I’m baaaack! As my first post since taking a break, I feel this topic is pretty relevant.
Recovery from mental illness is more than just taking your meds. This resurfaces every time I overcome a difficult situation whilst taking MH medication. There seems to be an idea that the meds ‘did all the hard work’. I agree, medication helps to settle the ‘biological chaos’, but it doesn’t fix the problem for me. It doesn’t change the way I think or the way I behave, that’s still down to me.
Let’s make no mistake, I would not have had any sort of the wonderful life I have without my meds. They have helped me towards good grades, graduating from university, maintaining a happy and healthy long-term relationship, having some really great friendships, keeping a job, giving me back some form of sleeping pattern and partial control over my disorder. But the hard work was still mine.
For the first time in a long time, my meds are very simple. I take an antipsychotic “Quetiapine” which helps with my psychotic symptoms, sleep, and manic episodes. I take a mood stabiliser “Lithium” to steady my extreme moods – especially mania. Finally, I take an antidepressant “Fluoxetine” to counteract OCD symptoms and bipolar depressive moods. It has taken over six years to find a manageable balance of meds, but I know I can’t stay on this combination forever. Lithium has been known to cause serious health problems if managed incorrectly and this current combination is harmful to pregnancies. One day this is going to be changed and I will have to deal with that – which shows the importance of taking an active role in recovery alongside medication.
People have often told me that I am ‘too together’ to have bipolar… whatever that means. What they often do not see is the behind-the-scenes lifestyle choices I have made towards my recovery. Obviously not everyone needs to make such drastic changes, but unfortunately, mental illnesses often come alongside adaptations.
THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO RECOVERY THAN JUST TAKING MEDS:
1. Recovery means staying aware of your own mental health. No one knows more than you when something is off. Be brave enough to influence your own treatment – speak to your doctors/ MH professionals about what has/ not worked for you in the past. Tell your friends and family about how they can help you. Tell someone when you have a bad day. Learn your own triggers and make others aware of them.
2. Talk about it with the people you care about. Your mental illness can often make it seem like no one else understands. But you’ll be surprised how a simple conversation with someone brings up a lot of similar experiences and feelings. Break the stigma.
3. Your recovery might look different to someone else’s, but it’s still bloody amazing. Comparison is a killer. We’ve all done it. Just because someone looks like they’re doing great, doesn’t mean that they are. Stay in your own lane, focus on your own goals, smash ’em.
4. Recovery is learning to spot your warning signs. It is not always easy to know what you are feeling, especially whilst it’s happening and then having to put it into words… but try to recognise how you are feeling and any signs that lead to you feeling unwell. This can be helpful when seeking support.
My last care coordinator gave me a ‘feelings wheel’ to help identify the different range of emotions. It has a silly name and silly colours, but it is actually really useful to break down unclear moods into more manageable feelings.
5. Recovery is learning to put yourself first. I have left jobs, cut off friends and family members if I believed it was affecting my mental health. You will always be your longest commitment – it is an important relationship to have with yourself. So what if things haven’t gone the way you planned or the new way things are doesn’t match the plan you had for your life. It’s the life you have now, and you have the ability to make it whatever you want it to be. Things will always be okay.
6. Recovery is investing time in your social life. Feeling connected to others is important. It doesn’t matter how small your circle is – find someone that values you and that you can talk openly to. Spend time (re)connecting with family, this can make a difference too.
7. If it feels like you don’t have any supportive friends or family, there are still lots of ways to connect with others. I am part of several online MH pages, including a Bipolar Disorder Support Group on Facebook – which helps to remind me how many other people are going through the same things that I am.
8. Recovery can be mean keeping a mood diary. I HATED doing this at first, but that’s because there are a lot of misconceptions about what a mood diary actually is. It doesn’t mean keeping a long-winded account of everything you do or feel. A simple number on a scale of 0-10 to sum up your overall mood(s) for that day and a sentence every now and then can really help. It can show you a pattern of mood swings/ behaviours over a few weeks or months. This can be invaluable information when you can only meet with your psychiatrist once a month.
Personally, it helped me to learn where I fall onto my mood scale – putting real meaning behind the number. Here is the scale I use.
Here is the mood diary I use.
9. Recovery is taking steps to increase your self-esteem. Believe you deserve happiness, that you matter, and you are good enough. Take time for yourself, until you feel like yourself. Move past the mistakes you’ve made. Recognise what you are good at and why you have worth.
10. Recovery is knowing that the world is a better place with you in it. I can promise you now, there’s no one else quite like you, and it makes the world a better place with you in it.
11. Avoid excessive drugs and alcohol. Whilst this has been an important part of my own recovery, I know it often seems unrealistic in others. A sense of control is important to me, something which these substances do not give me. If you cannot rule out reducing or removing these from your life, just try to be aware of how often and how much you do. It could be influencing your MH issues.
12. MH recovery means looking after your physical health. Mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. It cannot be stressed how important looking after one helps to look after the other.
13. Get. Enough. Sleep. This is one of the most important parts of my own recovery. During my first manic episode at university, I went nine days without sleep – it might have been longer if I didn’t receive the intervention. I had never felt so detached from my own body and mind, and it showed me the true value of sleep. Whilst I cannot fall asleep without my meds, I try to maintain a routine and achieve a full 6-8 hours wherever possible. It can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. It can give you a break and the rest your body needs. Things often seem better after a good night’s sleep.
14. Take time to relax. If you have a way to make you feel relaxed, make sure you set aside time to do so.
15. Recovery is reaching out for help – including contacting organisations. I have created a substantial list of resources here.
[All of these suggestions are alongside formal treatment, not a replacement of, suggested by MH professionals]
Recovery is vague. You might be accomplishing it this very second and you feel like you’re still on square one. It’s unclear. It can be hard. It can be horrible. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, you’ll still have your bad days. It might not seem worth all the hassle while you’re throwing up from your latest side effects or you’re trying to block out allllll too familiar thoughts. But your brain lies to you, so ignore that voice – you were born with a purpose. Your life matters.
I am living proof that the road to MH recovery is not smooth, but is possible. It is not something you achieve once and it’s done, it is something you have to do again and again. It is a choice you have to make every single day for it to happen, and to keep happening. It doesn’t matter if you slip up, or how many times, you can always start again. It doesn’t mean you start from scratch! Recovery is not linear. There is always a reason to start again, to fight to get better, to have better, to be better. It is not a passive process, but a very active one. Sometimes a very difficult one. But trust me when I say, it’ll be worth it.
Here are just some of my reasons why recovery is worth it…