Over the years I’ve noticed some drastic differences in my energy levels while living with schizoaffective disorder. There have been a number of problems regarding energy in my mental health journey and it’s something I’ve worked on for quite some time. For the most part, I’ve had lower energy levels and gaining energy has been the goal.
After my first episode, I reached a crossroads where I decided to not take medication due to feeling too exhausted and I had a second episode. After the second episode, I was given less medication. Despite this, I was still exhausted and low on energy. I had more energy with lower amounts of medications but I still felt I didn’t have enough energy.
I felt despair in feeling like the medication, with its side effects of exhaustion included, was my only option given that during and after both of my episodes I wound up in clinical deliriums where I couldn’t speak, talk, or think clearly enough to take care of myself. My life goals seemed out of reach at this point. Having this notion in the back of my mind made me feel stuck and it felt like I didn’t have much of a choice. It was good I had made this realization but I despaired at times and it was a dark place.
Immediately after my second episode, I had very little energy and the simplest of tasks felt monumental. It felt like the medication was slowing down my thinking, my movements, my response times to everything in my life. I remember having worked two five-hour shifts per week at K-Mart working in the lawn and garden department and in the beginning, every day felt exhausting.
At first, I had very little energy and I blamed it entirely on the medication. I was worried that if I didn’t have the energy to work only two shifts per week then I wouldn’t be able to make enough money to live independently, have friends, and eventually date as well and do some of the other things I wanted to. It was frustrating to think I had to take the medication to have any functionality and sanity while it felt like it was holding me back.
There was a lot of self-imposed pressure and there was a strong emphasis on needing energy in order to attain some of my other life goals. The pressure of having enough energy to do the things I wanted to in life felt overwhelming and it consumed me for months. It felt like a personal energy crisis. It also felt like I needed to have the energy first in order to do these things whereas I learned I needed to do things first to have more energy.
However, as time progressed at K-Mart I noticed my energy levels were improving. There were factors I hadn’t been taking into account. In the five months prior to this job I had slept a lot and didn’t participate in a ton of physical activity. I was recuperating from my second episode. This meant that I was physically out of shape and working in the Lawn and Garden Section required carrying a lot heavy items and being on my feet all day. Over the course of several months, I had more energy due to being more physically active but I still felt fairly exhausted.
After several months at K-Mart, I made the realization that at this juncture in my life I didn’t have the energy to perform manual labor. I was fairly comfortable with making a shift to working in hotels where I would have more energy however, it was a stark contrast to just three years prior where I had a ton of energy and I had consistently thought about starting a landscaping company.
Going forward, I started drinking coffee in the mornings which helped my energy but I still felt fairly depressed emotionally and mentally. Coffee was one way in which I could partially boost my energy. Another major factor in my energy levels has been my mental and emotional health. I’ve taken relatively the same medications for about ten years and over this span at age 34 I have had far more energy than the prior ten years.
As my mental and emotional health have improved my energy has increased. I had a lot of hatred, judgment, and negativity within my belief system after my episodes and over the years I’ve worked hard to weed out those negative components. There was an internal component to this where when I was previously thinking a lot of negative, judgmental, and hateful things it was exhausting. The external component was that a lot of my conversations consisted of judgment, hatred, and negativity. Just having these conversations sapped me of energy but it also made people less inclined to want to talk to me.
Being more lonely when I was more negative also drained me of energy. Along with this when people did talk to me there was less laughter, less kindness, and less of a connection between us which are all things that can be really energizing. In recent years I’ve been far more positive and less judgmental and I’ve noticed that conversations are beginning to be rejuvenating and boost my energy. A lot of it has to do with the connections and positive emotions I’ve been gaining from those conversations.
I’ve also noticed from workplace to workplace I’ve had different energy levels based upon the work environment. I currently really enjoy my job as a peer specialist and I’ve had more energy doing this work than I’ve had at my other jobs. I’ve worked thirteen jobs in ten years and my greatest insight is that workplace environment matters. I’ve landscaped, done carpentry, worked in mailrooms, insurance, hospitality, customer service, I was the assistant manager at a butchery. The one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that when I was happy at work I had more energy. When I was in work environments that had a bad culture that drained my energy and made it difficult to do the things I wanted to when I went home for the day.
Eating healthier has been another major component of having more energy. Food is fuel for the body and I’ve noticed when I’ve had cleaner fuel it’s helped my body to function with better efficiency. There’s research by Doctor Dost Ongur of McLean Hospital stating that foods high in processed sugars and carbohydrates are more difficult for the brain to break down and they slow down cognition. Cutting out sugar has been really helpful for me in gaining a little bit more energy as well. My body has felt cleaner as a result of eating healthier foods and more energized as well.
Another component to feeling better has been exercising. Research states that people who exercise more have more energy. The body is actually capable of generating more energy when it’s physically fit as opposed to when it’s not. I don’t have a gym membership but I have dumbbells at home and I’ve made a concerted effort to build walking into my day and to do sets of weights with the dumbbells when I’m home from work. Building walking into the day consists of taking the stairs, walking around the hospital campus, and bringing small lunches to work. At lunch, I like to eat for ten minutes and walk for twenty minutes when I can to build steps into my day.
Most importantly, I’ve noticed when I’ve been able to attain life goals such as having friends, living independently, and being able to hold a job I’ve had far more energy than when I haven’t. There were many times where I didn’t have enough money and it felt like I was going to be living at home with my parents indefinitely. Being in that predicament felt hopeless and that drained energy.
However, when my quality of life has been better I’ve been happier and far more energetic. Even on days when I’m experiencing symptoms, my energy is more sapped but overall I’ve felt major improvements energy-wise as I’ve become healthier due to being able to have the life I’ve been wanting to lead.
Bringing all these things together, I had originally blamed my energy levels on medications whereas in retrospect my lack of energy had many contributing factors. Over time and with learning more about healthy eating and exercise and making progress in my mental health recovery I’ve had better energy.