When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and reminded yourself of your resilience? When was the last time you reminded yourself of the days you’ve pulled yourself out of bed and the days you’ve faced anxiety? When was the last time you took a step back and found appreciation in everything you’ve tried in order to get better? Everyday you’ve overcome even the smallest things are examples of your resilience. For those of us living with a mental health condition, the day we recognized our mental illness was also the day that resilience was woven into the fabric of who we are.
I know a little bit about resilience. Eight years ago I felt as though I’d never be where I am now. Eight years ago I’d wake up shaking, heart palpitating in my ears, and feeling as though I had something incredibly urgent to do nearly every night. In those early years after my OCD diagnosis, I felt like my marriage, career, and friendships would end because of my mental illness: I lacked the tools to bring myself out of fears that stopped me from living, I had no concept of self-care because all of my energy was focused on simply surviving the day, I became paralyzed at the thought of facing difficult things related to my own well-being.
When I share my story with others I am often asked what I did to start the climb towards recovery. While I can’t remember which behavioral changes I made first, I do remember that there was a mental shift in two key areas which propelled the changes I’ve made.
1) I became stubborn about being resilient. I allowed myself to feel down and scared but promised myself that when I was done, I’d ask: ” Ok, what can we do about this now?” Asking myself this question empowered me to feel, acknowledge, analyze, then act. It also empowered me to forgive myself if I failed. Realizing that I could label myself as resilient AND still have anxiety and OCD helped begin to slowly push back against the black and white thinking that blocked me from pursuing changes that could lead to recovery.
2) I got into the habit of checking in with my basic needs and had to reminded myself that taking care of me was ok. My meditation practice (which I was very skeptical about initially), helped greatly with this. I came to realize that I had little concept of my basic needs. I’d let myself be hungry (sometimes I felt I did it as a form of self-punishment), I’d stay up late, I wouldn’t exercise, I didn’t make time to enjoy myself (I’m still terrible at this). As my self-awareness grew with my meditation practice and as I became more familiar with things like wellness wheels, self-compassion, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I began to check in with myself. “What do you need right now?” has become something I ask myself at least twice a day. Paying more attention to my basic needs (and finding tools to help me keep track of them because mental wellness has an operations and logistics element to it) improved my energy levels so that I could tackle the hard work of exposures for OCD. You can’t fight the mental part effectively if your body feels like you’re not taking care of it.
These two key changes fueled the small life changes that have taken me nearly 8 years to implement. I meditate daily. I make time for nightly reflection and gratitude. I read about mental wellness/illness and connect with others to help me feel that I am not alone. I make time for exercise (that’s a new one!). And you know what, some days are still really hard. I know I am not in recovery. I am mid-journey but I now give myself the space to acknowledge how far I’ve come. I allow myself to fail but I don’t allow myself to think that I’m incapable of great change. If my brain has the power to create some truly frightening scenarios, it also has the capacity to get me out of them.
Believing in your capacity for change, reminding yourself of even the smallest accomplishments, checking in with your basic needs, and believing that YOU ARE resilient are the building blocks for living this life.