Update: it’s a couple of years later and I’ve created a video on a similar theme:
It’s one of those days where my key focus needs to be on making it through to bedtime unscathed. It seems a tall mountain to climb at 10am when I’ve been up since 3am. I know that I’m not alone in facing these kinds of days so I’m going to focus my energy on putting together some ideas which will help me today and which may help some of you, or those you care for too. If you have ideas to add, please do so. If you have words of support, please share them.
Break the day down into manageable chunks
First things first, even with an early bedtime, there are a lot of hours to get through between now and the end of the day. That feels unmanageable so the key thing to remember is you only ever have to get through the next minute. You can work your way up to ten minute, thirty minute or hour long chunks depending on how you’re doing, but keep it realistic. Every minute you make it through is an achievement on days like today.
Set achievable goals, even if they seem ludicrously unchallenging
Most things are easier to achieve if we have an aim. Consider what your aims for today might be. Make them small, something you are confident you can achieve. The only aim I have today is to make it through to bedtime. You may be in a place where you can aim higher. Your goals might include:
- Getting out of bed
- Getting up and dressed and clean
- Leaving the house
- Talking to a friend (either in online, on the phone or face to face)
- Working for 30 minutes
- Reading for pleasure
- Watching a film
It doesn’t matter what your goals are so long as you think you can achieve them even with how you’re feeling right now. If the day gets a little better then you can add in new goals if that feels like something that would be helpful.
Make a plan
Goals are all well and good, but you need to think about how you will achieve them. What needs to happen? Who needs to help? When can you do it? Think it through and break it down.
This is a biggy. Those days where you’re so far down a hole that the rest of the world feels like a distant, muffled memory, it’s hard to get yourself up and dressed. I’ve found (and it may not be the same for you) that on those days the most important thing I can do is get myself up, clean and dressed. It may take several hours and I may go back to bed in my clothes but it means that I’ve achieved something – and on these days, it’s a big something.
Get out if you can
This I struggle with – but it helps so much. If you’re able to motivate yourself / overcome any anxieties you might face for long enough to get yourself out of the house even for a short while, it can make a huge difference to how you feel. Fresh air and a mindful walk can make the difference between managing and not managing for me.
My big issue, and I’m not alone in this, is the bit between deciding to leave the house and getting outside. If you struggle similarly here are some ideas I’ve found helpful in the past:
- If my dog gets wind of the fact I’m thinking about a walk, he pesters me into submission – I carry his lead in my handbag now and if I need help to get out of the house, I pick up his lead and wait for him to do his thing!
- Call, text, tweet or facebook supportive friends who may be able to talk or text you through getting out of the house. A text simply saying ‘You know what you need to do – do it’ from a friend who knows me well was the perfect motivation I needed to get out of the house after I’d been trying for over an hour recently. We all respond differently to different types of support but using our good days to tell our friends how best to help us on our down days can mean we get help tailored to our needs when we need it most.
- Motivate yourself with a reward – perhaps walking to the newsagent and rewarding yourself with a magazine, a chocolate bar or a can of coke will help get you motivated?
- Equally, you might find you’re motivated by running errands for yourself other people – is there something useful you can do for someone else or do you need to pick up milk or drop a letter to the post box?
Make a commitment about what you will not do
Now this just depends on the kind of issues you’re personally facing but for me, the most important decision I can make and try to stick to on a day like today is not to harm myself. My key aim from the moment I’ve woken up is to do whatever it takes to ensure I make it to bedtime without causing myself harm. When I make this promise aloud or write it down and I mean it, I find I am much, much more likely to be able to stick to it. It may be that it is helpful for you to make a different promise to yourself – perhaps your promise is not to drink, or to binge or to use drugs. Making a firm commitment to yourself is the first step to succeeding. (N.b. If you are an adult who self-harms and feel alone in this, you may feel less alone if you read my blog post on the topic and the subsequent comments left by others in the same, secret, boat.)
Reach out in any way that works for you
These days are lonely. Really lonely. Sometimes they feel lonely even if you have people around you. If there are people you feel you can reach out to and ways you feel you can do that then try really hard to do so. These days are a lot less difficult when we don’t walk the path alone. I struggle with this – Twitter tends to be my lifeline (I’m @PookyH). On the days when I desperately need someone to virtually hold my hand, it tends to be the case that I don’t feel I can possibly ask anyone directly, even sending a text message seems too imposing and my demons berate me for thinking that anyone would want to help. But places like Twitter and Facebook allow you to ask for help without any expectation of reply – your request is not focused on one person. I’m lucky because I have an extensive and incredibly kind network, so I tend to be overwhelmed with support if I manage to ask for it but I appreciate it’s not the case for everyone.
Ways you might ask for support include:
- Calling or emailing a friend
- Texting (SMSing) or whatsapping a friend
- Using social media to ask for help from your wider network
- Using an online chatroom or message board
- Joining in with an online chat (e.g. a twitter chat)
- Attending a face to face support group
- Going to church (I’m not religious but have found this helpful)
- Calling a helpline such as the Samaritans – 116 123 (Freephone from landline or mobile)
- Writing a blog post on a related topic and asking people to comment (okay that one might just be me…)
Celebrate small successes
If you can find a way to do so, celebrate successes no matter how small. It might just be stopping to acknowledge how well you’ve done, it might be sending out a celebratory update on social media, it might be rewarding yourself through food, drink or retail therapy – whatever works for you. But finding a way to reward yourself for making it through another hour, for managing to get dressed, for opening the curtains, for walking the dog for washing the dishes – whatever it might be, will help you to realise that yes, you have achieved something. It doesn’t matter how small that something is. You did it.
Focus on distraction
If you have a head full of demons then the name of the game is distraction if you are able to engage in any appropriate ways. Potential distractions include:
- Crafts or hobbies
- Taking a bath or shower
- Going for a walk
- Colouring in
- Watching a film
- Listening to music
- Listening to an audiobook or a podcast
The list goes on – make your own list on a better day and refer back to it on days like today.
Do not dwell on what you cannot change
A useful thing a friend told me is not to dwell on the utter rubbishness (yes, it’s a word, I’ve decided) of days like today. Just try and get through them. Okay maybe you’re supposed to be somewhere or doing something that you can’t manage – you need to try to forgive yourself. It’s okay. You’re not well and if you were fighting a physical illness no one would expect you to leap to your feet and continue with your commitments as usual. Give yourself space and time to get through today and hope that tomorrow or the next day will be a little better.
I often get asked for updates on my personal situation so for anyone who is interested, I’m battling on. My weight is low but stable, I’ve recently started back at work at the PSHE Association for two days a week – I have a very thorough return to work plan and the world’s most supportive colleagues. I continue to see my (wonderful) psychologist – we’re using Schema Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. Finally, in addition to anorexia and the other issues I’ve been facing, I’ve been diagnosed with underlying Dissociative Identity Disorder – I’m not ready to write about yet and would welcome wisdom / shared experience from anyone who can offer it. Thank you all for your continued patience, support and kindness, it means more than you might realise.
I hope some of the ideas in this post help you at least a little. As hoped, writing this has helped to lift my mood a little and I might be ready for that shower now. I may even try to get out with the dog in a bit. We’ll see. Baby steps… Good luck with your day and remember, you only ever have to get through the next minute.