How a wellbeing routine helps me manage mental illness

I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 14 and have been on meds on and off since then. Along the way, I got a couple of other diagnoses and look. It's been a truly wild ride. There's been times where it has truly fucked up my life and times when it's allowed me to do things that appear hard. It's built my resilience and my coping methods. What I'm saying is, it's a mix of good and bad. 

When I'm proper depressed, my daily structure goes out the window. Things like having a shower, cooking dinner, walking with my 3-year-old, all become tough to do. There have been times when I've lived in absolute pits (one apartment was affectionately called Crackden, one particular place in London had addicts living in the stairwell); I've burned countless friendships to the ground; I've done some awful things. Because I was so fucking sad all the time. I didn't care about anything, because what was the point?

Fast-forward to now, and I can't just quit my job and move to London without a penny to my name. I have a partner who adores me (and frankly, is the most even-keeled person in the world, and I genuinely sometimes don't know why he puts up with me) and a beautiful son who thinks I'm the bee's knees. I've got a best friend who I talk to every day, and a little Twitter account full of hilarious people who make me laugh, and an extended family who checks in on me regularly. How I came to be this person is a long, sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating story—this, however, is not that story. This is a guide to how YOU can gently take yourself out of shitsville and put together a wellbeing routine that works for you.

If you're in the middle of it, I know this is hard. I've felt apathetic and like everything is just too fucking hard. But you can start somewhere; even when you feel like everything is fucked and there's no hope, you can start there. That is a shitty somewhere, that is a miserable place, but you can start there and still get better. 

First things first... 

Antidepressants assist my mental illness management. If that's also you, do not stop taking your meds. A wellbeing routine will not cure your mental illness. This is important, so I'll repeat it: a wellbeing routine will not cure your mental illness

What it can do, is give you some structure. Give you something that doesn't feel like a dead end. Reuse and repeat the next day. The fantastic thing about brains is that once you've got something chugging along, your brain will look for opportunities to do the same thing as you did yesterday.

Incidentally, back to the meds thing: this is why Watch out for yourself is so important. This is the place in your Tend journal where you can track the things you're doing to look after yourself. For me, that's often taking my meds and drinking enough water.  

Ok, so now, how the heck do you start a wellbeing routine?

Start small

Starting a wellbeing routine is like using a muscle that you haven't used in a while. You wouldn't go to the gym and think you could lift 100kg on your first day; you won't create a wellbeing routine and be magically happy. This is where I often go wrong! At the height of this round of depression, I signed up for a half-marathon walk. I'm not... a walker? I don't know why I did that? But I was going to be Kelly 2.0, who walked marathons and did triathlons, and hell, I was going to take up weightlifting and go to the Olympics. And then I stayed in bed. And stayed in bed. And stayed in bed some more. I'd overwhelmed myself with too much and ran out of steam. 

So, start where you are right now. If you're spending all day in bed, maybe you want to get out of bed and do a single squat once a day, and then perhaps you'll walk to the letterbox, and then perhaps you'll walk around the block. See what I mean? Slowly building up the strength in your wellbeing muscle will make it all seem manageable at the end of the day. 

Person holding a seedling

What do you actually like doing?

Start by thinking of the things that you enjoy doing. It can be a list. But equally, it can be in your head. Pick one thing. Just one! That's all! And now commit to spending a tiny bit of time on your thing every single day. Now, when you're in deep, this can be hard because fucking hell, nothing is enjoyable anymore. Try to think of something that you did enjoy before, and schedule five minutes to do it every day. If you have a POWER diary, this is the thing that you'll be putting into your One good thing box. Are five minutes feeling too much? Go for two minutes. That's all you need to achieve. You've done something good for yourself. Once you've found yourself doing this one thing every day, amp it up a little. Add another five minutes. Add 15. Then add another something you enjoy doing. Build up slowly, over time. 

Manage your mornings

My day starts with doing some mindset work. I've discovered that if I can complete this one task, the rest follows naturally. I did my mindset, so I might as well make the bed. I made the bed, so I may as well battle my son to get him dressed. I got my son dressed, so I may as well take him to daycare, and I may as well do that on the bike so that I can reach back and stroke his leg whenever I want to feel him close to me. Never underestimate the power of "may as well". It's a low-key commitment to good. You got out of bed; you may as well have a shower. 

Breaking things down like this is helpful because it gives your brain the pattern it can step into without overthinking it. Brains are clever, but we need to help them with a kick-start. 

Know that you won't always have a good day

We're all energetic beings. Sometimes we have heaps of energy, and other times it's a serious ask to get out of bed. And that's ok! All days aren't the same.

Don't be too hard on yourself if you can't accomplish what you want to achieve. If you're like me and have low self-esteem, beating yourself up is how you respond to failure. That's your brain following a pattern again: and rewiring your brain takes a long, long time. I still beat myself up all the time and overthink minor things, but I try to disprove that voice telling me I fucked up. 

It's cheesy, but really, tomorrow is another day. You're not a lost cause. You're trying to rewire your brain, and gosh, GOOD ON YOU for doing that mahi. 

Move your body, somehow, someway.

The fact that getting some form of Physical activity makes me happy infuriates me. But I know it does; I've got the receipts to prove it. And so, for me, making sure I get some form of movement in my day is paramount. Now, if I don't get around 30 minutes of outdoor exercise each day, I bloody know it eventually when my brain is all "you're sad again, stay sad". But that took a LOT of time. I'm not naturally a fan of exercise. But, I do it. I get up and walk the dog. I ride my bike to work. I take off in the middle of the day for a bike ride at lunch. I do these things because they make me feel good and because I started off tiny. I started by dancing in my bedroom; then I walked to the letterbox, then to the end of my street. I rode my bike for five minutes, then ten, then fifteen. Slowly, steadily. 

Eat with enthusiasm

This is the bit that I worry about talking about. Because food is SO laden with good and bad, and look, take a page from Intuitive Eating folks: food doesn't have a moral value. Food is food. I eat with enthusiasm because I have deliberately found what I want to eat, and I haven't assigned a moral value to that food. 

So Eat what nourishes you

Don't panic about sleep.

Yes, sleep is lovely. But sometimes... you aren't going to get 8 hours. Sometimes you're going to settle for much, much less. And that's ok. I mean, it's not ideal, but it's ok. Here's what you're going to do instead: instead, you are going to Rest and relax. You are going to find the one thing that switches your brain off for a hot minute (my go-to at the moment is playing Crossy Castle on my phone). Is it 8-hours of shut-eye? No! But it is stopping your brain from going into overdrive, and that's a thing of beauty. Much like your one good thing, this one is all about building up time. Start by reading for 5 minutes, then bump that up to 10, then to 15. You get the picture. Once again, slow and steady wins the race. 

You've got this

I hope this post helps you think about building your wellbeing routine, whether you're in the thick of mental illness life or want to be looking after you a bit more. 

If you want some help adding some structure, check out the POWER diary - it's full of wellbeing activities and is all about helping you create your best version of wellbeing. It’s designed to let you choose what you do in five areas of wellbeing fundamentals and there’s no judgment for what you do and don’t do. 

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