Building a life worth living is a big part of DBT and it’s something I haven’t worked on much or even thought about until recently. I’ve been unwell for well over a decade and have been in hospital for a year and a half. I’ve never been a mentally well adult and have not been able to function at a normal level since school. For these reasons I have always found it very difficult to think of a life outside of my illness and in some ways that can hold me back in recovery. However just weeks before I’m due to go to a specialist unit which can help me I have an idea of how life will look when I come out of hospital.
I know I won’t come home fully recovered and jumping with the joys of spring but I imagine I’ll be able to function. I want to attend outpatient appointments with my mental health team but alongside that I want to work in a bakery, go to ballet classes, help out with the younger ballet classes and prepare and cook my own meals and snacks from scratch. I could then channel my obsession with food down a productive and enjoyable route whilst still enjoying dance and exercise at a sensible level.
If I can maintain that lifestyle for a while then the next step will be learning to drive and getting a place of my own even if that’s renting a studio flat. Then the next step, and the one I’m most excited about will be becoming a mother. I’ve already decided for very personal reasons that I want to be single so I will go to a clinic and use a sperm donor to conceive.
I think it is good to go to this new unit with an image of what I want my life to look like when I come home. So this is me thinking of building a life worth living.
My dietitian introduced me to SMART goals and I find that they are a very useful and helpful concept. It feels to me like taking the ‘baby step’ approach which is often what is needed when recovering from mental illness.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. So the goals that you set for yourself must be clear and well defined, you must be able to know when the goal has been achieved but it also must be something that is possible and not too far away. You should make a time frame for your goal which is suitable-it must be enough time to achieve the goal but not too much time so that you don’t feel unmotivated.
When first asked what my goals for recovery were I answered:
- Being able to eat any food.
- Have something more important to me than anorexia.
- No longer obsess over weight and shape
- Live instead of exist.
- Less thoughts of self harm and suicide.
- Able to love myself and others.
These goals are very big and broad. It would take a long time to achieve some of them and others are not specific nor measurable so it would be difficult to know when they have been achieved. SMART goals break these down into little chunks, for example “I will eat a new food a Friday” which will help me to become comfortable with a ‘fear food’ and slowly I can build on this goal in order to reach the big goal of being able to eat any food.
I think that SMART goals are definitely helpful when recovering from mental illness, they can be used for all sorts of illnesses and phobias. Whether you have the goal of catching a bus or going out with a friend or taking your medication or not giving into OCD, setting small, achievable goals can help you to reach the huge goal of recovery.