One thing that can often help people who suffer from mental illness is to be able to recognise their personal early warning signs and symptoms of relapse and illness. It is often helpful to try and identify stressors and triggers that contribute to illness. It is equally helpful to identify not only weaknesses, but also strengths that can be called upon to help in time of need. Having recognised what these signs and symptoms are the next stage is to create a relapse plan, a sort of forward planning on what to do when things go wrong.
The relapse plan first identifies general early warning signs and then other more specific signs that come along later. One aspect of creating a relapse plan is to identify one specific early warning sign, then look at something that helps overcome it. For example, somebody may identify that one of their signs is to lose weight because they miss out meals during the day. So the plan to help may be to buy favourite foods and easy to prepare meals, setting aside time to eat regularly. Another aspect of creating a relapse plan is to identify people:
Ø That can be turned to for information
Ø Whose opinion and advice you value
Ø To share ideas with
Ø Who make you think
Ø That you can trust and confide in
It may be that just one person or several people fulfil these roles.
The objective of the exercise is twofold. Firstly, to enable people become more aware of their problems and feel more in control. Secondly, to start dealing with the problem sooner rather than later, is far better than leaving things until a crisis point is reached. Early intervention means a better prognosis.
Now before these thoughts continue it also needs to be noted that mental ‘illness’ can and does happen to everyone to one degree or another. It is not an all or nothing situation. Mental health is on a continuum and we all move up and down that continuum according to the nature and number of problems and stresses that we face. To feel low, depressed, anxious, worried or any of all the other emotions that beset us, is a normal response to life events. For most of us, mental ill health does not become a clinical problem, but for 1 in 4 of the population it does.
So how can this relate to life in the Truth? Well we all suffer from sin and we all experience highs and lows of faith, confidence or commitment from day to day. This could be termed spiritual ill health. Sadly, there are times when those peaks and troughs become more acute and a gradual drift away from the path of salvation takes place, sin starts gaining the upper hand, the situation becomes harder to retrieve and a sort of clinical spiritual ill health sets in.
What if we could be more aware of our ‘early warning signs’ maybe that would help to avoid some pitfalls, or at least minimise their impact. If we had a pre-prepared plan of action, maybe that would help us get back onto the right path. In a very real sense, early intervention means a far better prognosis for us! However it is always hard to cope alone, so what if could identify people to turn to in a given situation, people to support, advise and guide. Not only this, each one of us having experienced sin and the problems with temptation, surely we should be more appreciative of the difficulties faced by others.
So what are your early warning signs? Some possible ones that come to mind are:
Ø Reduced frequency of reading the scriptures
Ø Reading quickly to ‘get the reading done’ with no time given for thoughtful contemplation.
Ø Withdrawing from the company of other brethren and sisters
Ø Less time spent in prayer
Ø Attending meetings less frequently
Ø Spending time worrying about the future and becoming disheartened
Ø Spending more time on career, hobbies and other interests
Ø Becoming spiritually more tired and sleepy
Add your own to the list!
What could a relapse plan be? Well first of all identify your personal warning signs. For an example it could be less frequent attending of meetings. Now the thought may run along these lines: ‘My life is busy, there are a lot of problems and pressures in life and I just cannot get to the meetings.’
Now turn it on its head. There are a lot of problems that are difficult to deal with, that is probably true. But does worrying about the problems make them go away? The answer is an emphatic no. Does having extra support make the problem go away, no, but it can make them easier to bear. We read:
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no-one to help him up! … Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Eccl 4:10-12
Does Bible study help? Well yes, because we can always find guidance and advice in scripture to cover any given situation. Again we read:
Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war. Prov 20:18
Does this apply only to war against a physical enemy, or does it not equally apply to war against sin, our greatest and strongest enemy.
So the plan to overcome could be to make a commitment to go to meetings, even if it is difficult. It may also help to talk to a fellow brother or sister about finding it hard to attend; a problem brought out into the open often makes it less of a problem. Does not scripture say “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2 Any plan of course must also include prayer:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” Prov 3:5-6
No matter what our circumstances we always have the comfort and support of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is fully aware of our needs. All we need to do is follow his example!
So, select from your list of ‘early warning signs’ of sin something that is in the world that you find hard to overcome, then think of a plan of what you can do about it. Ask yourself the question ‘who can I turn to for help?’
An indispensible first step is to make the problem a matter of prayer, daily prayer. Then maybe think of a quote from scripture that you can use to remind yourself about what you are trying to change. Then whenever that probelm occurs, repeat the quote to yourself and then change what you do. Thought and action must go together.
Jesus in a sense gave us an example of this action plan. Remember when he was tempted he countered all temptation with, ‘it is written’. So now put your sin relapse plan into action!