Coping With Change When You Have A Mental Illness

Change is hard.

Why so fearful? What really is anxiety-provoking beyond the unknown about taking on any new professional challenge?

Embracing change can be difficult under the best of circumstances. When one has a mental illness and thrives under routine and consistency, change can be akin to a four-letter word. For me, that is certainly the case. I loathe change. Since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I need the consistency of knowing what is to come in the day ahead. I mentally prepare myself days in advance when I have to stray from my routine, going over every possible detail or scenario of what could happen in my mind.

Often, my imagination serves to be far more detrimental than the reality. Still, I need to take on change cautiously and feel like I have the mental and physical strength to handle it. Unprepared changes can throw off my sleep, my diet, and my medication routine, which can then put me into a tailspin that has the potential to trigger hypomania, anxiety, or depression. 

I am about to embark on a major change in my life and switch specialties in my practice. While I am terrified about (I’d worry if I wasn’t), I am also extraordinarily excited. This simple switch will then affect a lot of change in other areas of my life as well — all of which my husband and I are banking on as necessary positive change.  

What changes am I anticipating?

I will see my sweet, amazing children far more. They need this. They currently can go days without seeing me. Now they will see me everyday. We will have family dinner every single night of the week. I will get to have breakfast with them daily and read them bedtime stories. It makes me nervous at the same time: As my husband and I have noticed in the last year or so, I have become increasingly noise sensitive and there are days I just need quiet. Being home constantly with them will significantly affect my ability to have peace and quiet, thus causing fear and anxiety over the change. We can all agree, however, that the pros outweigh the cons. 

I will be able to maintain a more regular sleep schedule. I need sleep. I am highly sensitive to changes in sleep hygiene and routine. What excites me is the ability to still obtain eight hours of sleep nightly between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Currently, I need to go to be at 7:30 or so to remain functional. I get to spend limited time with my husband. This change will mean I get to see him more, have quiet time following the kids’ bedtime. We get to focus on the kids more together as a solid parenting unit instead of having to interrupt their time with us needing have important conversations that can’t wait, knowing I will be disappearing sometime before the kids go to bed. I will get to know him again. I fear the later bedtime might be a huge adjustment, however, the pros far outweigh the cons again. 

I sound silly so far. Why so fearful? What really is anxiety-provoking beyond the unknown about taking on any new professional challenge? For starters, I live in fear of disappointing people. Especially people who don’t know me. People who cannot see into my heart and soul, and understand the thought process I go through daily to give off the aura of being calm, cool, collected, and competent. And I am all those adjectives. I worked hard on my disorder, controlling my moods, my symptoms, learning what I can and cannot tolerate to be those very four Cs: calm, cool, collected and competent. 

I also hide behind my medication weight gain. A lot. It gives me the excuse to not socialize. To avoid people. To avoid situations. With this change, I will have more time for exercise and finally getting my nutrition to exactly the standard I want every single day of the week. I get fearful because I know that in being able to definitively take care of myself I will lose my protective armor. Metaphorically speaking. That is the most frightening aspect of all. And that is the reality I worry about. 

Change. It can be difficult under the best of circumstances.

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