For a while now, I’ve been wanting to share more of what I learned about mental illness recovery from the workshops I attended in hospital, and from the Recovery College courses I’ve been on since I left. The other day, as I was flicking through my bullet journal from the start of 2017, I remembered that the first notes I wrote up after leaving hospital were about The Nine Pillars of a Balanced Life.
It’s almost a year since I attended this workshop, but the message I received there still rings true: I need to regularly review my life in order to make sure I don’t neglect any areas of it, and to make sure I don’t put too much time and energy into any other areas of it either. I need balance. I need all-round nourishment. I need to look after the whole me.
The theory goes something like this: think of your life as a ceiling that is held up by nine pillars. If one or two of those pillars are a neglected and fall down, the ceiling should stay up, but if more than a few pillars are neglected, then the ceiling will come crashing down, or at least be at risk of it. I think this is one of the reasons I became as mentally ill as I did: there were pillars on which I spent very little time and energy, and pillars on which I spent too much, and it made me vulnerable.
So what are these nine pillars?
- Contribution e.g. volunteering
- Hobbies and leisure
- Physical exercise
- Family time
- Time by myself/me time
- Personal growth
- Significant relationship
I don’t think that this list is the list to end all lists, but breaking my life down in this way gave me defined areas to assess and work on. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! I discovered I’d been putting a lot of time and energy into volunteer work that I no longer found fulfilling, and I’d been putting very effort into my personal growth and leisure. The time I did spend on leisure was in front of the TV. Work was also a problem pillar. As a full-time mum, I’d reached the point where my kids didn’t need me to be as hands-on as I had been, and I’d yet to find a new sense of purpose or direction. I couldn’t write fiction any more either – I’d lost my creativity. Basically, I now realise that I had low-level depression for quite some time before anxiety took hold. Because my life was unbalanced, I was mentally fragile, and it didn’t a particularly big last straw to break this camel’s back.
Sitting in this workshop, I had one of those light-bulb moments. I could see how unbalanced my life was and that I needed to rebalance it. The nine pillars gave me a framework to do that. When I’d first become really ill, I’d laid down all my volunteering responsibilities, so I decided to go through the list and see if there were any I wanted to pick back up. Of the ten ministries I was doing at church, I’m now only doing two – none of which involve small children – and I am so much happier. Slowly, my creativity has returned. I am now selling handmade cards, and although I’m only making pin money at the moment, I feel a sense of achievement every time I sell one; I’m excited about the new opportunities this might bring. Physical exercise fell by the wayside last year, but now I’m getting out for short walks and intend to build up from there. In fact, I’ve renamed the Exercise pillar, Exercise and Nutrition as my diet is something I also need to address.
Looking at this list could be overwhelming if there are a lot of neglected pillars in your life. It might also be disheartening to see how unbalanced your life is, but Rome, as they say, wasn’t build in a day. It’s okay to take it slow. It’s okay to address each pillar one at a time. It’s okay to tweak and keep tweaking; we are all works in progress.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised that I haven’t put a regular review of my nine pillars in my planner, so that’s what I am going to do right now. I’m going to add it to every month in the Future Log of my current bullet journal, so that I never overlook it again.
So, how about you? What do you think about this pillar idea?
Thank you for reading! Catch you soon. xxx