advice for the newly insane

June 23, 2009 at 6:22 am (Mental illness, Uncategorized)

This isn’t going to sound encouraging, but. . .

The first year is the hardest.

Nine pieces of advice:

1. If you’re able to keep working (in whatever work, to whatever extent), then do so. There’s nothing more conducive to mental illness than sitting at home doing nothing (so if you can’t do regular work, give yourself other things to do – as much as you’re able). But don’t push yourself too hard, either – you need to figure out what a realistic goal looks like in your new situation.

2. If you are really mentally ill, you WILL NOT wake up one day and realise you are better. You will probably improve a great deal over time, but don’t try to be extra-impressive to make up for lost time/money or you are likely to make yourself sicker than ever. The hardest thing to accept about mental illness is that change ONLY comes slowly – like year by year (not week by week). The problem is in your head, and no amount of major life change will help you (except with good sense and a great deal of time thrown in). This hurts, I know.

3. Whatever you do, keep up your basic personal hygiene – brush your teeth and hair, wash yourself and wash your hair and clothes. If you can pretty yourself up (neat clothes, makeup, shaving legs/face depending on gender and whether you think a beard is attractive), do it as much as you can.

4. Finances will probably suck – my debts peaked at double my yearly income (mostly because of rent). Keep in mind that you’ll probably be sick at least a year, so if you have savings you’ll need them. There are four things that you actually NEED in life:

a) Somewhere to live – if at all possible, move in with family or friends – make sure you are VERY respectful to all their boundaries, and that you set a specific date to sit down together and decide whether it’s better for you to stay or go – probably 3 or 6 months down the track. Otherwise, pick the cheapest place you can stand that doesn’t isolate you in terms of transport. If you own your house/apartment or have a spare room, consider renting it out.

b) Health – mainly groceries (and soap, toothpaste, and shampoo). You don’t need dairy products to live – you do need protein (cheapest is sausages), vegetables, fruit and starch (cheapest is rice – more edible if you fry it with sugar). Some health issues don’t need treatment (dermatitis, pimples) and some do. Learn the difference.

c) Transport – walking or cycling is brilliant, public transport good, and cars are expensive – but versatile.

d) Maintain human relationships – you’ll need a working phone (it’s unlikely that you need a landline), probably internet/internet cafe, and careful planning for social events (try to arrange parties at your house with people bringing things – you may end up with a free meal. For presents, try burning CDs, making biscuits, etc). Sometimes you may have to skip parties or simply admit, “I can’t come unless you pay for my share of the meal”.

5. Stay in contact with some of humanity – no matter how annoying they are. Be honest – but smart. In my opinion, you need at least three real-life, face-to-face friends who know most of what you’re going through (one is a lot, but three should help that one not to get overburdened).

It is vital that you are genuinely fun at least some of the time – whether it’s seeing a movie (if you’re too depressed to make conversation that’s a good way of hiding your true feelings) or simply lying that you’re having fun. 

Be aware that the two most common reactions to mental illness are fear/embarrassment, and disbelief (sometimes from the most unexpected people – including those who are ill themselves). Whatever shreds of a sense of humour you still have – use. You can get away with a lot more honesty if you can turn your horrors into funny stories.

6. If possible, exercise. If you’re holding up particularly well, try to stay in the healthy weight range (but you’ll be very rare if you do).

7. Take prescription drugs. They’re AMAZING. (St John’s wort is a herb with some beneficial effects, so you can start there if you like – but don’t combine it with anything else.) So many mentally ill people don’t remember what it’s like to be sane – until they spend a week on drugs, and suddenly their thoughts get rational again. It’s like the sun coming out after months of blanket clouds.

8. Accept as much as you can (some friendships will fail, you won’t be buying that flatscreen TV, you’re probably not as good at your job, etc). Fight to keep the rest.

9. Give yourself a break. Be miserable, grumpy, lazy etc for at LEAST a day every week – more when things are especially difficult. I have a theory that our stressful, pressured culture causes mental illness. So you have to resist all the pressure telling you to work/clean etc. It’s not easy.



  1. Ben (Crispin) said,

    10. Be aware that a lot of, very close, people are going to get amazingly angry at you.
    This is perhaps unsurprising – what is happening scares them and this is simply their way of dealing with it. Expect many lengthy, utterly idiotic, and self-contradictory diatribes to be directed against you by most people that you love.
    Being crazy, you won’t really be able to defend yourself, and it wouldn’t be wise anyway, since you’re likely relying on these people for support and don’t want to alienate them.
    Instead, simply listen politely to their abuse and bottle all of your anger up into a small, quiet ball of luminous hatred that will poison your relationships with everyone for countless years to come.
    It’s only the healthy thing to do.

    11. Acquire a healthy loathing of God – or whatever unutterably sick bastard is responsible for the inexpressibly shitty state of life and the universe in general.
    He obviously hates us more than we can comprehend – why not return the favour?

    12. Most people who’ve had any form of ‘religious’ or ‘transcendent’ experience have had it while severely mentally ill. If you’ve ever had the desire to get a glimpse of unnatural things that cause you to question everything that anyone has ever believed, then now is the time!

    13. Ignore my advice.

  2. Daylight Day 3: Apology « Louise Curtis said,

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