May 23, 2016
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
My sister is a fitness model, the kind of person who genuinely likes eating celery and lifting heavy objects. This is a talent that seems to have skipped over many parts of our family tree, seeing as my favourite meal is making waffle strips and stacking them on top of each other like Jenga blocks. This is not at all part of a healthy, balanced breakfast.
My favourite nights with her are “cheat days” – although now we refer to them as “refueling,” which makes her sound like a fancy car. We curl up with our tiny dogs, eat dino sours from Bulk Barn, and watch our favourite movie ever, White Chicks. I will never acknowledge that this film is anything but the greatest.
I’ve had a few too many cheat days over the last few months.
Part of being a mental health advocate, especially for students, is setting a good example. I’ve said many times (probably on camera too) that medication can only go so far – it’s also about eating, sleeping, exercising, avoiding kale at all costs, sleeping some more, and also eating. Did I mention eating?
I’ve always been a spontaneous person, and being diagnosed with bipolar has not changed that. What it has changed is my definition of spontaneous. I used to pride myself on being able to pull off last-ditch projects that earned high marks, or my ability to eat eight flavours of ice cream in one sitting. I have now failed out of school twice and am lactose intolerant.
I’ve had a few too many cheat days over the last few months. I missed medications to pull all-nighters and meet deadlines that didn’t mean anything. I missed meals and made up for it by eating an entire family-sized bag of Cheetos. I started spiralling out of control and got frustrated that the meds weren’t working, I wasn’t accomplishing anything in therapy, and the people around me just didn’t get it. I ended up going unconscious in the street and woke up with one hell of a headache.
I was the one who didn’t get it.
I’d rather have a lighter load and be in it for the long haul.
Living with mental illness is hard because it feels like you’re giving up small pieces of yourself. For me, it started with my appearance – losing my hair, my even complexion, and then the ability to wake up early and look at the sun. The desire to wake up at all. The courage to walk through a crowd without wondering if they can see every single splinter of doubt wedged in your smile.
As a student, I’m always waiting for summertime. I push myself hard and promise that I’ll recover after finals. I think I’ve kept the same mindset for my illness, but it’s not true. Instead of carrying too much weight for short distances, I’d rather have a lighter load and be in it for the long haul. That’s the only way I graduated university, so I’m sticking to it (this is also my ideology for shopping trips).
My boyfriend pulled me aside the other night after I cried over eating too many avocados and said to me something pretty insightful for a poet, I guess. He told me that waiting for my meds to control my mind wasn’t realistic, and that I should be looking for good influences instead. Solid sleep schedules, meals that aren’t Cheetos, and going to the gym more than once a year are never going to hurt you. There’s no one solution to feeling less sick, so the more eggs you put in your happy basket, the better. I have gone to the gym three times this week and took a nap today, but I also just ate three desserts for dinner. Let’s call it a tie.
Cheat days will come and go – a late night concert here, a waffle stack there – but in the long run, I spend a lot of time compensating for them. It’s not really fun if you have to pay later (case in point: my VISA bill). I accomplish more when I’m taking care of myself; the deadlines are less like wind sprints, and no one likes wind sprints. If I can take care of myself, I can take care of other people without feeling like I’m splitting at the seams.
This isn’t the usual kind of thing I write, but I thought I would share some of the things that I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed (not BeyoncÃ© concert overwhelmed, more like “the Spice Girls reunion tour is missing a Spice Girl” overwhelmed, and no one wants that).
I am not a good painter (see figure 1) but something about creating something from nothing makes me happy. Unless it involves needlework, because I always manage to stab myself. Painting is great because no one cares of if you’re not good, and you can make all of your pictures pink and no one cares about that either.
Make Friends With Animals
If you do not have access to cuddly animals, possible alternatives include:
Going to the park
Borrowing my dogs
Stealing a dog (not recommended for anyone who’s not a cute child)
Watching YouTube videos of cats sitting in boxes
I like watching cute raccoon videos but that’s just me
Reading my friend Kit’s dog reviews
YOU CANNOT HAVE A BAD DOG REVIEW!!!
When I finally stopped tossing my cookies, I went to a place I had only dreamed of – a women’s only water therapy spa. It has waterfalls and a juice bar and is basically like taking a 3 hour, really expensive bath. Alternate plan: drink Tropicana, throw in a bath bomb, and homeschool it. Water is great.
Going on Walks to Specific Places
My roommate goes on walks when she’s anxious, but then sometimes walks for 6 hours until her feet bleed. I do not recommend this course of action. My walks are always to small errands that I could have driven to, so that I feel self-righteous for exercising AND saving the environment, but I also accomplished something small. It’s a real kick start. That’s why the first thing on my to-do list is always “wake up.” It’s like a free space in bingo.
I mostly just like how soft the clothes are, but breathing is okay too.
Make Happiness Accessible
I spend a lot of time in bed. I’m actually writing this whole article in my bed right now (with like seven stuffed animals taking up most of the room). Taped to the nightstand beside my bed, I have a poem and letter from my boyfriend, mental health comics by the talented Beth Evans, and this super great article called “15 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Having a Bad day.” I’ve posted them below in case you want to check them out!