Mental illness is a very lonely experience. Unlike other ailments, that show in scans or blood tests, a mental problem is hard to diagnose as they manifest mostly inside someone’s head- and that person gets confused, ashamed and lonely. The diagnostic tools for mental illness rely heavily on one’s courage to speak up. Therefore, the best person to advise those afflicted is someone who has walked down this lane, and continues to do so with much courage and grace, every day. Nour Lotfy has been battling depression and Bipolar type II for the past year and a half; and here is what she has to say to those suffering silently.
1. Accept your condition & talk about it without shame
You should not feel guilty about your mental illness. Even as a psychologist it was not easy for me. Then, I told myself it can happen to anyone, just like having a cold. Sometimes, it may be even caused by factors beyond your control like your genes or upbringing. I was surprised by the number of people who related to my problems when I started talking and blogging about them. These people turned out to be a source of great support, and saved me the stress of having to constantly wear a face to hide my illness.
2. Explain your mental illness to the family
When those around you know how you feel, you become understood. My family was able to manage their expectations regarding my “performance” in various social situations. You would also be giving them a chance to develop coping strategies, and I encourage you to tell them to read about your condition. They could also be a great source of support especially if you have children to attend to. I asked for help and could not have done without.
3. Find reviews or opinions about the medical team who will treat you
Knowing the success rate and humanity of your doctor(s) and their approach, is essential. I was personally agitated and affected by the level of commercialism within medical care. I also highly advise to ask about the availability of help outside your sessions should need be -and trust me you will need it.
4. Research the medicine and/or type of therapy before you begin treatment
I went through harsh experiences with different medications that were prescribed to me. In hindsight, I should have researched or asked more questions. I am referring here to side effects or to “tapering” – the process of reducing the dose which could be very complicated.
5. Have a clearly defined treatment plan
It was inevitable for me to jump around from one therapy method/ medication to the other. This was harmful not only to my body but it also affected my hope of healing. Know your choices and have your doctor give you a plan B for your treatment.
6. Help yourself using non-medical techniques
Along the way I tried to find natural ways to fight my illness. I tried different things varying from supplements like omega3, to exercise and listening to brain wave audio files, which I highly recommend. I also urge you to listen to your body – no one knows it better than you.
7. Sometimes hospitalization is the only option – and that is ok
I had to go through that several times, and it was not a walk in the park. It was a necessity. Go for it without hesitation when self-harm is a real possibility, when adjusting drugs, or when you are weaning off medication.
8. On bad days avoid situations which trigger your illness as much as possible
I do this especially when I am unstable. It is ok to say no to some social commitment; it is not the end of the world. Until you get stable, little by little you will know what makes you tick. There is no point of adding stress to your already overloaded mind.
9. On good days push yourself to do something you usually wouldn’t
I feel down most of the time. When it gets better I try to go out and do simple things; a coffee with a friend or even going to the gym to do mild exercise. This helps regulate my mood naturally, and gives me a sense of achievement, of “normality”.
10. Be patient for you are a patient
Unfortunately psychiatric medication takes time to kick in, which is very frustrating. I wish I could tell you that there is a magical pill or therapy. Patience will have to be your best friend.
Nour is an honest voice that bravely shares the darkest and most challenging aspects of her illness, and in the process she hopes to heal and empower others out there. To delve more into her journey, follow her blog ‘Happily Depressed’.