When I was younger, I was in the cadets and had an extremely full life. We played sports, had a parade night, weekend camps and longer camps in the summer. I can recall at that age watching a commercial that was meant to recruit US army candidates saying, “In the Army, we do more before 9am than most people do all day.” I really liked this because I had experienced first hand the benefits of getting up early and getting started on things early. One summer, before I was even in cadets, my dad set down the rule that we had to get up at 7:00 and eat and do something all summer long. At first it seemed like punishment, but after that summer when I realized that I had more jobs, more money, more fun and more sunshine, plus I had the added benefit of feeling that I hadn’t wasted that 2 month block of my life or my vacation time.
It may seem a bit hard to connect that to mental health, but here as I sit, 48 years old, I have seen half my life go by and have had some accomplishments, but there were chunks of time when I was in hospital, chunks off time when I slept all day because of heavy medication, and I ended up feeling really bad about it. I had really wanted to live a life where 6:00 to 9:00 am was just the beginning to a long and productive day. I will never be able to join the military, but I can still benefit from getting up early and getting a lot done, and I can still try and pass on to you, dear reader, some of what I have learned in chasing the tail of sleeping less and doing more.
So, a lot of people who have been under psychiatric care in a hospital have a bad tendency to let themselves go a bit. It is hard to exercise and perhaps harder to keep an eye on calories since everyone gets the same meals and you don’t have much of a part in making them. Myself, I hate to see when my muscles start to atrophy due to inactivity, and I also like to have a good cardio capacity as I have to walk up three flights of stairs every day just to get to my apartment. When I was last in the hospital I was lucky enough to be in one that had a gym and I could get up and play basketball or badminton and burn off a few calories and then because I have diabetes, I was given smaller, more calorie/sugar conscious meals. There are a lot of places though that don’t have these types of facilities but there are still things that can be done. One of the best of them is walking. It may be good to get on an exercise bike and pedal away for a while, but walking is a bit easier, more calming, gives you fresh air and scenery outside of your room or ward. It isn’t necessary to become an Olympic walker, but if you can try and get 20 to 30 minutes in a day it will make you feel a lot better. Some will want to combine this with push-ups, sit-ups or chair dips (you hold the arms of a strong chair with your hands, and lower and raise your lower body to give your arms a more complete workout than just push-ups would give). The point really is to get moving, keep from getting out of shape, and get fresh air. All of these things will pay you back once you leave the hospital.
One of the things I have suggested before is using swimming as a part of your fitness routine. This may have to wait for when you leave the hospital, but it is an excellent activity. I would go a lot more often if my skin didn’t dry out in the winter. At a pool, you can do anything from light water jogging to high fitness lane swimming where you go as hard as you can. One of the problems with going to a pool is that it can be expensive. As a person with a disability, I get access to city facilities at no cost but if I didn’t have that huge benefit, it would be as much as $10 to go for just one swim. Many pools and YMCA facilities have decreased rates for people with low income and also many public pools will have an hour or two of free swimming every week or so. What you are looking to do by walking and swimming and doing muscular strength training is to get yourself out of the mindset of a patient after you are discharged, or even just at a point where you want to do more with your life.
Some of the things I suggest can seem a bit pointless, but they can be very beneficial. When I was very broke in one of the first places I lived on my own, I would scrape together money for a coffee at a nearby fast food place that was open for breakfast, then I would read all the newspapers that others left behind (some major cities have free newspapers) and do the crosswords and other puzzles. Reading the paper kept me up to date on what was happening in the world, gave me ways to connect to others who were informed, and the puzzles I believe kept my brain sharp. The best thing about the paper was that it had job listings, possibly all of which you can now find online but I recommend not going on a home computer, but instead going to a coffee shop or even a library. At the library you can read magazines and use computers, as well as have access to so many books of all types. But that all is the next step in transitioning from the hospital, where I feel one of two things should be looked into, one being support groups or even social groups you can find with apps such as meetup, and the other being employment. Really though what I want to get across in today’s blog is that it is important to fill your time up. That way as the day winds down and you sit in your favourite chair and reach for the remote control you will feel like you truly deserved your quiet time, and you will much more likely be able to sleep better thanks to getting out and interacting, getting fresh air, and keeping busy. All the best! Please contact me with any questions, suggestions or ideas! firstname.lastname@example.org