There are a thousand disclaimers I could put here: How being born human, Western civilization (& ye olde discontents), and modern living all entail a certain degree of mental instability anyway; or how in every life, no matter how cushy, there are ups and downs and calms and storms; or what exactly we could mean by "Going Crazy"…but let's skip all that for now, in the interest of just listing off some useful things I gleaned from a recent re-reading of my, for lack of a better term, Notebooks O' Sanity.
Steps for Not Going Crazy, In Spite Of Everything
- Keep close at hand the reasons why you can't go crazy: Sticky-notes, writing on your skin (fun fact: I almost always have some personal reminder written somewhere on me you can't see), or coded messages everywhere (electronic devices rule for this — change your passwords to reminders!) all work. So does putting your reason to a simple tune and getting it stuck in your head, so you hum it all day. Reasons to not go crazy can include:
- The names of kids, pets, or anybody else you have to be sane enough to take care of
- Moral or duty-based hypothetical imperatives you've chosen for yourself and don't want to break (for example, "Discipline and self-control are paramount")
- Philosophical or spiritual beliefs that countermand it (i.e. "be grateful and live even icky moments to their fullest; life is a gift")
- Important promises you've made that going crazy would undermine
- Good things you have (a home, relationship, job, etc.) that going crazy might ruin
- Take and cherish your quiet moments, and use them for quiet. Be conscious of when you have quiet time, even if you don't want it, and use it to meditate, write, rest, or do something you enjoy (that does not contribute to The Crazy…i.e. you may enjoy drugs, but those probably aren't helping, so keep them out of your quiet time at least). Even five seconds of mental quiet — say, right when you get into the car, before you start it — can help you hang on through a tough time.
- Have a stated safe outlet for any violent energy you may be building up: This just happens sometimes, and it's far healthier to let it out in safe increments than to constantly be working to suppress it. I've been saved by my punching-bag more than once…for others, running, screaming, crying, etc. may be more helpful, but whatever works for you, make sure you keep a space set aside for it, and use it when you feel your control slipping. If you can't get to your place when you need it (if you have a near-freakout at work, for example), then clamp down and make yourself wait — it'll be easier, knowing that you have somewhere to go to unload later. Then make sure you do go there later and unload the energy you built up — don't let it sit until it boils out again.
- Recognize and avoid bad thoughts. Thoughts that occur to you out of nowhere, and which hurt and make your head spin, are almost certainly part of the Crazy and not anything useful. Look for broad, vague negativity ("I hate myself", "this whole place sucks"), mental movies of bad events (someone breaking up with you, people dying, you going crazy), and flashbacks of bad things that have happened. None of those benefit you in any way when they happen automatically; so get in the habit of recognizing them, and distracting yourself immediately when they come up.
- When my brain is really misbehaving, I'll pick a song every day, and whenever I catch myself thinking badly, I immediately start singing (vocally or mentally) that song.
- Taking deep breaths or immediately switching tasks can also help derail bad thinking.
- But do not ignore pain. The reason for the bad thoughts is that there's physical/emotional pain there, which is feeding back through your thinking mind, calling up words and images. Don't let the words and images run — turn them off, like a television that just turned itself on to Jerry Springer — but don't just leave it at that, either. You need to address what's making it happen — but you need to do so deliberately, again, so that it doesn't build up and come out in hurtful ways. Pick a safe space and time for this (again, just as with a physical outlet, knowing that you're going to address it later in a safe space will make turning it off during inconvenient times easier). When you have a safe space (which may mean being alone, or with someone you trust) and enough time (at least 15 minutes), do the following:
- Close your eyes and gently "look" at the source of the pain. You may be able to find it physically — grief especially is often a physical soreness located in the torso somewhere. If not, though, gently recall some of the bad thoughts you've had recently — don't get sucked into them, but let them come up enough that you feel the pain of them again. Once you feel the pain, let go of the thought and focus on the pain.
- Treat it like physical pain: if you need to breathe, talk, cry, or moan, in order to get through it, go ahead; but feel it and let it be there; don't try to shut it off or make it go away. Try to relax, rather than fighting it. If your arm was in a sling and it ached, you wouldn't panic; you would understand that something caused the pain and that it's going to hurt a while until it heals: This is the same thing. Even if your pain is great, sitting quietly with it, feeling it and letting it be there without struggling can help a lot. This is how your mind and body learn to accept difficult realities.
- Stay with it as long as you can. Most likely it will fade once you settle down and accept its presence: Let it; don't call it back up again until you've had a rest. If the pain is too great to sit with for long, if it starts to overwhelm you, let it go — if it brought up bad thinking again, shut it off and switch tasks to distract yourself. The idea here is to let yourself get used to calmly co-existing with the pain. This exercise only works for as long as you can be calm — and for big things, like major losses, there's no way to come to grips with it all at once; give yourself time and don't push too hard. Go as far into it as you can go peacefully, and stop before you get exhausted. Take deep breaths, stand up and walk around, and drink some water to help come out of it.
- If you've realized anything as a result of doing this — often in the quiet and calm, thoughts will come to you about why you're hurting — write them down for later, but don't dwell on them now. Don't try to understand and codify the pain all at once, and don't fall into judging or laying blame on yourself or anyone else. This isn't about figuring it out; it's about living with it, accepting it so that you don't go crazy.
- As soon as you're finished, do something to briefly clear your mind: Exercise, read, draw; anything you can focus on completely for a few minutes. You don't want to carry that rawness around with you all day. (Think of this part like physical therapy: You have to unwrap your hurt arm and go through some painful stretches and exercises if you want it to heal…but when you're done, you wrap it back up again and are gentle with it for a while. Same thing with your mind.)
And last but not least, I guess, don't hate yourself for wanting to go crazy…every single person I know, including the most unbelievably strong people I know, has felt that way. Snapping and losing your shit is often way less painful a proposition than slowly working your way through, or back from, a major downturn or difficult situation; almost everyone, faced with the long road of recovery, finds the short leap and the sharp fall a more palatable option. You can't do it, of course: You were put here on this planet to live a life, and to keep at it no matter how hard it gets; that's like, the ONE commandment you can be sure is actually true, no matter what your religion or lack thereof…something put you here and it's your job to stay breathing until it's over. That wouldn't be much of a "job", in the cosmic reason-for-living sense, if it wasn't massively hard sometimes.
If you promise to hang in there, I will too. ;)