A New Yorker’s Guide to Living with Mental Illness

As some of you may know, two months ago I moved to New York City as I transferred colleges to pursue my studies in journalism. I am currently on spring break and, for the first time since I moved to NYC, I am back in my hometown in the Chicago suburbs. I had not anticipated how weird it would be for me to come home after living in the Big Apple. My hometown, a city with 200,000, is quite tame compared to what I have gotten used to in NYC.

Walking through a grocery store last night and seeing how calm it was compared to the always overcrowded, busy ones of NYC, reminded me how far I have come as I adjusted to living in a city with over 8 million people. For this reason, I wanted to make a list of what I have learned about living with mental illness since moving to NYC and how I have been able to cope with its stimulating environment. This list is full of coping skills that can apply to anyone dealing with mental illness, whether you or someone you know lives with this debilitating form of disease.

  1. Have a self-care morning and night routine

One of the most important things when living with mental illness is to create habits for taking care of yourself. For me, this means always giving myself about an hour in the morning so I have time to take a shower, eat breakfast, and put on makeup, thus starting my day off strong and not letting depression or ED take control. I also find give myself time at the end of a busy day to relax is important self-care for me to give me something to look forward to and help me wind down before bed.

  1. Balance is key

This one is easier said than done, as are all of the tips on this list, but it is especially important when living with mental illness. In NYC, there are so many opportunities and it can be overwhelming because you want to do it all, but that is just not realistic. Balancing work, relaxing, socializing, and exploring is what I find to be the best for my mood.

  1. It’s okay if simple things take a lot of energy

Living with mental illness means it can take a lot of energy to do simple tasks at times, but that’s okay. Going shopping in NYC can easily take a lot out of me because there are always so many people to navigate. Sometimes I am hard on myself after shopping when all I want to do is lay down because I feel like I should be doing work. I have found it important to honor how I am feeling because doing chores can use up a lot of energy and I need to recoup after that before moving onto the next thing.

  1. Explore, but not everywhere will fit your needs

One of the best parts about living in NYC is getting to explore lots of new places like museums, coffee shops, events, and bookstores. I enjoy doing this, but at times I find my energy is quickly depleted because of everything I am taking in while exploring this new environment. There have been many times where I have gone to a new coffee shop expecting to get a lot of work done, but my head hurts and I’m tired, so I end up leaving much sooner than I intended. Not everywhere will be the right environment for you, so leaving somewhere that doesn’t fit is okay.

  1. Find your go-to places

Going off the last tip, figure out what your go-to places are where you feel comfortable, can get food, and/or can be productive. This will look different for everyone, but once you figure out these places, it takes less energy each day to know where you want to go to get lunch or get your work done.

  1. It’s okay to take a chill day

Living in a city with so much to do at first made me feel like I always had to be doing something, but that’s not sustainable. You don’t have to do everything at once. While I do think I need to keep busy and active, it also can be important to take a day to relax or take a night off. The city will still be there the next morning!

  1. Foster social connections

This is one of the hardest things for me personally, but I know it is important to foster social connections. This is especially true when living in NYC because there are so many people, yet you can feel alone incredibly easily. Working to maintain social connection is important because as humans we need to feel supported and connected to others.

  1. Have a plan, but be flexible

This is one of the best life lessons in general, whether you live with mental illness or not. I think it’s great to have a plan, but don’t be too rigid about it. This is definitely true when living in NYC because you can have a plan for how to get to point B from point A or how you think your day will go, but sometimes things happen and you just need to be flexible. That will put you in the best place when it comes to maintaining your mental health.

  1. When you have the energy, use it

This is one of the most important things I have learned from living with depression because when I have energy I know I need to use it, that way on harder days I have less to do. Never waste time and energy when you have it, that way you can relax when you really need it.

  1. Surround yourself with the right environment

Last but not least, putting yourself in the right environment can make all the difference when living with mental illness. I was very depressed at my previous college, but have found my mood to be overall much better since transferring and moving to NYC. While mental illnesses are internal, external conditions certainly influence them. To the best of your ability, surround yourself with those who support you and an environment that will help you live up to your potential.



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