We all have “setbacks”. I like to think of setbacks as learning moments. There are many ways of discovering new ways of understanding relapse, the re-activation of symptoms & your response to environmental triggers which may complicate your mental status further. The most important factor to keep in mind when thinking about your relapse prevention plan and avoiding symptoms that send your mental health into a tailspin is preparedness, planning, & management of the unknown/unpredictable aspects of your diagnosis. As always, please discuss the skills discussed in this article with your therapist and psychiatrist before implementing them in your living environment.
When I first began to battle my diagnosis I had a series of learning moments. In fact, I had many, many years’ worth of learning moments. My symptoms would activate & worsen sometimes without warning. That was the first aspect of living with a diagnosis that I can remember. Symptoms seemed to come and go without warning and without a reason. Believe me, my therapist discussed triggers and did her very best to get underneath why my mood would oscillate between manic and depressed. She even studied my thought process and discovered the “signs” that my thinking would become more unclear, less goal-oriented, and logical. In my case, the sign was self-referential language during session and grandiosity. And yet, sometimes, these signs were worthless to predict major learning moments I would experience. It was as if the unpredictability of my diagnosis won the day and I would be resigned to living life on a moment by moment basis without any capacity to establish myself and my goals for the long-term.
One particular learning moment that helped me to discover that preparedness goes a long way when someone is living with a mental health diagnosis was at Westchester Community College during after I graduated from undergraduate school. I know I wanted to go on to graduate school but so much was complicating the goal that it seemed almost impossible to put a plan to together to get there. I remember at one very dark moment when one of my closest supports said: “Grad School? Maybe you should just focus on getting better”.
That’s when I realized preparedness goes a very long way if someone with a mental health diagnosis is going to get “buy-in” from a provider into their goal, family, friends, or otherwise. When someone ‘s thinking is unpredictable, and shifting, that person may want to consider evidencing preparedness around their goal to capture the support of allies.
With preparedness, comes planning. Nobody can ever be fully prepared to battle the unknown and unpredictability that comes with a mental health diagnosis unless they PLAN PLAN PLAN for every possible aspect of their illness that can flair up or cause complications in other aspects of their life. I had to do this when going off to graduate school. It began by preparing myself at W.C.C and planning for possible learning moments that may occur and begin to plan what would happen if they occurred while I was away at school. This means, if your diagnosis effects your mood. Have a plan in place to reduce the impact of depressive or manic symptoms in your everyday life. What do you plan on doing if you become suicidal? If you’re awake for days? If you have a history of hallucinating: do you have a plan in place if you begin to hear voices?
Planning was critical in my case. Through planning, I was able to identify a plan to connect with providers if I wasn’t feeling well and know exactly what to do in the event my symptoms worsened. My relapse prevention plan allowed me to get through several learning moments in graduate school including a catastrophic car accident and worsening psychosis. If I didn’t have plans in place these unexpected events may have triggered my symptoms and overwhelmed my coping skills to handle the unknown effectively given my mental illness, instead, I prevailed over my diagnosis, all because I had a relapse prevention plan.