There is something in the recovery process that a person with a mental illness goes through where they have to take a good hard look at the place they call home. This person will have to think about the importance of their own quality of life. It can be extremely hard for someone with a mental illness, especially when they first leave a hospital stay of any significant length, to find a place that is decent.
During the first few years of living on my own after I was diagnosed with bipolar (and later schizoaffective disorder) I lived in some pretty awful places. The first one was an extremely rundown hotel where I got a tiny box that had a filthy bathroom down the hall, a view of the ventilation area out my window, peeling and old paint, and a mattress that looked like it had been used for a diaper. Still, in a way, it was a better place than some of the places I’ve been for one purpose: I had lots of work, and I was in the process of applying for the military so I was either writing tests or working out. A sense of purpose can go a long way.
I have talked a lot about the importance of having a community, a group of people basically who you can talk to, do things with, interact with, and generally look out for one another with. There are many ways to do this, but I have found that one of the best ways is to simply establish a routine. I enjoy when I get up early to go ride the bus to work at my part-time job because I always see my neighbour. He is a real grump sometimes but always seems happy to see me in the morning. Then I ride the bus to the hospital I work at and on the last leg of my journey I have usually get into really fascinating talks with one of my co-workers. And whenever I am out in my neighbourhood I think I have to generally stop and talk to people I know 3-5 times.
One of the ways I started to meet more people was when I was in a group home in the same neighbourhood I am in now. Most of the people were staff or clients of the group home, but most of the staff were really wonderful people and just about all of the clients became friends because we shared that common bond of having a mental illness and having to manage all the things that go with it. Taking away any stigma surrounding mental illness in that way can facilitate a great deal of healing.
The next thing I started to do was to volunteer with my community newspaper. Volunteering can look great on a resume but not entail the ordinary stresses and pressures of a regular job. Not to mention that when you volunteer, you can pick where you want to work. I think one of the important things to understand though is that one should take a volunteer job as seriously as a regular job. Hard work pays off. I don’t think it was completely the fact that I volunteered with the paper that got me the job, but at one point I was hired as the managing editor of two online magazines. I was paid fairly well and had to travel across the country for a conference which was paid for by my employer.
Then there is the unlimited potential of recreational activities. As far as this goes, a great place to start is a YMCA where you can join all kinds of sports clubs, from running to badminton. I currently work out at a city facility where I get a discount for having a low income. I have met a lot of great people from working out at city facilities on a regular basis. It was hard at first, I didn’t know how the people that had been going there took to outsiders, but I just kept going, then started to learn people’s names and started small bits of conversation in the steam room and such. Before I knew it, I was doing business with people, some bought my books, and I had a lot of invitations to breakfast after my workouts.
The next way of establishing a community in your life is to attend church. I didn’t understand much about the bible or God or anything, then I decided I wanted to learn more and also realized that there were some pretty nice people in the world who were churchgoers, so I started to look into it. There was a church I went to for quite a while where I made some really close friends despite that I had some very negative experiences there. Now, I don’t go as often, but I attend mass when I feel up to it and I not only am getting to know a lot of people in the area, I leave feeling somewhat uplifted and renewed. I went to a mass a few weeks ago and afterwards I felt an urge to contact a friend I had a falling out with 20 years ago and learned that it all had been a mistake. I really saw that as a sign that having some spiritual belief in my life greatly benefits me.
There are a lot of ways a person can plug themselves into a community. I think though that it can be just as important to have a decent home. I have recently been following a series on Netflix based on and hosted by a female author from Japan called Marie Kondo and it has improved many things about my life. Marie teaches people to tidy up their lives, and definitely brings a lot of joy back into their lives. She suggests that a person go through different things in their home, starting with clothes, then books and so on, and taking each and every article and asking a tough question of it, “does this really bring joy to my life?” and then simply donating, selling or disposing of the thing if it doesn’t. I applied her theories partially, then got a little stuck when it came to my ridiculously large comic collection, but carried through as far as I could, and I no longer have to feel bad when people come over and see my place is a mess. I truly feel a lot better with much less stuff and more joy in my life, more things that I actually use rather than just accumulate. One of the things I really like about her method is that after you cull your possessions, you take each one of the things you keep and find a home for them in your home and always put it back there when done using it. This has saved me so much time spent searching for things, for example for years I have had to tear things open with my teeth or do a halfway job with my fingers or a set of keys. Now I have two pairs of scissors and they are always in the same part of the same drawer, no searching, always there.
The other thing I have done was to put up some prints from my favourite wildlife artist on my wall. They cost a little extra, but I have felt that the money was well spent, I had wanted something by this artist for a long time and the pictures are really stunning. You can likely find some decent paintings to hang in a thrift shop. As my hobby next to writing is photography, I have also put up some photos of things around town and family members and such. It does take effort to keep a place clean, but I have found that once I purge my home of things I don’t need or don’t use, it becomes so much easier to keep things organized, clean, and uncluttered, which is something that definitely improves a person’s mood and also allows them to have guests over more often which can be a great way to make close friends with people.
One of the things that can be most difficult about having a decent place to live is the cost of rent or mortgage, which is always more in nicer parts of town. I feel bad for those who live in the US who have no choice but to live in run-down areas that are actually dangerous or pay ridiculous amounts of rent for very little apartment. I wish there were some national or international governing body that could raise funds and assist people with mental health issues so they can live decently. I had to make the personal choice of living in the poorest neighbourhood in my city and it comes with a lot of problems but luckily violence is pretty rare. I do have to deal with people sleeping in hallways and using needle drugs in the public areas of the building, but my rent is very low and my apartment itself is very nice. My suggestion is to look into subsidized housing, and don’t delay in getting yourself on waiting lists as some of these places can take years to get into.
So Dear Readers, I hope this has given you a little something to consider. all I can really say is that over the many years I lived alone in second-rate apartments and all the years I had a messy room or messy home, I have never been able to do more, earn more, or enjoy life more than I do now with a place I love to spend time in, friends I can talk to every day and rely on, and a feeling like I have a useful purpose in life. Best wishes all!