Let me get this out of the way first. Being able to take care of your mental health at home is pretty awesome, but it isn’t for everyone. As a primary treatment, home care works best for people who have experience dealing with their mental illness. You need to be able to recognize a downturn and get professional help when needed. Otherwise, home care should NOT be your only treatment choice.
However, home care is almost always a good support while pursuing more intensive therapy.
Understanding Home Care
Home care for mental health can involve a wide variety of things. What it is, is learning what works to manage your mental illness and taking steps every day to keep your illness under control.
Home care is “maintenance mode.” For some people home care is enough to keep their mental illness under control. Others combine home care with other maintenance treatments; medication is probably the most common.
Everything from diet to exercise to meditation to having a cup of tea before bed can be a part of home care. Everyone’s home care is different, and depends on their needs, experiences, and how their mental illness functions.
Types of Home Care
Let me get this one out of the way first. Meditation is one of the first suggestions of a lot of able-minded people. And one a lot of mentally ill folks have learned to hate.
Personally I have often enjoyed and benefited from meditation. But I learned meditation as a personal practice first, and applied it to my treatment much later. For people who do not have practice mediating, using meditate to help mental illness often just makes things worse. I think this is because “clear the mind” styles of meditation are the most talked about and the meditations people are most likely to try first.
Clearing the mind meditations can be some of the worst for many mentally ill folks. When you focus on not thinking and clearing away all your conscious thoughts, it leaves space in your mind. Space that gets filled by all the poison your mental illness creates. So you end up spending 15 minutes or so “meditating” on how you are a worthless pathetic piece of shit who could be a functional human being if you would only try hard enough. Not because that’s what you are trying to meditate on, but because that’s what your mental illness shouts at you when you try to stop thinking.
I have found clearing the mind meditation to be useful for understanding what is going on in my head. But to be useful, and not damaging, (at least for me) it needs to be just a few minutes. Stop, close my eyes, and clear my mind. As soon as I can clearly “hear” the poison my mental illness is spewing, get out of the meditation.
You know those days when you are an absolute wreck, your mental illness is out of control, and you don’t know what triggered it? Those are the days that I use “clearing the mind” meditations. Once I know what is going on, I have at least a chance of addressing the problems.
Breathing meditations are another useful type of mediation. These are where you sit and focus on your breath. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4, repeat. For me, this type of mediation gives my mind a rest. With all my concentration on my breathing, with my body focused on the feel of air rushing in and out of my lungs, my mind stills. My mental illness doesn’t have anything to grab hold of and hurt me with. For a little bit, my mind can rest, and I can relax without my mental illnesses ambushing me with more poison.
Different meditations will have different effects for different people. If you want use meditation to manage your mental illness, experiment with several different types of meditation. It can take time to find one that works for you. And immediately stop any meditation that triggers you or makes your illness worse.
Herbs, Dark Chocolate, and Other Home Remedies
When I reviewed alternative medicines, I said you shouldn’t take herbs without professional guidance. A few herbs, however, are mild enough to be the equivalent of over-the-counter medication. Things like lavender, most mints, and chamomile. That doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes have unexpected effects. The first time my mother gave me a lavender sachet to help me relax, I had a panic attack. It took me a long time to realize that the lavender did relax me. It relaxed me enough I was actually able to feel a the anxiety I lived with day in and day out! Which triggered the panic attack.
Herbs for home use can be crushed leaves and flowers in sachets, essential oils in the bath, or herbal teas. I favor teas, but use what works for you. Lavender and chamomile are calmatives. Mint is good for alertness and those awful low energy days. Lemon and lemon grass are cheering and energizing.
Dark Chocolate, according to some preliminary studies, has a similar effect of antidepressants. Dark chocolate may be an alternative treatment for people who don’t have health care coverage. It isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than paying for antidepressants out of pocket. And if your depression is under control, a bar of the dark stuff can be good to keep on hand for the bad days.
I’m sure there are other home remedies I’m not familiar with. Talk with your doctor first, try in small doses and stop immediately if a remedy makes things worse.
Jane Fonda wasn’t making shit up to sell videos, endorphins are real. So is the satisfaction of meeting a goal and the wrung-out relaxed good feeling of working your body. And like tears, sweat can help clear toxins from the body. Exercise can’t address specific symptoms of mental illness, it can be a generalized mood lifter, an outlet for frustration and anxiety, and a great way to boost your self esteem and self confidence.
Exercise doesn’t need to be a big production. A ten minute walk each day is a good start. Bonus if you combine exercise with something you enjoy like hiking, dancing or swimming. Or, you could reward yourself for exercise until it becomes a regular part of your routine. I used to walk down to the corner sore each day, about a half mile round trip and pick up a small treat. Little things like that can help you get up and going.
Stretching is separate from exercise. Most experts now recommend you exercise and stretch separately, instead of stretching right before exercise. Stretching is definitely useful for people dealing with anxiety or depressive disorders. These mental illnesses tend to put strain on the muscles: anxiety from the constant tension, depression from the way it makes us curl in on ourselves. Stretching counters the physical effects of mental illness and keeps our blood flowing, bringing more energy to our brains.
A shit ton has been said elsewhere about the benefit of sunlight in treating mental illness. In fact, light bulbs that give of light in the same wavelengths as sun are available to help people battle seasonal affective disorder.
The full effect of sunlight on mental illness isn’t fully understood. However, we do know that getting out in the sun for 10 or 15 minutes a day can help lot. Combine your sunlight time with some exercise for a double boost.
How to Access Home Care
There is a wide variety of information on all forms of home care available online. That said, it’s the internet, with all its awesomeness and flaws. Especially be careful about taking internet advice on meditation, giving the possible complications.
Herbs and dark chocolate are often available somewhere local, and if not can be ordered online. Chocolate tends to be on the expensive side, even more so if you are aware of and prefer to buy Fair Trade chocolate.
Exercise, stretching, and sunlight are there for the taking, but mental illness will usually make it hard to actually get up and take them. Gotta love the way the mind fights to stay broken and miserable.
Impact on Poly Partners
Unless a significant part of the food budget is going to buying dark chocolate, home care is not likely to have a large impact on poly partners. That said, there is a great deal you can do to support your mentally ill partners in home care.
- Participate. Join in the exercise, sit on the porch and get sun together while you catch up, have a cup of chamomile tea when you are over, etc
- Ask them what you can do to help. If they are homebound, can you pick up lavender at the store? If they have trouble motivating themselves, can you remind them to meditate each day? Ask first. They are in charge of their care, but there are lots of things you can do that will help.
- If your partner is managing their mental illness only with home care, be alert for signs they are entering a downswing and may need more help. Someone on the outside can sometimes see problems before we can.
If you haven’t yet, check out the other treatment options for mental illness. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Poly on Purpose newsletter, so you never miss a post.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.