I’d been struggling with my mental health issues since age twenty-five when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I experience mainly major depression, which regularly leaves me feeling empty, down and feeling that life is meaningless, for no apparent reason. I now know this is the chemical, or psychiatric part of my illness. I regularly see a psychiatrist and have medication that helps to some extent with the biological component of my illness.

I was in denial of my illness for many years after diagnosis, but after about ten years I began to see the benefit of medication to make my life more stable. Regardless of this, my depressions continued, and I found myself ending up living
in a toxic environment. I was also studying full time at university. These factors led me to become hospitalised as my depression had become so bad. It couldn’t have got much worse.

I found that group work at the hospital really benefited me, and one day there was a person from GROW, a Program Worker, who came in to do a “hospital orientation.” An informative session to let us know about GROW. I thought it sounded like it might
be beneficial, so I went along and began to go (and grow) regularly.

Through GROW, I began to see that I could have a large degree of control over the part of my illness that was not purely biological. That I needed to recognise that I had a problem, and I was the one who needed to do something to fix it. This was quite confronting at first. All too often, in the past, I would just say that it was my depression that was the reason that I couldn’t live a “normal” life. It was even an excuse for my bad behaviour, both toward myself and toward others.

I had always had a problem with motivating myself to exercise. This was the first problem I brought up in my GROW group. The group gave me a piece of program from the Blue Book which is a compilation of psychological advice built up by people
developing and using the GROW program over the last sixty-five years. 

The Program attitude I was given was “I can compel my muscles and limbs to do the right and healthy thing in spite of my feelings,” and I was given a practical task of going for a walk at least every other day, particularly when I didn’t feel like it.
This was a game-changer for me. All too often, people with depression, and those around them say words to the effect of “That’s OK, don’t worry about doing any exercise today, you’re feeling depressed, just wait until you feel up to it again.”

However, the reverse is often true… it is the inaction that is the reason for the depression and compelling my legs and body to get out the door and go for a lovely walk can be the best thing for my mental health and improving my mood. I now know
that exercise, and, particularly cardio-vascular exercise, is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

As I did this more, I began to feel better about myself, and develop other healthier habits. This didn’t mean my depression was totally cured. I still suffer really horrible lows, and some days, exercise doesn’t make me feel better at all, but the point was,
at least I had done it. There is another GROW expression, “If I feel depressed, I may as well feel depressed doing the dishes as lying-in bed.”

These wisdoms apply to so many areas in life. Learning to do the right and healthy thing, despite our feelings, goes a long way to improving our lives and helping our mental health.

Published from Growing to Recovery - Readings for Mental Health Vol 2, available via GROW eStore