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On effective self management: How we make sense of how we make sense

Posted Oct 22 2009 10:06pm

Too often we are the source of our own confusion.  Decreasing this tendency, which we all share as human beings, is an important part of coping with the stress of everyday living.  If you struggle with mental health issues, decreasing the mistakes that many of us are prone to cannot help but let you go farther in recovery.

A major part of life is knowing what to take personal, what to take serious, and what to take as the truth. Our ability to monitor ourselves, to make sense out of how we make sense is so important.  And it is this ability to monitor that is so difficult when life is going poorly.   For people with  mental health issues it  leads to disaster when they take things personal that are not personal, take some things more serious than what they are and others less serious, and take things as true just because they feel true without really checking them out.

Julie Fast in one book has a chapter called the “Bipolar Conversation.”  The basic idea is simple.  We may have issues, but we are not our issues.  It is essential for us and the people we live with to know what is bipolar and what is not– basically who’s talking.

When we struggle the most with mental health issues we do the worst with self- monitoring.  Because our issues bring so much conflict with other people, when doing poorly we tend to be hypervigilant and assume things said and done, or not said and done are somehow directed at us when they are not.  When stress is overwhelming we assume most problems are bigger than what they are.  Some problems we compartmentalize and try to pretend that they are not there.  And our thinking becomes based on what we feel.  If it feels true it is true and too seldom to we really check things out.  We rationalize after the fact rather than think before the fact.

What helps is anything we can do to help maintain the ability to monitor.  If you cant maintain a monitoring plan in your head, then write it down.   Under what circumstances do you tend to over personalize, catastrophize, or think emotionally?  What can you do?  Get in the habit of monitoring how you monitor.  The more you practice the better you will likely become.

Another you can do is have a check it out partner.  Check your perceptions against someone you trust.  This will work better as a preventative before things get real bad than it probably will as a crisis resolution tool.  All of us need someone who can safely tell us when “we are full of it.”

The third thing you can do is learn from your mistakes.  When episodes are over, when moods are passed do your own “autopsy.”  Grade yourself on how you have done.  Learn from successes and failures.

None of this is a magic bullet.  You will continue to struggle to some degree with these issues, because all human beings do.   But if you want to increase your ability to manage yourself and your life it is a struggle worthwhile to try.

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