How Do I Stay Motivated While Battling Mental Illness?

Identifying and working towards achieving a full and meaningful life is the key to staying motivated to get and stay well.

I struggled with a lack of motivation for many years. This lack of motivation prevented me from being fully compliant with treatment and from thinking I would ever get better, that anything would ever change.  The following tools helped me get motivated.

Examples of high functioning peers

During my last hospitalization in 2014, during a day program I saw a video of a high functioning college professor living with schizophrenia who had reached recovery and went onto a successful career. This showed me that recovery from mental illness was possible. After my hospital stay, I stumbled upon a website with many more examples of high functioning career professionals living with mental illness called the Stability Network, which I found really inspiring. Also, during my stay at the hospital, I met other peers who were fighting and making progress managing their mental illness. Their example reinforced that I was not alone and the possibility of reaching recovery. This is the key reason I started so that other people could benefit from peer support as I had.

Goal setting

I then dreamed of what I might do if I had a full and meaningful life. I wanted to dedicate my life to helping other people with mental illness. A couple of months later after researching opportunities, I decided on building my online community. To better prepare myself, I learned as much as I could about mental health treatment. I took a number of courses – online and in person.  Completing the courses forced me to keep motivated and focused as well. The goal of building my online community channeled my energies and kept me on-track through my recovery journey.

Remove obstacles

I carefully examined my treatment and concluded that one of the key factors holding me back was my medication regimen, which was causing me to sleep 14 hours a day. I begged my psychiatrist to change my medication regimen. She refused to change it so I found a new doctor. My new medication regimen allowed me to sleep only 10 hours a day.  I felt that I had truly reached a “functioning level of stability”. So I also started to look at other aspects of my life such as self-care, which I had neglected and could support and advance my stability.

Execution and Implementation

I had been unmotivated for so long that it was difficult to suddenly turn that motivation on. I had to work at a pace and with a structure that would allow me to maintain my stability, not frustrate me because I wasn’t accomplishing enough soon enough. I had to be realistic about what I could accomplish during a certain time frame. I used a method called smart goals to set goals:

“A S.M.A.R.T. goal is defined as one that is specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and timebound.

Specific: Goals should be simplistically written and clearly define what you are going to do. Specific is the What, Why, and How of the S.M.A.R.T. model.

Measurable: Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that you have accomplished the goal. Usually, the entire goal statement is a measure for the project, but there are usually several short-term or smaller measurements built into the goal.

Achievable: Goals should be achievable; they should stretch you slightly so you feel challenged, but defined well enough so that you can achieve them. You must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal. You can meet most any goal when you plan your steps wisely and establish a timeframe that allows you to carry out those steps. As you carry out the steps, you can achieve goals that may have seemed impossible when you started. On the other hand, if a goal is impossible to achieve, you may not even try to accomplish it. Achievable goals motivate people. Impossible goals demotivate them.

Results-focused: Goals should measure outcomes, not activities. The result of this goal is a process that allows people to more competently evaluate performance and develop their careers, not the individual activities and actions that occur in order to make the goal a reality.

Time-bound: Goals should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency, or results in tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal. Without such tension, the goal is unlikely to produce a relevant outcome.

The concept of writing S.M.A.R.T. goals is very important for accomplishing individual goals.”

Source: UHR, Employee Development

To help keep these goals a little more enjoyable, I rewarded myself along the way. If I completed a course I’d go out for a nice dinner or take a break for a few days. If I lost 10 pounds, I’d buy a new dress. Rewards make achieving goals a lot more enjoyable.

Importantly, when my motivation wavered, I thought of all the people that had been supporting me along the way. If I couldn’t do it for myself I wanted to do it for them – my spouse, my parents.

Keep going

After I reached recovery, I felt confident to take a bigger step, which for me was hiring a developer to build my website. For others it could be finding, applying for a job, maybe moving to a new apartment. There are many ways to achieve a full and meaningful life; each path is individualized. It took me about a year to move from stability to recovery and I’ve been in recovery, fully engaged in life, for just over 2 years now. My family life is significantly improved, my career is back on track, I’m healthy and well in all aspects of my health – medication, therapy and self-care. Most importantly, most of the time except for a couple of hiccups from time-to-time, I’m happy.

Finding motivation started with believing I could have a full and meaningful life, defining my goals, removing obstacles, goal setting, and a lot of hard work along the way. I knew something really good awaited me, so I kept pursuing it but in an organized and structured way. In short, I stayed motivated. It took me over 15 years to figure out how to motivate myself. With some structure and persistence, I am sure you can do it too.  

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