One valuable thing that I have learned is that mental illness is often symptom management. Not all symptoms can or need to be managed by medication. In my view, the purpose of medication is to get me to the point of baseline feeling or maybe just a little bit beyond. Self care symptom management can often be achieved by using task lists and establishing routines. As a former IT professional, I like to throw a little bit of technology to solve some of these problems.
When I was just starting out on the road to recovery and self care was non-existent, I used an app to be completely granular and plan out even the smallest of tasks. I cannot speak highly enough about the app called Any.do to help with task management and it is available for both Android and iPhone smartphones. I created a task list (and added notifications) for mornings that looked a little bit like this:
- Make my bed
- Brush my teeth
- Take a shower
- Take my vitamins
By getting this granular in my list, I really saw what I had to do in the mornings. I remembered one of the symptoms of my mental illness just happened to be slipping/non-existent personal hygiene. I found that after just 4 days of these tasks, I was actually beating the notifications to the punch! This is a win for self care so I found I could delete these tasks. I had a similar set of tasks and notifications for the evening routine that could also be deleted because I was no longer forgetting.
Just to highlight how important routine is to people with mental illness, I had a slight change/disruption in my evening routine and I realized that I was again forgetting to brush my teeth at night. This is not broken or defective but merely a symptom of my illness and I know that the evening teeth brushing task has to be re-added until it becomes automatic again. I am encouraged by the fact that it won’t takes more than 4 days worth of reminders and that is cause for a smile.
In all of this, the lesson of routine becomes reinforced and if my routine changes again, there is no harm in simply re-creating a task (and notification) that slips my mind until it again becomes automatic again. I also emphasize that this is a symptom of mental illness and is in no way, even small, a defect of personality, character, or intelligence. If you suffer from similar symptoms, it is important that you repeat this mantra to yourself. And like I do, praise yourself when you do these tasks.