THE BLOG
11/30/2014 11:54 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2015

How to Rebuild Your Life After a Mental Illness Hospital Stay

You've just had your first or fifth hospitalization for mental illness. How do you begin to rebuild your life? Where do you start?

The most important first step is to secure providers. You'll need both a therapist and a psychiatrist. The therapist will handle your talk therapy. They will help you work on coping skills and managing your day-to-day stressors. The psychiatrist will handle your medicine. Most providers agree that the best treatment plan combines medicine and talk therapy; one without the other is incomplete. Now, not everybody will be willing to take medicine. The side effects can be very bothersome. Believe me, I know. I've had cystic acne flare-ups that caused me to look like the elephant man and had to have painful cortisone injections into my face to shrink the cysts. I also gained 52 pounds in four months. I know side effects. But the alternative is no walk in the park either. I, personally, could not function without medicine. Well, I could. But it wouldn't be ideal. With the right psychiatrist, you can find the right medicine that works for you with the least amount of side effects. You will have to be patient. It takes time. In seven years I've tried 11 different medicines.

After you have a therapist and a psychiatrist you need to start to build a life that will keep you sane and healthy.

  1. Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of sleep. I have bipolar disorder. If I don't sleep, I can trigger a manic or depressed episode.
  2. Make sure you are eating healthy foods.
  3. Exercise three days per week for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Minimize your stressors. If you need to cut toxic people out of your life, do so. If you need to find a new job, begin looking. If you have to get out of debt, start small. Start saving a few dollars per month.
  5. Seek out support groups. Many people with mental illnesses also self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Go to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA); there are local meetings in a town near you. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) or National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also hold local support group meetings. There are also a number of other support organizations as well; a simple Internet search will point you in their direction. The more support you can get from friends and family the better. But it is even nicer to have the listening ear of someone who truly understands because they have the same diagnosis.
  6. You also need to make time for leisure. Plan events and activities you love. Spend time with people you love. You can also take a bubble bath, listen to music, go out to eat, go for a walk. The options are endless.
  7. My last suggestion is to supplement psychiatric drugs with more holistic practices such as acupuncture, deep breathing and yoga. Acupuncturist Henaz Bhatt says:

    Acupuncture, yoga, Ayurveda and other forms of Eastern traditional medicine take into account the whole body and the interconnected systems within it. The focus is on bringing balance to our whole being -- the body, mind and spirit -- from within. Therefore, these modalities treat the symptoms while simultaneously treating the root imbalance in order to affect long-lasting change.

    For the past year I've been receiving acupuncture treatments. They are a lot more effective than the psychiatric medicines I take. But the catch is that the results don't last as long. Therefore, the acupuncture supplements, not supplants, my psychiatric medicines.

I realize keeping atop of your health needs can be expensive. If you do not have health insurance, find charity care. Some pharmaceutical companies will even provide you with your medicine at discount rates or for free. There are income requirements. So check out the website of the individual pharmaceutical company. You can also probably get free samples from your psychiatrist. Please do not let cost prohibit you from seeking help.

It may seem like your life is turned upside down. But trust me: it's not. In seven years I've been hospitalized three times for a total of 32 days. Each hospitalization has taught me more about myself. And luckily, each hospital stay has gotten shorter. Meaning, I'm recovering at faster rates. But to be honest, recovery is no cakewalk. Each episode has dealt me some tough blows (namely, thousands of dollars in credit card debt; when I'm manic I spend uncontrollably) that I've had to come back from, but with time I've recovered.

There is no better day than today to start living the life you want. Don't let your illness derail your plans.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.