Recovery can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. One thing I wish people were more aware of, is that recovery never really goes the way that you’d expect.
I know that when I was struggling, I expected it to be the most empowering, life-changing, personality and thought-altering process I would ever go through. It would be my “glow-up”. I also thought that once you start, you wouldn’t ever want to go back to your old destructive ways. But, you do. But it doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human.
Unfortunately, most people experiencing a mental illness can have a coping mechanism which is actually self-destructive. These behaviours become ironic safety blankets, comfort zones in a world we cannot control. Therefore, the thought of one day never using them again, is laughable and unbelievable.
But I and millions of other people are living proof that if you just try, it can get easier. At this very moment, I am 605 days self-harm free, 8 months and 2 days smoke-free, completely teetotal and learning to love myself. Recovery is all about learning. You will learn to adjust to your challenges. You will learn to put yourself higher in your priority list. You will learn more about yourself, and you will feel better for it.
I wish I had known back then, that recovery is something that you consistently do, maybe even for the rest of your life. For most people with a mental illness, recovery is an ongoing process. Mental illnesses are rarely able to be totally resolved, therefore ongoing management of the condition is needed. For me, recovery is about reclaiming your life from your mental illness. It is a part of you, but it does not have to define who you are. You should be able to be who you choose to be.
In my experience, I feel that I only have begun to understand myself after I had tried to destroy it. It was in the process of fixing myself that I discovered who I wanted to be. I realised that I had spent most of my life destroying myself in an attempt to achieve peace of mind, which I never got. I never saw ANY improvements doing the damaging things to myself: no situation ever improved, no one I lost ever came back, my mood never balanced. I just hurt others that I loved and had a distorted sense of myself and control. When I tried to accept myself for the way I am, messy bits and all, everything changed. My whole perspective changed. I am not going to try and say that it was an easy, pain-free smooth sailing journey. It wasn’t. But it was worthwhile.
WHAT RECOVERY IS NOT…
- Recovery is NOT a cure.
- Recovery is NOT freedom from symptoms.
- Recovery is NOT an end to your challenges.
- Recovery is NOT the end of relapses.
- Recovery is NOT linear.
- Recovery is NOT how your life should have been.
- Recovery is NOT being always happy.
1. Individual. The same way that two people do not experience the same condition in the same way, how they choose to recover from it is individual too. It doesn’t matter if someone is managing differently to you, as long as yours works for you.
2. Determination. I have learned that you don’t just choose recovery once, you have to choose it every single day. Some days, it feels like you need stronger willpower to forgive yourself than you do when battling the illness itself. Recovery is learning to remember the end goal, adjust to your challenges, all in a healthy way.
3. Perseverance. It is not a race. It is not something to feel guilty about if it takes you longer than you thought it would. It often feels like you’re getting worse before you’re getting better. You might want to give up, go back to your comforts. You might even try new ones, like I did, in an attempt to become less controlled. You can become fixated on the unknown. What happens when you decide to let go of something which has been controlling your entire life? What are you supposed to do now? How do ‘normal’ people do this?
4. Resilience. Learn to separate yourself from the problem – the problem is an event in your life, it isn’t you or who you are. It’s how you deal with it. Problems in life do not make you a bad person.
5. Being present. As hard as it can be, try to keep present thoughts. Shift your thinking away from the possibilities, to the now. Some useful questions to ask yourself are…
- Is this worth getting upset over?
- What can I learn from this?
- Am I overthinking the situation?
- Could I be overreacting?
- What is a positive I can take away from this?
- How will this make me a better person?
- What am I able to control in this situation? If very little, accept that and focus on your contribution.
- What can I do right now to make myself feel better?
6. Gratitude. One of the biggest things my mental health issues have taught me is to be grateful for everything. Irrational thinking can often dampen your memory to how much you wanted the very things you have right now. Even if it seems like there is not a lot to be grateful for, look a little deeper. There is always something. There will always be something if you choose to find it.
7. Self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself downtime. Designate self-care time. Allow yourself to make mistakes and imperfections. Forgive yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Figure out who you want to be. What are your values and goals? Surround yourself with people who treat you with kindness and respect, it makes you feel like a better person.
8. Honesty. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with your loved ones. Ask for help when you need it. No one will ever think any less of you.
9. Insight. Get to know yourself better. Learn about your strengths and use them. Feel your feelings and try to understand them. Use your own experiences and emotions to help others. Notice things in others so you can be the person you needed. Sharing is caring. If one thing can come from all the shit we put up with, is making someone else’s experiences a little easier.
10. Open-mindedness. Maybe this journey isn’t about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that doesn’t fit you anymore. You are not a problem. You can be anything you want to be. Stop blaming yourself and simply remove negative aspects of your life. Know that things can get better.
11. Hope. Remember, the reason you are doing this is to make your life BETTER. No one is forcing you to do this. You want to get better, having hope will make it seem more realistic and achievable. Your entire life is waiting for you. It will get better. It will get easier. Don’t give up now.
12. Strength. Have the strength to say no when you need to. Make yourself a priority. You survived the fall, you are going to survive the recovery. You have got this.
As I have stressed, recovery is a maintenance thing. So, to keep on top of relapses I created a checklist to keep an eye on things…
MY RELAPSE CHECKLIST:
- Have I drunk enough water? Being on Lithium has had a huge impact on the amount of water I have to drink each day. I feel like absolute shit if I become slightly dehydrated, but water is so important for so many things.
- Have I showered today? Have I spent some time on my appearance? Am I wearing clothes which make me feel nice?
- Did I get enough sleep? How have I been sleeping recently – too much or too little? Is it restful or could I use more?
- What have I been eating? Have I been missing meals? Have I been eating too much?
- What’s on my mind? Is something bothering me more than I think it is? Do I have any financial stress? How are my relationships? Am I over-thinking or getting racing thoughts?
- Have I gotten out of bed today? Does everything feel too much?
- Have I allowed myself to cry?
- What about professional help? Have I been missing my appointments? Is it time to go over my coping skills again?
- Have I allowed myself to be angry?
- Have I been taking my medication? Am I taking it consistently? When were my dosage levels last reviewed?
- Are my loved ones okay? Have they been stressed/ irritated/ sick lately?
- Has it been a while since I had a check-up? Have I had my Lithium blood test recently? Could I be feeling a change because my body is changing?
- Have I told someone how I really feel?
- Have I been taking on too many responsibilities? Have I said no enough?
- When did I last talk to a friend? Have I checked up on my friends too?
- Have I recently spoken to a family member?
- When was I last on/ off of social media?
- Have I arranged plans for the near future?
- Have I left the house recently?
So, this could be the day that you stop doing that self-destructive thing you do…Even if it’s baby steps, what’s stopping you?