not control my thoughts and emotions.

This was done through the creation and practice of my crisis plan. This may be more relatable for those who also suffer from mental illness, but a crisis plan is essentially a procedure you follow when you feel the urge to, for example, self-harm, or when you feel yourself slipping into too far of an elevated mood (mania), or when you can sense an episode of psychosis coming. Everyone’s definition of a ‘crisis’ differs AND there are varying degrees of ‘crises’, however, so this requires some personal exploration of your own needs. My own crisis plan has helped me out a lot in terms of controlling some of my more negative coping behaviours, and I am thankful that I created one with my social worker at the hospital.

3. I let go of my own expectation that I must recover ‘perfectly’ by the end of the mental health break.

In the beginning, I wanted to rush straight back into school after I was discharged from the hospital. I believed that I had too many duties and responsibilities at school that I could never just drop. But one of my counsellors helped me to slow down my thinking and realize that if I went back to school in mid-February, I would end up even worse than how I had been in January. Now that was a scary thought. But more importantly, she helped me realize that there is wisdom in slowing your life down around this time of your life and taking good time to self-reflect and really explore what you want from life. This was especially important for myself because one of the reasons I slumped so hard was because I felt like I was chugging forward like a machine without knowing what I really wanted. So I did things like explore my dream career with my school career counsellor (and I think I found out what it is), and start developing life goals and dreams.

Something I forgot with time though was that there is no way to recover ‘perfectly’. Unfortunately, as a result of my lack of forgiveness toward myself, at the end of May, I suffered another major depressive episode and was hospitalized a second time. You see, every month I had monthly goals that were often incredibly lofty considering the stage I was at with my mental illnesses (especially the social anxiety). Oftentimes I wanted to do things like get a job out in the community, learn a new skill (which required going regularly to a community centre), or do x, y, or z. It was always a long list of goals, and I often only ticked off one (of the ‘easier’ ones at that) by the end of the month. I focused too hard on the unticked boxes than the ticked ones (and even all the unwritten ones that I had just done on the spur of the moment on some days!), and at the start of every month I slumped HARD. It took me a lot of time to realize that recovery is not a race. Nor is there an ‘end state’ where everything is perfect and you’re all perfectly healthy and recovered. Every day is a journey, and life is not going to end in 8 months’ time. I have so many more years ahead of me, and constraining my recovery process to an impossible time is not only damaging, but dangerous.

4. I learned to dissociate my thoughts from my emotions. At least a little bit.

I am not some pro at doing this, guys. This takes years of practice, and I only began in February. Thought records helped me a lot to realize that our interpretations of the situations we face ultimately determine how we feel. This seems like it should be common sense, but how often do you feel swayed into a negative emotion because you weren’t able to separate your automatic thoughts from your experienced emotions? Sometimes common sense is only cognitively common sense – not really cognitive-emotionally common sense. If that makes any sense.

I have no real tips for learning to redirect your thoughts and thus your emotions other than to practice. Practice by physically writing (maybe using my template on my post), and eventually you might be able to do without the worksheet. I still need the worksheet, so you know there is no shame in using it for a prolonged period of time. Like I said, this takes a lot of time. And that is completely okay!

This concludes my list of changes I’ve made over my mental health break. It’s a little crazy to think that all of these things happened, but I suppose it’s been about 6.5 months since I started this whole recovery process. The most important lesson I learned though was that everything really is a process. There is no end product, nor should there be. Learning occurs every single day in different ways, and slowing down is a gift that only you can give yourself.

Always remember to love (ARTL),

Nicole (nicomochi)




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