How I Made Positive Changes to My Mental Health

A Story About the Positive Changes That Living Through the Experience of Mental Illness Has Had on My Life

A butterfly, symbolising the saying 'From caterpillar to Butterfly' which is a well known phrase used by someone who has overcome trauma

When I was young, I spent all my time putting myself down, battling my thoughts and feelings, not giving self-confidence a second thought, and feeling I was not worth anything. This was a result of the emotional and physical abuse I had endured in my childhood and early adulthood. As I got older and became a parent, I developed a very long struggle with my mental health, and I realized that something had to change or I would continue to lose everything.

I took up studying domestic violence, abuse, bullying and many other topics in that area. I found that I could relate to much of what I had learned, including how my own mental health problems had developed and why. I decided to do further extensive training in the area, and I recognized two mental illnesses that occur usually because of trauma, Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These disorders I could relate to, as I had been given a diagnosis of both myself, although now, I no longer have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.

I realized at this point, I had to do something.  I became tired of losing everything. After all, I had been losing people I love, my family, my home amongst other things, from eighteen years old.  This was when I explored Dialectal Behavioral Therapy, and combined it with my own techniques for healing, and this was very successful as I will explain below.

Dialectal Behavioral Therapy gave me ideas and ways of changing how I thought about myself, other people and the world. I developed a massive problem with trusting people in particular, because I thought everybody would be violent to me. I came to understand this as a learned behaviour that I was taught by the people who hurt me. At one point, I even became scared of my own children, and I knew at that time, I needed change. I wrote all my negative thinking patterns down, and reasons why I thought everybody was out to get me. I learned that I was associating every single argument with everything from my past, and I had to spend time trying to disassociate my thoughts from the past into the present, as I was now.

It was hard, because one day I could see I was an adult who was married with children, but the next day it was me as the child. I had to do more adult things like shopping, cleaning, studying, cooking, dealing with appointments, looking for work etc... before I could realize that I was no longer a child, but I was an adult and that was what my children needed me to be. I also had to look at the way I was talking, because sometimes my children could sense the child within, and they would not do anything I told them to do. I had to change the childish, soft voice I used into an adult voice, that let my children clearly know their rules and boundaries, instead of "Oh well, I don't care!" which was a common tone I used with my children. I practiced saying things like, "If you don't tidy your room, you won't be allowed to have television-time" and learned to stick by it.  This started to work, and over time I could see myself as a parent putting in rules and boundaries like normal parents do.

My temper was a big problem. It did not take much for me to fly of the handle fast. The problem was harder, if I was doing multiple things at once, while everybody was arguing around me. I would become stressed out easily, and then wonder why I achieved nothing.  I had to learn to breathe, and say no to the things that my family, children and friends could do for themselves.  I had to learn to prioritize my needs and balance those with other needs.  This involved learning to understand that I was allowed to take care of my hygiene, go shopping alone and also to buy things I needed to look after myself with as well as family.  I also had to make sure that I got my study and writing time, and time for leisure too.  When I first started, everyone would try to get my attention and interfere with my time, and I had to persevere and be clear that I was no longer going to let that happen.  There was a big change after I started doing these things: I became happier because I was able to balance out needs without getting stressed out all the time. And because there was breathing space for me to think, I found my temper calmer and it was easier to deal with disagreements and arguments.

Family life is a huge responsibility.  However, when you have mental health problems, it can be so difficult to deal with family, especially if you're stressed out.  My Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder faded gradually after I learned not to take everything on at once, set boundaries, and live my own life as well as having a family life. I had to fight against the child who was trapped inside me, and discipline myself so that I grow and learn to be the responsible adult that I could be.  My hard work has paid off, because now my home is cleaner, my family life is peaceful, and my work and study life are balanced alongside my other responsibilities. Taking leisure to shop, spend time with friends and take care of myself has really helped me, and I feel good because I also now have time to think, and also to fit in exercise.

This way of changing might seem overwhelming, especially if you're still caught up with the worst feelings of mental illness. However if you break it down and try a little bit every day—it could be something simple, like putting easy boundaries in place, such as your children leaving you to read in peace for five minutes—you will find change gets easier over time, and like me, you will be able to overcome your mental health problems too.

Read next: Difficult Truth
Carol Townend
Carol Townend

I am passionate about mental health, reading, writing, and music.  I hold the Basic Certificate in the Humanities, of which I gained by studying the Humanities with the Open University.   

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How I Made Positive Changes to My Mental Health
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