I’m living with Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it causes a lot of unpredictability in my daily life. My goal is to lead a functional life; one that is unburdened by compulsions and anxiety. My “Mental Health Survival Kit” helps me overcome the unpredictability that mental illness can cause.
What is A Mental Health Survival Kit?:
To me, a Mental Health Survival Kit is a collection of items that can help a person cope with their mental illness. Keep in mind that no two people are alike, even if their diagnosis is the same.
What Type of Items Are in My Kit?:
There are two types of items in my kit:
1) Items that help me cope with anxiety.
2) Items that I need due to my obsessive compulsions.
Something I Want You to Know:
Most people probably carry at least one of these items around. However, there is huge a difference between carrying something around because it’s convenient and carrying something around because of an obsessive compulsion or dependency on the item. I have an actual dependency on these items, their absence would cause me a great deal of anxiety and pain. Also, having to carry all of this around everywhere is super inconvenient. Please, keep that in mind as you read this.
What I Keep in My Kit:
Lip Balm (Obsessive Compulsion)
Lip balm is one of my obsessive compulsions. Let me make myself clear, I’m not talking about using lip balm (as directed) for chapped lips. In my case, lip balm application is a severe compulsion: it’s a repetitive behavior that I feel the uncontrollable urge to repeat, over-and-over, in response to my obsessive thoughts.
I probably apply lip balm every 5-10 minutes, and more often on bad days. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true… ask anyone close to me. And it doesn’t matter what I’m doing; showering, shopping, walking my dogs, eating (mid-chew), I even wake up throughout the night to apply lip balm.
It’s an all-consuming compulsion, but it means that I must have lip balm with me (within reaching distance) 24/7.
Band-Aids (Obsessive Compulsion)
Another compulsion I have is obsessive skin picking. To clarify, I don’t mean picking at a hangnail. I mean picking, relentlessly, at my fingers and hands with no regard for hygiene or personal safety.
When I was younger this compulsion was particularly bad; I almost lost a finger due to a severe infection that was caused by my picking. And yes, it was as gross as it sounds. I’ve worked very hard for a very long time to cure myself of this particular compulsion. I’m not sure if it will ever be cured, but I’ve finally got a handle on it.
Therefore, when I notice that I’m picking I use a Band-Aid to cover the up the area that I’m obsessing over; it’s usually my fingers. Keeping Band-Aids with me has been my best defense. Perhaps it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” type defense. Once the Band-Aid goes on, the racing and obsessive thoughts about picking stop.
I especially like themed Band-Aids; Avengers, Batman, Jurassic World… It’s just fun.
Earbuds (Anxiety Relief)
Music is my go-to choice for anxiety relief, especially in public places; grocery stores, waiting rooms, crowded sidewalks, etc…
Anxiety, causes me to experience a debilitating state of emotions (especially when I’m in public): I get faint, dizzy, and nauseous, I feel an intense amount of terror, followed quickly by chest pains, and cold sweats, my mind begins racing wildly, and I can’t calm down.
Music, however, distracts me from my anxiety. Music can alleviate my anxiety, calming it down, before it turns into an anxiety attack or manic episode. I have a series of playlists on my phone that are appropriate for different situations.
Glasses Cleaning Wipe (Anxiety Relief)
This item has a strategic purpose. I get really nervous when I have to go places, and it’s easy for nervousness to turn into an anxiety attack or manic episode. Therefore, I use my glasses cleaning wipe as a “water-break”, of sorts. Essentially, I clean my glasses as an excuse to take a second for myself. It provides me with an opportunity to slow down, breathe, and collect myself.
Take this situation for example: I have an event to go to, so I get dressed (then I stop and clean my glasses). I get in my car (before I start driving I stop and clean my glasses). I arrive at my destination (before I get out of the car I clean my glasses). While at the event I might be asked to help with something (before helping I stop and clean my glasses). While at the event I might get overwhelmed by something entirely random (so I take a second and clean my glasses). When the event is over I might be asked to do something else (before I make plans I stop and clean my glasses).
I don’t clean my glasses because they need cleaned, I clean my glasses because it is an excuse for me to take a second. Basically, saying “wait a second, I need to clean my glasses” is a lot easier than saying, “wait a second, I feel severely overwhelmed”… And I really need that extra second to breathe.
Mini-Deadpool (Anxiety Relief)
I recently wrote an emotionally intimate blog post about Ryan Reynolds, titled “What Ryan Reynolds Means to Me: Maximum Anxiety Effort”. In this blog post I confessed that I carry a mini-Deadpool figure around with me, and I explained why.
To make a long story short: A few years ago Ryan Reynolds started speaking publicly about his anxiety. At the time I was in an extremely dark place, and his words really resonated with me. Realizing that Ryan Reynolds had anxiety strengthened me, and it normalized my situation. So, I carry a mini-Deadpool around to remind me that it’s okay to be flawed.
It kinda serves as my anxiety totem… a Wade Wilson fidget spinner, if you will.
Situational Survival Kit Items:
The following items are situational; I might not have them with me all the time… But they are necessities in certain situations.
Aqua-Man Plush (Anxiety Relief)
The purpose of my Aqua-Man plush is two-fold: he’s a conversation starter and a stress ball.
For example, I am tragically terrified of going to the dentist. It takes a lot of praying and sedation to even get me inside of a dentist’s office. I took Aqua-Man to my last dentist appointment and he was a lifesaver. First off, my dentist (and her dental assistants) noticed how uncomfortable I was. So, one of them pointed at my Aqua-Man plush and asked me “who is that?”. I spent the next two minutes explaining Aqua-Man. The conversation allowed me to focus on something that I really enjoy, thus distracting me from my irrational fear of the dentist. Second, squeezing Aqua-Man keeps me from picking at my fingers (obsessive skin picking) when I’m in extremely stressful situations; like dentist or doctor appointments.
Hat (Anxiety Relief)
I love hats, and they serve three really important purposes for me:
First: Sometimes the nervous anticipation of going somewhere is worse than actually going somewhere. I become riddled with dread at the thought of “getting ready”; simple things like putting on make-up and fixing my hair can seem like an endless emotional war. Therefore, I don’t put on make-up, and I don’t fix my hair. I just wear a hat.
Second: I’m going to share one of the uglier sides of my life with you. Bipolar Depression makes showering really hard, and wearing a hat can mask the fact that (sometimes) I haven’t showered in a while.
Third: A hat is like an invisibility cloak. There is just something about a hat that makes me feel protected. It’s like a loving hug for my brain. My husband jokes sometimes: he says that he can tell what type of day I’m having based on what hat I’m wearing.
Broadway Script (Anxiety Relief)
Broadway might be my favorite thing in the entire world. There is something truly special about live theatre; it is emotionally transcendent. Therefore, I like to keep scripts of my favorite musicals and plays with me. I read, and re-read, my favorite scenes when I’m feeling overwhelmed (especially in public).
I look at the pages of “Boys in the Band” and in an instant I’m transported to the Booth Theatre, where Zachary Quinto is dancing across the Broadway stage. I open “Dear Evan Hansen” and suddenly I’m sitting in the Music Box Theatre, looking at a character that truly understands my anxiety. The world around me melts away; all the anxiety, all the mania… and, if only for a moment, it’s just me and Broadway.
(My relationship with Broadway would actually make a good stand-alone blog post. I’ll keep that in mind for later…)
How I Carry My Mental Health Survival Kit:
I keep my Survival Kit items in a pencil pouch that I purchased at a local bookstore. The pencil pouch (in and of itself) is another item that helps with my anxiety. Is it a pencil pouch, or is it a picture of a dog that helps bring me calm? In and of itself: it is both.
First off, I love the quote that is on the pouch; “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” I have two rescue beagles; Daisy America and Charlie Wonder, and they absolutely make my life whole (and, at times, worth living).
Second, I love the place where I purchased it: Coffee Tree Books / Fuzzy Duck Coffee Shop. It’s a small business in the town where I live, and it is absolutely delightful. I also like the brand “Out of Print”: They help fund literacy programs, and support authors, publishers and artists. Plus, their products are ridiculously cute.
There is a huge negative stigma surrounding mental illness, but it is rivaled by the negative stigma surrounding fanny packs… Guess what, I’m living with several mental illnesses, and I use a fanny pack. I’m a one-woman stigma cure!
Sometimes I don’t want to carry a purse, but I still need to keep my Survival Kit with me, and in these situations a fanny pack is perfect; Comic Book Conventions, theme parks, Halloween mazes, sight-seeing, hiking, working on the farm, etc…
I love fanny packs.
For the record: Cable carries a fanny pack in Deadpool 2, and he keeps lip balm in it. So, SCORE!
My motto is this: “I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”
Also, here is a photo that my husband took of me and Aqua-Man at the dentist.
Do you have a Mental Health Survival Kit? If so, tell me about it in the comments. Together we can spread awareness and help end the negative stigma surrounding mental illness.
Sincerely, the Uncustomary Housewife