This Single Decision Makes All The Difference In Living With Mental Illness

Tough to get out of bed

In conjunction with this video about getting out of bed and the challenge to step outside of your comfort zone, I want to share a personal experience with you. My personal experience of getting out of bed, despite the huge desire to pull the covers back over my head, and the immeasurable difference it has made for me and my family.

Although I’ve often wanted to, for some reason, I’ve never stayed in bed for a whole day.  Even on the very worst days of my mental illness.  Not even in the midst of ECT treatments that left me completely exhausted physically and detached mentally, something still drove me to get out of bed—at least for a little while.   I felt an obligation to my kids and to my family.  But I can relate well to that desire to pull those covers back up over my head in the morning and stay in the relative safety of my bed all day. I know the tempting pull of the belief that nothing good could possibly happen and that only awfulness will happen—thus, the only real reasonable option is to STAY IN BED.

I know this.

But for some reason, I’ve always gotten out of bed anyway.  Some days it takes hours.  Some days it takes several attempts, only to find myself collapsed in a heap of tears on my pillow each time I try—until the time that I finally get up and stay up.  And some days I end up back in bed after not that many hours out of it.  But I’ve always gotten out of bed at least for a little while.

I recently had one of those days where every time I tried to get up, I ended up crying into my pillow instead.  My sympathetic husband eventually said, “Just stay in bed.  Call in sick.  Work will understand.”

I’m so grateful for the compassion and understanding conveyed in those words.  However, tempting as they were, I knew I couldn’t.

“What about school?  What about working as a PTA after I graduate?  Those aren’t things I can call in sick to every time I have a bad day.  If I’m going to do this life that we’re working on, I have to get out of bed on days like this.”

Saying these words out loud to my husband was what I needed to finally get up without the mess of tears, then shower, and get to work.  Work was extra hard that day, but I did my job and no one there was any the wiser what it had taken for me to get there.

I reflected on all this throughout the day.  What is it that drives me to get out of bed, even when that is the last thing I want to do?  I know plenty of people who don’t because they believe they can’t.  How am I able to do it when it feels impossible?

I used to constantly question my diagnosis with my psychiatrist. “How can I have the same illness as these other people around me who I see struggling so much?”  I once asked him if I have the “diet” version of bipolar II.  He assured me I don’t and that mine is just as severe as it is for someone else.  Then we reflected on the treatment options I’ve tried, or discussed trying, and I realized that a few of these were “last resort” kind of treatments.  So, I guess he’s telling the truth.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to know that if I can do it, YOU can do it.  Just because your mind tells you that you can’t get out of bed, or it’s not worth it to get out of bed, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S TRUE!  It’s not true.  The thing about a bipolar brain, a depressed brain, an anxiety brain, or any other brain that deals with mental illness is that it tells you lies.  The idea that because you have a mental illness you can’t make commitments or do hard (and great) things is one of the biggest lies of all. Just look at what Josie is accomplishing with her 444 Project!

You can get out of bed.  You can do the hard things you would want to do if you had a “normally functioning” brain. You just have to be willing to fight against the lies your brain tells you.  I say “just” because it really is that simple.

But simple is not the same as easy.

It is not easy.  It is really hard to do things that your mind is telling you that you cannot do.  You will be plagued with self-doubt–sometimes for days, weeks, and months.  But you will fight through that too. Then you will reach a point where your progress will be undeniable.  You will see that you have done the things your brain told you that you couldn’t, because you are not your mentally ill mind.  You are you. You do not have to accept the limitations your brain wants to set for you.

Begin with Small Expectations

This does not mean you’re invincible.  You will experience setbacks.  You will need to pace yourself.  Give yourself time to adjust to this new mindset.  Begin with small expectations.  If right now you are struggling to get out of bed, start with committing to get out of bed every day, make your bed, and brush your teeth.  Maybe that will be what you can do in the beginning.  Then gradually add in more challenges for yourself.  Two years ago, I would have never thought that I could go back to school, or have a job, or be a good friend, or write articles for a website, or be brave.  I thought that just keeping my kids alive was as much as I could handle.

But now I’m doing those things. Some days, it’s too much. I still get out of bed, but I only do the things I have to do. I’m open with everyone I work with in work, school, church, and my family about what I’m dealing with and I’ve found that people are very understanding when I have to pull back and pull out of some unnecessary commitments. However, I do my best to do my best and not take advantage of people’s understanding. Then, when I’m ready, I get back at it and catch up wherever it’s needed.

It’s definitely harder than staying in bed. But it really does make all the difference in living with mental illness and it is infinitely worth it.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”—2 Timothy 1:7.