Saturday, February 12, 2011

Coming Up for Air

Sometimes, when you are a mental patient, life becomes very simple. It's all about survival and sanity, period. There is just nothing else you can handle. That is fine, to a point. If you're living on SSI, $600 a month doesn't buy a lot of nights out clubbing.

But there are times when I find I have downsized my life until I am living in a very small terrarium indeed. It gets stifling. It gets depressing and boring. Suddenly I realize I want something more, but I have turned down the last 10 invitations out, and there are no more coming in.

When this happens to you, it's time to expand your interests a little. Start watching the news again, or at least the parts of it that don't depress you. A quick radio summary of headlines can be enough to give you some food for thought. Or check out a local meeting of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or any other of the many national organizations for us, and find out what the resources and activities are in your area. You might be amazed at what's out there. I was.

Or just take a walk. If you walk to the coffeehouse or the library, you can look at people and maybe even some art too. Or go to some place that gives you sensual pleasure. A fabric warehouse is one good bet (touch the corduroy and the brocade), or a florist or nursery (breathe the air, drink in the colors), or an art gallery or pet store or aquarium. These things can perk up the senses. You don't have to spend a thing. Any local nature spot is a good visit, especially any bodies of water. A walk by a lake shore or stream can have amazing healing properties.

If you're not ready for that, if you prefer to stay home, what about burning some incense or scented candles and listening to music? Maybe drag out some old vinyl you haven't listened to since your teens? Play with your pet, if you have one. Make something with your hands. Paint something. Plant something. Most of all, call someone you know - maybe someone you haven't seen in a while - and just chat, a nice conversation that doesn't mention mental illness even once. Can you do that? If you can't, isn't that something to consider? When was the last time you paid attention to something besides how lousy you feel?

In our suffering, sometimes we box ourselves in. I'm speaking for myself - I just finished doing it once again, although I know better. It is important to let in some outside air once in a while. Maybe you can afford just one show, or attend a free lecture, or join the YMCA - did you know some branches give needs-based scholarships? If you went to a yoga class or a volleyball game once a week, wouldn't life change just a little? Or pretend you have a visiting friend who needs to be shown the town. Take yourself on a tour. We often forget what is interesting about the places we live.

Get involved somehow. If serious school is too demanding, how about merely auditing one appealing class? This is not about performance. It's OK if your participation in an outside interest is sporadic; it's OK if you have to drop out at times to care for yourself. I am not talking about responsibilities. I am talking about interests and hobbies, or just a taste of something new. Have you ever flown a kite?

Myself, I go to poetry readings. No, it's not everybody's cup of tea. But it's an intelligent, conversible crowd, the events are regular, and if I don't show up for a while someone is likely to miss me and ask where I've been. Sometimes that's all I need to pull me back towards life.

Deborah Fruchey is the author of  Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. Available on, on Kindle, as an Apple iBook, or by request at your bookstore . See a film about the book at this  link:   or visit