Easing into Change

I have been feeling a bit coy every time I mention this, but… I have a job. The first job I’ve had for over a decade. In fact, it’s the ideal job for me at the moment: it’s a writing job (CVs and cover letters), it’s freelance, the hours are flexible and I work from home. If all continues to go well over the next few weeks, I will be able to stop claiming ESA — which is one of my main goals for this year.

Yet, despite all of these advantages, I have been struggling with the transition. I am stressing out a lot because I really want this job to work out; because it would be devastating to fail when I am so close to achieving my goal. Part of me can’t believe that I have been given this opportunity, so I’m expecting it to be taken away at any monent. Getting into a routine has been difficult, too. I tend to either procrastinate or work nonstop for hours on end, neither of which is very healthy.

The whole experience is reminding me of the importance of transitions. Sometimes diving in head first is the right choice, but most transitions — especially if you have mental health problems — require slow, gradual changes. I’m trying to pace myself and build up the number of hours I work with each week, so that by the time I stop claiming benefits I will be earning enough to comfortably cover my expenses. In fact, that is the whole point of doing permitted work — to slowly reintroduce people with long-term illnesses or disabilities to work.

Part of me fights against this idea — I want to dive in and work as hard as I can for as many hours as I can — but I know that doing so would put my health at risk. It’s equivalent to a non-runner trying to run 10 miles every day. Stupid and counterproductive.

Instead, I am learning to be (even more) compassionate towards myself. I will not beat myself up for working too slowly or not working full time hours. I am not being stupid or lazy — I am in training for my future.

Keeping Confidence

I am at the stage in my mental illness where I’m able to do a lot more and start taking risks. I am beginning to venture out into the world again.

But as soon as I start to take on more responsibilities and try new things, my confidence falters. I start questioning everything I think and do. I doubt myself at every turn.

I know this is natural for anyone who is changing their life, especially when managing mental health problems, but it’s difficult to persevere when faced with a crisis of confidence. It’s hard to keep your confidence at a reasonable level — instead of worrying about how confident you feel, it’s vital to keep going and refuse to let your lack of confidence deter you from achieving your goals.

As Susan Jeffers says, you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Ignore the voices in your head which constantly mutter that you are not good enough. Just do something, anything.

Fake it until you make it is more than a cliché: it works. When I feel out of my depth, I get stuck into whatever task is challenging me. I submit stories and applications even when I “know” there is no chance of success. I meet new people despite “knowing” they will think I’m a blathering fool. I keep setting goals I “know” I will never achieve. Yet some of these things work out well. I have small successes. My submissions get accepted. Time and time again, the universe proves that I’m wrong when I “know” I will fail.

Here is another cliché which contains a lot of truth: the only surefire way to fail is to never try. So that’s why I’m going to push my confidence issues to the side and try to meet challenges head on. I still worry a lot, but I hope that over time my anxiety will become more of an annoyance than a barrier ro my success and happiness. Call it an experiment in creating confidence!

In Praise of Routine

I used to be adverse to the idea of routine. I’m a writer, an artist! Aren’t we supposed to eschew conventions and live life on impulse, travelling wherever the mood takes us? Well, following the muse might work well for some people, but it’s not the most productive way to organise your life and work. Routine, on the other hand, gives you a structure within which you are free to do the work and leisure activities you want.

Rebelling against routine is pointless, because the opposite of routine is not freedom: it is chaos, emptiness or a toxic combination of the two.

it took me a long time to learn this, even as chaos increased my anxiety and emptiness exacerbated my depression. It is only by creating a routine from the activities which help me to manage my mental illness that I have begun to feel free again. A smaller proportion of my time is wasted with having to cope with my symptoms. Planning more aspects of my life has enabled me to seize more opportunities. It hasn’t been a complete transformation, but I feel very different to how I felt in the last few months of 2915, when I was consumed with depression.

Like so much of mental health self-management, creating a routine which helps you is a personal challenge. However, you can seek out what works for other people and experiement with them for yourself. Here are the cornerstones of my daily routine:

Using my SAD lamp. While I’m not as depressed as I was when I started using it, I notice a drop in my mood if I forget to use it for a few days. I use it when I get up, for an hour or two.

Regular meals. I have been experimenting with a type of intermittent fasting, where you have a “feeding window” and don’t eat at other times of the day. My window is from 12pm to 8pm, since I don’t feel very hungry first thing and tend to overeat in the evening. So far, it’s working well — all of my digestive symptoms have improved, especially my gastritis, which got really bad at the end of last year.

Bedtime. I get insomnia, so I can’t control when I fall asleep — but I can control when I go to bed. It is far more effective than trying to force myself to get up at a certain time (though that often happens naturally as a result of fixing my bedtime); if I can’t sleep, I just read for as long as it takes to drift off.

Walking the dogs. This applies mostly to weekdays, when my dad and I take the dogs out when he gets home from work. It refreshes me and gives to space to think, instead of stressing and reacting to everything which happens throughout the day.

That’s it! I hardly live a regimented life, do I? Some flexibility is built in, which is important for me: my insomnia means I don’t always get up at the same time every day, so it would be a struggle to keep to set times for everything. My routine is also easy to adapt when I’m doing things which I don’t do every day, or every week, like keeping appointments and socialising.

Just as restrictions can force artists to innovate and come up with creative solutions, having a basic routine can free your mind to focus on the important things in your life.