Taking time out of life to work on your mental health can be one of the hardest decisions. It can feel like you’ve failed and that you’re just not succeeding in life, and so you need to take a break. You are not alone. I left move job, moved out of where I was living, and put my business on hiatus last year. I did it so I could go to treatment for my eating disorder and I stayed on my break from work to continue with intensive outpatient treatment.
For those taking time off, it can be hard to know where to start and how to prioritize. Here are a few things that were very important to my year away from work.
Find your team
It’s important to make a mental health team for yourself, especially in a time when you’re focusing specifically on your mental health. For depression, anxiety, etc. this means finding a therapist and a psychiatrist. For eating disorders this means also finding a dietitian.
Going to therapy weekly is what I would recommend. Of course, it all depends on your insurance and financial situation, but for my time out of structured treatment I saw a therapist once to twice a week, my dietician weekly and my psychiatrist every three weeks. Therapy for me is what keeps me breathing. Knowing I have the capability to talk to someone who’s dedicated to just me weekly is important. It also pushes me to talk about the hard things and keeps me honest regarding my eating disorder.
Going on medication to treat mental illness is a very personal choice. I have been on various medications to treat my depression, anxiety, OCD, and more since college. It wasn’t an easy choice at first but I now acknowledge that I am not capable of regulating my own body chemistry to fully heal my mental illnesses. Medication is what helps bring me up to a level that I can function at. It has been a rough few years trying to sort out what medication works best for me but I made several strides forward in my time last year.
Seeing a dietitian weekly was very important in helping me to maintain some form of nourishment in my recovery. It also served as a secondary meeting where I could share my feelings and thoughts regarding food. Having this outlet was essential to me maintaining a level of nourishment in my body. Prior to treatment I was unaware of how to eat and my eating disorder would run my unhealthy relationship with food. Meeting with someone specialized in eating disorders helped me to gain back some of that control.
Make a Routine
One of the most important parts of taking time off is creating a new routine to replace the routine you already had when you were working, in school, etc. We may not realize how much structure and reliability going to work from 9-5 or being in class every day can give us until it’s all gone.
This is something I struggled with for the entire year. My first few months in treatment were the healthiest in terms of feeling structure and that’s where my recovery thrived. Trying to create that same structure for myself was extremely difficult. I know for me that the act of showing up for someone else and knowing I need to be somewhere to meet someone keeps me accountable. And accountability for me, is the backbone of structure and routine. However, showing up for myself is hard. So one of my biggest suggestions is to make a plan. Sit down on Sunday and plan out your week. Add in fun stuff, your appointments, take yourself out to lunch, go to a movie.
But most importantly, get out of bed, eat, and start your day. If you have a friend you can text to stay accountable with, that’s even better. I know that with depression there are days where no matter what you do you just can’t get out of bed and that’s okay. Be kind to yourself. Try to self care in bed or even get out of the house for 5 minutes and then go back to bed. There will be days when your routine falls apart and that’s okay. Try not to let it derail your future plans.
Routines are something I wish I was able to do better during my time off but I now know how important they are to staying sane and being active in your recovery.
Just like making a routine is important, it’s essential to stay engaged with your support system. For some of us that might look like our family or for others a group of friends. For me, my friends are my family and staying engaged in my relationships kept me moving forward. My friends held me accountable to eating and doing self care. On days when I was depressed I would call my friends and rant or talk to them. They would remind me that my depression was in the way and that I was capable of getting out of bed or doing something basic that felt scary in that moment.
When you sit down to plan out your week try to plan in time with others. Even if you’re an introvert like me, taking time to be around other people can help to fill your cup. Humans are social beings and whether you recharge in private or public it is essential that you meet up with people. I know it can be difficult to work with others’ schedules, but planning in advance can truly help and also having friends who work from home and have more flexibility is really helpful too. I had one friend from treatment who would meet me for lunch during the day if I needed a reason to get out of bed.
Staying social is important given that when you take time off you may lose the structured social time created by going to work and/or school.
Lastly, keep eating. Keep sleeping. And keep breathing. If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder I know how difficult this can be. And there were several months in my time away from work that I restricted and kept myself from eating how my treatment team needed me to. At that time I truly was doing my best though. And there may be times when you are doing your best but others want more from you. It’s important to remember that that’s okay but please also try to keep eating.
Being malnourished means that you are unable to give everything that you need to when working on your mental health. You are unable to give 100% in therapy and you are most certainly unable to give 100% in your dietician appointments. When you restrict you take away necessary nutrients from your body and brain. Your clarity diminishes and your capability to do work decreases.
So most importantly, if you’re taking time to work on your mental health, fuel your recovery time by fueling your body. And even more importantly, be honest about where you’re at with your mental health team.
These are just the main things that I feel were important for me when taking time off from work to work on my eating disorder recovery and mental health. There are so many ways to structure your time and prioritize your recovery. If you have any advice or input please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me.