In my studies, I have found that many people who experience psychiatric symptoms or have had traumatic things happen to them feel that they have no power or control over their own lives. Control of your life may have been taken over when your symptoms were severe and you were in a very vulnerable position. Family members, friends and health care professionals may have made decisions and taken action on your behalf because your symptoms were so intrusive you couldn’t make decisions for yourself, they thought you wouldn’t make good decisions, or they didn’t like the decisions you made. Even when you are doing much better, others may continue making decisions on your behalf. Often, the decisions that are made for you and the resulting action are not those you would have chosen.
Taking back control of your life by making your own decisions and your own choices is essential to recovery. It will help you to feel better about yourself and may even help you to relieve some of the symptoms that have been troubling to you.
There are several things you can do to begin this process. You can do these things in whatever way feels right to you. You may want to use a journal to list or write your thoughts and ideas as a way to stay focused on what it is you want, to motivate yourself and to record your progress.
1. Think about how you really want your life to be. Do you want to:
— go back to school and study something of special interest to you?
— enhance your talents in some way?
— do a certain kind of work?
— have a different home space or to own your home?
— move to the country or the city?
— have an intimate partner?
— have children?
— work with an alternative health care provider on wellness strategies?
— make your own decisions about treatment?
— stop putting up with disabling side effects?
— become more physically active?
— lose or gain weight?
You can probably think of many more ideas. Write them all down if you are keeping a journal.
2. List those things that have kept you from doing the things you wanted to do in the past. Perhaps it has been lack of money or education. Maybe your symptoms have been too severe. Maybe your treatment makes you lethargic and “spacey.” Maybe someone in your life insists on making your decisions for you.
Then write down ways you could work on resolving each of the problems that keep you from doing the things you want to do and being the kind of person you want to be. As you do this, remind yourself that you are an intelligent person. You may have been told that you are not intelligent because you have a “mental illness.” Experiencing psychiatric symptoms does not mean that your intelligence is limited in any way. You have the ability to find ways to resolve problems and to work on resolving them. You can resolve these problems slowly or quickly. You can take small steps or big steps—whatever feels right and is possible for you. But you must do it if you want to take back control of your life.
In the process of taking control of your own life, you may need to change the nature of your relationship with some of the people in your life. For instance, instead of your doctor telling you what to do, you and your doctor would talk about your options and you would choose the ones that felt best to you. You may need to tell a parent or spouse that you will make your own decisions about where you will live, what you will do and with whom you will associate. You may have to tell a sibling who has been overprotective that you can take care of yourself now.