Mental health issues can be very difficult to manage, but preparation is helpful and could be lifesaving. Just as other emergencies can be handled better with plans and necessary supplies in place (winter storms, power outages, and emergency childcare or health problems), you have control in quiet times to think of what you might need in a crisis, and you can decide on management plans that you approve of ahead of time. With many aspects of illness outside your control, this is one area that can give you confidence. You are the main person responsible for your care.
How can you create a crisis management plan? Write down emergency numbers. These can include the National Suicide Prevention hotline (1-800-277-8255) as well as any other contact information you or emergency personnel might need. This should include your doctor, employer (if you think your boss needs to be notified you will be missing work), and anyone responsible for your children. A list of medication and insurance cards in your wallet, as well as timely refills, is a good way to make check-ins quicker if you need medical care. Some people add a health directive, too. Information about this is available from your doctor.
What comforts you? Put a kit together with some of these items to use on days when you need them. Everything from a fidget gadget to a chocolate snack is worthy. These stress relievers have a basis in science. Fidgeting (or movement) can calm the nervous system, and a little chocolate is a well-known soother of the soul. You can even write encouraging notes to yourself, so you know this time will pass and you will feel better. Add a reminder to call or visit someone whose understanding will help you get through. If you tend to isolate, decide in what situations you want to avoid being alone. Watching a movie with a friend or making ice cream sundaes or birthday gifts can keep your mind occupied. You know what things work for you and what to skip. Music is often helpful. Exercise. You can add a few cards with lists of what has worked before or what you would like to try. Add these and items like a soft blanket and pillow to your kit.
Think about what you want family members and/or a trusted friend to do if you begin acting as if you are not your normal self. It isn’t always possible for a person to recognize danger signs, when it comes to behavior or mental disorders, so write out messages you think would help you if your contacts feel you may need help. These might serve as a check-in with yourself, so you can make a decision about where you are on the mental health spectrum. They are also good reminders when you are okay and can let others know that.
As you develop your plan, you can let them know what you’re doing, and what you would like them to do. Open discussion, while it may be embarrassing sometimes, is a powerful tool you can use to keep at least your primary contact informed. An example would be to ask someone to keep an extra key to your home in case they need to check on you. If you have bipolar disorder and know you might be hypomanic at times, giving someone permission to freeze your credit card might save you a huge amount of money. And on some days, a little extra care and comfort is a lot like a bowl of chicken soup. It might be enough to help you recover your equilibrium before a crisis really starts.
Research and learn all you can about your condition. Counselors can help with this and often encourage developing a good management plan. You can help your family members understand and develop a plan for their own reactions to sudden and often frightening crisis days by sharing this information and what you do to manage your life successfully. If there are areas or times you need help with, who better to call on than someone who loves you? The fear tactics of mental illness tell you otherwise, but don’t let that hold you back. If you are unsure about something, speak with your counselor or write it down in your journal and examine what truth or lies it holds.
It isn’t your fault that you must manage a medical condition. Your situation may be complicated (or even “invisible”), but you never deserve stigma or shame. Though diabetes or a broken arm might be easier for people to understand, remember that your brain is like any other part of your body. You are not alone but one in millions of people who are taking charge of their mental health each year.