Mental Health: The happiness project

I have written on this blog before about my struggles with mental illness and, principally, depression. Having worked my way through another particularly dark period I have spent some time over the last couple of days pondering both: how can I help myself out of the darkness when it descends and how can I forestall the darkness.

The problem with the latter of those two questions is, as I have written before, I never know when the darkness is going to hit me. So,that realisation firm in my mind I have focused on how can I help myself out of the darkness once it descends.

The short answer is that there is no easy answer. Rather there is a series of strategies that I think have helped me in the past return to equilibrium. They are:

1. Consider what I was doing when I was last happy and think about what has changed. If something has changed: change it back.

2. When I am going through a rough period I tend to over eat. If I am down I have to remember to eat healthily and not give in to the temptation of a large / rubbish meal that will make me feel grand for 30 minutes and then only make me feel worse.

3. I also tend to lock myself off from those who are closest to me when my black dog is barking. That is destructive and unhelpful. I have to force myself to continue to be around my family and friends because they, by their very nature, know me best and always find a way to help.

4. Get angry!!!! One of the things my dad has said to me a lot in the last 3 years (since my diagnosis) is that I have lost my “red mist”. What he means by this is I once was a very angry young man with a very short temper but now I have been so focused on not getting angry about things that I have lost the ability to get angry. Some “red mist” is ok according to the gospel of my father and he is right. I hate that I have this illness and I hate the way that it makes me feel: by extension I have every right to get angry at it! I must do that more!

These steps are, of course, intensely personal to me but if I can help just one person out there who is struggling then writing about them is worth it.

It would be remiss of me not to turn back to the question of how to avoid the darkness descending because I am at a point with my mental illness where anything is worth a try. Picking up on the themes noted above I have decided to try a strategy under the name of the “happiness project”. The “happiness project” will consist of the following:

1. Every day I am going to, when I wake, ask myself what positive steps I am going to take during the day and enter into a contract with myself to complete said steps.

2. Every day I am going to call (not text or other form of message) one of those close to me and talk to them about their day.

3. I am going to allow myself to be angry and I am focus my anger on my mental illness.

4. I am not going to look any further forward than 24 hours ahead of me and I am not going to look back at the past.

5. Every night I am going to read (for 30 minutes before bed) from the books of my adolescence and early adulthood which is the last period of my life when I can recall being consistently happy.

I hope this works: trying costs one nothing!

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