In the Belly of the Beast: I’m Coping With a Mental Health Relapse
How to recognize and cope with a mental health relapse
As I have discussed in my previous articles, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder after the birth of my first child. I have also struggled with what I thought was anxiety for most of my adult life.
My healthcare team has recently confirmed what I’ve known for a while: That I have had OCD instead of anxiety all along.
When things get out of control, I get very upset. If there isn't a plan, I can’t cope. I need structure and I have to know what is happening or my symptoms will resurface.
Now that the second wave of COVID has hit our province, I am really struggling.
What Does a Mental Health Relapse Look Like?
This will vary from one person to another, but it is usually a resurgence of symptoms of your mental illness. A relapse in mental health will present differently for every person.
Some symptoms of a mental health relapse can include:
- Too much or too little sleep.
- Stopping your medication or not taking it regularly.
- Social withdrawal or isolation (not going to work).
- Increase in paranoia, hallucinations, or hearing voices.
- Confusing or nonsensical speech.
- Sleep deprivation
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of unease, not being able to relax
- Feeling tense or irritable
- Lack of attention to appearance and personal hygiene
- Inability to concentrate, forgetfulness
- Unexplained pains and aches (for depression).
- Increase in risk-taking behaviors (spending money, using alcohol/drugs).¹
In my case, I knew my OCD was coming back when I started to “check” constantly and make lists.
I check websites for COVID updates and read and reread the same Facebook comments under virus-related posts on Facebook, looking for answers. And relentlessly obsess over everything.
I am also experiencing intrusive thoughts on a regular basis. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that you don’t want to have that get stuck in your mind. Mine normally involve funerals and scary accidents.
I am an excellent driver but I have lost faith in my ability even though I am driving the same as I did when I wasn’t experiencing a relapse.
When I feel out of control, I try to find a way to control things again. For me, that is usually thinking about a situation and then dissecting it. I will pick this thought apart over-and-over from dawn until dusk. I try to find a resolution but I never do. Why?
Because the things that I am seeking to control, are uncontrollable. They say knowing that is half the battle, but I don’t accomplish anything by knowing that this isn’t in my hands. It makes me feel worse.
I want to change the course of things. I want to know if I will be able to see my family for Christmas. Obviously, I am a planner, and I want to plan our holiday vacation down to a tee.
I have also been experiencing some health issues with my bladder and unexplained high cortisol. My doctor is running tests and I have a pelvic ultrasound scheduled for next week. So I am completely freaked out.
My dad, God love him, he tried to understand, and he said, “Mouse, you have to stop trying to control everything, you can’t!” I knew this, but I couldn’t stop, and this is when I knew I needed to talk to my therapist.
I have been seeing a therapist for a couple of years, she's amazing. I asked her the other day if she noticed that my anxiety had gotten worse. She said, “I have noticed your OCD is slowly becoming an issue again.”
I haven't needed medication since March and my psychiatrist recommended a patient discharge and for me to wean off my medication slowly. Even with a tapering schedule, withdrawing from this med was a complete nightmare. I believe medication really helps, but the withdrawal I had from this particular pill was difficult.
I told my therapist, “I’ll wait and see what happens next week”. She said, “Why wait? If things become worse, you may need a higher dose to control your symptoms, but if you call your doctor, you can take control, right now!”
Hm… I get some of my control back? I need to be in control, and even though being on medication again scares me, if I take control of my OCD before it gets the best of me, this is at least a plan, for something…
So, I have called my doctor and am still waiting to hear back from him, two days later, two voicemails later.
Waiting is the worst, but either way, I will find a practitioner to treat me. If you are experiencing a relapse in your mental health, act now, and take your life back.
Why Is It So Hard to Seek Help for a Relapse?
After we have felt better for a while, chances are, people have noticed or you have told your loved ones that you’re feeling better. It feels like a defeat if we have to admit that things are not going as well as we thought.
You feel like you have lost the battle before it was over.
But you haven't. A huge breakthrough in recovery is knowing that you have had a “blip” in your progress. If you are recognizing that your mental health is slipping, and call your doctor or therapist, you are taking control of your issues before they overwhelm you and everyone around you.
How to Handle a Mental Health Relapse
A relapse can be frightening and also very demotivating. But I’ve learned from my own experience that part of recovery is relapse. As you become stronger in your recovery and learn more about your mental illness, you start to recognize when a relapse is coming.
- Your outlook is everything: No, relapsing is not a good feeling, but you know what is? Taking control and recognizing you are struggling. You are caring for yourself by getting help.
- This experience will strengthen you, and each relapse you have will continue to demonstrate your strength of character. Yes, it is difficult, but you are a warrior!
- This doesn't mean you’re not getting better, it is a setback.
- Through these setbacks, you can figure out your triggers. Some will be avoidable, and others aren’t.
- The triggers that are unavoidable are the ones that we need to be the most careful about. These are the ones that we need to learn to live with. For example, I can’t plan the pandemic or the outcome of my health issues. And I can’t plan for tomorrow, but I can focus on what I need to do to get through today.
What to do when you notice a resurgence of your symptoms
- Call your therapist or family doctor. If you don't have either, go to a local after-hours clinic or emergency room. If you are suicidal, call 911 or the emergency number in your country.
- Pick up a few comfort items (order online if you need to): Great items for self-care: Fuzzy socks, face masks, bath bombs, a nice notebook to write your thoughts down, essential oils, a stuffed animal or fuzzy blanket, a stress ball or fidget spinner, crystals (a favorite of mine: Blue Lace Agate and Snowflake Obsidian are really good for calming your soul), and the medication you need from your doctor.
- Television (not the news) can be an excellent way to keep your mind off of what’s going on in the world. I have been binge-watching “Keeping up With The Kardashians” lately and I make no apologizes for this, haha. Schitt’s Creek is another one of my favorite feel-good shows.
- I don’t exercise and I don't want to sound like a hypocrite but gentle exercise is a proven way to help mental health issues. It’s a tool in the toolbox but do not beat yourself up if you don’t partake.
- Eating well can help you have the physical strength to cope with any mental health issues.
- Let your close family members or friends know what’s going on so they can monitor you. This is also great for a nice, comforting chat with someone who understands and loves you.
- Be kind to yourself, this is a breakthrough even if it feels like a setback.
I don't have all of the answers, I wrote this article because what feeds my soul during a tough time is helping others and writing. I think it also makes me feel like I’m taking control of my situation. But I am realizing that control is something I will lose and gain throughout my life and that’s okay.
“Your setback is just a setup for your comeback” — Steve Harvey
: M Priyanka. (June 8, 2020). What Does Relapse in Mental Illness Mean?