A Mental Health Survival Guide.
BY Hannah Preikschat
For most people, being sixteen is a really magical, fun, and sometimes awkward time of life. You’re in the middle of high school, you’re exploring friendships and relationships, and you’re figuring out who you are and who you want to be. For me, being sixteen was all of these things. However, my sixteenth year also had a pretty big patch of darkness in it because that was when I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
In a way, the diagnosis was nice because a lot of things started making sense. I’d been having really disturbing and vivid intrusive thoughts for a while, and it was very relieving to find out that this was an OCD symptom and not a sign that I was a horrible person.
However, the diagnosis was also scary. It meant that the intrusive thoughts weren’t just a phase. They weren’t going to go away, ever. They, along with all the other aspects of OCD, were a part of me now.
If you have also had mental health struggles, or are struggling currently, my heart goes out to you. I know how difficult and isolating it can feel. A lot of people who have mental illnesses feel ashamed, hopeless, and alone. However, I have learned that it doesn’t have to be that way! Yes, mental illness is difficult to live with. Yes, you’re going to have some bad days. But there will be a lot of good days too, and mental illness does NOT have to control your life.
When I got my diagnosis, I would have given anything for a how-to manual or a step-by-step guide on how to live with a mental illness. However, since I wasn’t able to find one, I decided to make one! My hope is that it can help you in some way, or at least make things seem a little less scary and intimidating.
Sometimes, talking is exhausting and scary and just way too much to handle. When you’re overwhelmed with life, the last thing you want to do is talk about it. So while I do think that talking about what you’re going through is very important, I strongly believe that writing is the next best thing. If what you want to say feels too private to share with others, write it out. Get a journal or open a document on your computer and just write. Write about your fears, your questions, your pain, your highs and lows. It’s not fair to yourself to keep things bottled up inside.
002:: Speak Honestly.
I don’t know about you, but a lot of times I pretend that things are going great even when they’re not. I’ll say things like “I’m fine, just a little tired” ALL. THE. TIME. Which is really bad, because we shouldn’t lie about how we’re doing! If you’re sad, say that you’re sad. If you’re going through a rough time, be honest about it. Embrace vulnerability. People want to know the real you, not the “perfect” you.
003:: find something to look forward to.
Some days, living with mental illness seems hopeless. There were months after my diagnosis where I didn’t think that things would ever get better. The future seemed pretty bleak. The only thing that got me through this horrible time was finding things to be happy about. I had to seek out joy and prove to myself that things weren’t totally hopeless after all. Sometimes it would be a big thing, like going to a concert. Other times it was smaller, like getting a letter from my best friend in the mail or starting a new cross-stitch project. During this period, I learned that sometimes you have to depend on yourself for happiness. When things are looking scary or uncertain, it might be up to you to find some light. So go buy some movie tickets or try a new recipe or call a friend. Fill your days with little patches of sunshine that you can look forward to when things aren’t looking so good.
I hope this helps you, even if it’s just a little bit. And I hope you know that things are gonna get better. I know that sounds super cheesy, but I promise that it’s true! To quote Christopher Robin, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” You’re one tough cookie. You’re gonna find a way to make things work, and even though it might take a little while, your life is going to become brighter than you ever thought it could.