The Mental Health Portfolio

Whilst in a one to one psychology session this week I was struck by a sudden hit of inspiration.

I have been in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy now for one year for Bipolar and Borderline
Personality Disorder. I find it provides a useful skill set as opposed to talk therapy, but with
fibromyalgia and medication I find sometimes my memory can be self limiting, and I can struggle to remember the acronyms and which of them you use at a given time time. Writing this paragraph has actually struck me with a second inspiration. That’s 2 in less than a week so it is possibly time for a medication review…

I will come back to my blog-interrupting moment of clarity later on to give me time to process it while I write. As I have discussed my progress with my psychologist over the last year we have touched upon this topic of remembering skills a few times. After all it can be hard to remember multiple acronyms at the best of times let alone in times of crisis. The one I tend to use most frequently is STOP (Stop, Take a step back, Observe, Proceed mindfully), although our group has their own acronym for it, but once you start throwing me into the world of GIVE, FAST and DEARMAN I do tend to have to take elements from them rather than remember the entire thing. I am aware that this is no bad thing, as the great strength of DBT as a therapy system (for me at least) is that it can be tailored in a certain way to your own needs. That said, I still have times when I wish I had something more tangible for times of crisis. This week I hit upon the idea of the Mental Health Portfolio.

Whether this is a new idea, a reckoning of my own of an existing one, or I am merely teaching
people the obvious I am not wholly sure, but it was enough to excite and galvanise me so I felt
sharing it with others who may benefit from it was more than appropriate. The idea actually comes from the premise that I am *not currently in crisis and have clear thought processes. This makes for the ideal time to prepare myself for the times when I am not so clear headed, as trying to implement an idea during these times is usually disastrous. I am currently in a place where I have the ability to plan ahead. I am also in a certain productive time at the moment which is helpful. I was discussing with my psychologist that this particular week had gone very well for me but I am aware of some tough times coming up. She asked me how I could use the place I am in now to prepare me for what
could occur later. It suddenly occurred to me that during a time of crisis, even though I have some of the most supportive people around me I could hope for, their voices often struggle to drown out the one in my head feeding me lies. It is all subjective after all when you think you are simply being told what they think you want to hear.

So I wondered what if I removed the subjective element of it to give me a more objective reasoning tool. This would be the Mental Health Portfolio. The idea is pretty simple but does involve ongoing work to make it the best possible tool. The portfolio itself could take a number of forms. You could use a folder like a ring binder, a scrapbook or even simply a box. Then you fill it over time with the reasons you are not what the lies in your head tell you. For example:

• Personal achievements. In my case I am a writer and photographer. I can add blogs to it that
have been published for the days when I feel like a failure, a copy of my book reviews or
printed out screen shots of some of the photos I have put on my Facebook and the comments
I have received. But the portfolio is versatile as you can tailor it to your life so if you are in
a different place work wise look at what you achieve day to day while you are objective
enough to be honest and include it. Write yourself a letter on a good day to explain why you
are having a good day and what you did to make it that way. Or if you manage to do
something that is tangible by your standards include the proof. I suffer social anxiety and I
personally could include pictures of me speaking to people at open mic nights. Or I could simply list how many times I have dragged myself back from the brink to prove to myself how much I have overcome and ask what that actually says about me. And write that down to include it. On the days I think I can’t there is proof that I can. And did. There is a wide scope to this and the only person it has to be measured by is yourself as you are the person it is meant for.

• Relationships If you are more inclined to forget what an amazing person you are to those who love during a bad time you could print photos of the times you are having together, and ask the other person to write a short note about how they feel about it for you to put in the book or box with the photo. Or simply ask those who love you for some advance help with the bad times by writing down all the reasons you mean something to them. Again I probably only have a narrow view of this as I can only relate to what would make my portfolio meaningful to me, but seeing those things written down or on something I can hold like a photo gives me power to argue back with what the inside of my head is telling me. Photos of me playing with my kids, walking my dog or selfies with my husband tell me I do in fact have happy times but also I bring happy times.

• Pretty much anything else that you can put in during a time of positive mental health to combat a time of negative mental health. Like a CV for the times the middle manager in your brain is trying to give you a hard time. Save it all up so you can tell them you don’t need their hassle anymore and are more than qualified for a new position.

I hope this suggestion has not come across like a bad version of being told to have a nice bath or a hot cup of tea. Like with DBT I am working on taking what works, discarding what doesn’t and modifying the rest, so while I hope it will be helpful to a lot of people if only 1 person who reads this gets some use out of it I will be content simply because it is something else I know is tangible. So if it is let me know 🙂


(By the way the 2nd moment of clarity was simply to make a small set of cards with my skills listed to keep on a keyring around the house or slip into my wallet for when I am out to facilitate not having to memorise them. Not earth shattering in case you were waiting for the end of the blog with bated breath)

(Apologies to middle managers. You guys get the sucky jobs)

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