Recovery. When someone says: “I am recovering from X”, there’s a whole lot included in that. Let’s say you’re recovering from the Flu. Recovery can be whatever it means to each person: staying in bed, or trying to stay active once the worst passes; eating healthily, or resorting to guilty pleasures because you can get away with it when you’re ill. This could be across one week, two weeks, maybe longer if you’re pretty unlucky. Recovery is as long or short as it needs to be. The point is, you’re going from A to B, with A being some kind of bad place and B being a state where you don’t have what led you to A. Recovery is a pretty tricky thing, and I’m here to chat about recovery from mental illness for a bit.
I’ve never actually said that I’m in recovery to anyone before, but that’s what I’m doing. To say I’m “recovering from a panic disorder” means a lot more than seeking-out therapy, from practicing self-help techniques like meditation, and stuff like that. I’ve never actually told anyone I’m recovering from a mental illness, because since I’ve had it I’ve never seen myself without it. I kind of just accepted that certain aspects of my mental illness would be a constant, because I actually thought they maybe there would be something holistic about “having a relationship with my mental illness” or something. It’s only now that I’m starting to think differently. Now I’m starting to think, well, if I’m in-recovery, doesn’t that mean I should be working towards not having a mental illness at all, or perhaps more realistically, shouldn’t I be working towards controlling it so that it doesn’t affect my life in sizeable ways? That’s pretty significant in some ways, because panic and anxiety shape a lot of the ways that I do things now, and they’ve both had impacts on my relationships with my friends and family.
This has all made me come to realise that recovery is a lot more complicated than I first thought. Getting from A to B an uphill climb, with a lot of falls, scrapes, and breakthroughs along the way. It’s not just a case of winning one battle. I’ve long accepted that my disorder is a part of me, so in that sense I’ve been winning for a long time. On the other hand, my strong inclination to panic informs a lot of my behaviours, because I’m still trying to avoid what is likely to trigger panic. My anxiety, more pervasively, still hangs over me, and tries to bend me towards it’s addictive thoughts. It constantly tries to set me up to fail, whispering in my ear that the worst possible outcome is going to happen, and it’s all my fault. Accepting that that is a reality doesn’t sound much like recovery, does it?
Recovery is a complicated thing, because the point at which you can say you’ve recovered from a mental illness changes all the time. You might overcome a significant challenge, but then your life can take a change, and put you in the direction of a new challenge. To me, recovery is a bloody long adventure. It’s not a nice one, filled with long walks and aesthetically-pleasing views. It’s being up all-night being 100% convinced something new is wrong in your body, and it will kill you. It’s taking someone very important to you, turning absolutely nothing into a cataclysmic problem, and losing them. It’s constantly re-shaping your identity, so that one day you want to suit yourself, and another day you want to suit other people. One day, you want to be a lone-wolf. Other days, you’re loving and you crave intimacy. These don’t always come at the same time. Sometimes you feel like you’ve cracked-it; you’ve had a week with no bad nights and that must mean something, right? This time, you’re evaluating your relationships realistically and seeing your past mistakes. For every victory you enjoy, though, there’s always a defeat potentially lurking around the corner. It’s hard to say whether recovery from mental illness is really possible. I know people who have done, and people who haven’t. For some of those that haven’t, their illness has become a part of who they are, and the way they engage with their illness has helped shape them into the beautiful people they are. I don’t know if I ever will recover, but so-far it’s been a hell of a journey. I want to have riddance of my mental illness, but maybe I should be prepared for it to never really disappear. At this time, I have to say I really don’t know any of the answers to the questions I’m asking. All I know now is that recovery is a lot more complicated than just moving from A to B.