What they didn’t tell you about recovery

Recovery. A word everyone associates with ‘doing well’. A positive word. When you tell people you’re in recovery, they assume you’re doing well. That isn’t always the case. Recovery is having the hope that one day you will get better. Recovery is taking tiny steps to feeling better even if you do relapse back to your mental illness. Recovery isn’t always easy, but I bet nobody told you that.

My experience of recovery will be a lot different to someone else’s. I don’t think of recovery as a set path. One day you move 1 step forward and then the next day you’re moving 3 steps backs. Some days I feel positive that the future will get better. Some days I don’t even want to live. Some days I am back to where I was when I was 10 years old. Some days I have the knowledge and hope to deal with my mental illness. Some days I can overcome the urge to kill myself because I know life is worth living. Some days all I can think about is dying. Recovery is a difficult one to explain. Recovery for me now is a lot more complicated than how ‘recovery’ was for Anorexia Nervosa. I am not in recovery for just an eating disorder. I am in recovery for a range of mental health conditions and problems which fight to ruin my life every single day of the year. I am in recovery to try and survive. I am in recovery to one day be free of suicidal thoughts. I am in recovery to be able to function everyday without worry. I am in recovery to be in control of my mental illnesses.

Recovery is such a big process. It is so difficult. A lot of people imagine recovery to be happy and positive but the truth is it isn’t. A lot of the time recovery involves frustration, confusion, guilt and pain. You want to recover and have a good life but at the same time you have been ill for so long you don’t want to let go of everything you’ve known. Mental illness is a huge blanket covering your mind; feeding you lies that destruct your life. Mental illness is nothing but awful but yet when it comes to recovery, you can’t lose your mental illness. You feel like your mental illness is you and if you lose your mental illness, then you will lose yourself in the process.  When you enter recovery you expect to experience a life without your mental illness but that never works.

Relapse happens a lot in recovery. At first, relapse seems to happen so often that you don’t even feel like you’re in recovery. When you are relapsing back to a mental illness, you start to become forgetful and have irrational thoughts and beliefs. You start to fear being left alone. You feel tense, anxious, depressed, restless, irritable, confused, suicidal and isolated. I know that when I relapse I withdraw from everything around me. I lose interest and motivation in everything. I have trouble sleeping and eating and I don’t pay attention to how I look. My grades suffer terribly because I don’t have the energy or even the care to finish my assignments. Relapse is usually caused by a non-compliance with medication, the use of drugs and alcohol, lack of sleep or an irregular pattern of sleep, stress, lack of social relationships, support for the mental illness, stigma attached to mental health, poor physical health and unplanned life events. Relapse has such negative consequences when you have a disorder such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, or an Anxiety Disorder. When you relapse, it’s so difficult to regain control over your symptoms. It’s so much easier to fall victim to your mental illness than try to fight the demons in your head, but once you beat the relapse, recovery begins again.

Recovery takes a lot of strength and commitment. It also takes a lot of courage. Recovery is like fighting with yourself, with your own mind, because you care enough about yourself to want to get better and fight your thoughts and your illness. Recovery is physically and mentally draining. Some days, it makes me ill. Recovery can make your mental illness worse sometimes. My anxiety levels usually suffer a lot in recovery because in order to change and become a healthy, recovered individual with mental illness, I need to put myself into situations that make me severely anxious. I come home sometimes with the happiness of accomplishing something new but also drained because my emotions have been through hell. The process between recovery and relapse leaves you feeling confused, empty, numb and lost. I couldn’t define who I am. I could not tell you a thing about me, because the truth is, I don’t know me. Relapse makes you see life through a false image; it gives you a negative and untruthful perception of the world. Recovery helps you appreciate the small things in life and offers you a little bit of hope in yourself. I am a different person in relapse than when I am in recovery. In relapse, I am silent, isolated, broken, confused, frustrated, comforted by mental illness, detached from the world, spaced out, extremely tired, hopeless and suicidal. Recovery for me only lasts a couple of days but from what I’ve seen of recovery so far is that I am hopeful for the future, I am able to make plans and decisions related to my life, suicide is no longer an option, I remind myself that I am beautiful and that God loves me the way I am, I am kind to myself, I allow myself to relax and appreciate the small things. I am different.

Relapse is torture. Recovery is beautiful. Battling with both is hell.

The most beautiful thing I have discovered about myself in recovery is that I have the compassion and empathy to help others going through similar circumstances. I absolutely hate knowing that there are people out there, even reading this right now, who feel so alone, helpless and lost. I just wish I could sit with every single one of you and make you feel appreciated.

In recovery, I am a mental health advocate. In recovery, I strive to help as many people as possible. In recovery, I educate people about mental health. In recovery, I raise awareness. In recovery, I offer a voice to others suffering with ill mental health. In recovery, I have the courage to make mental health awareness films. In recovery, I have the courage to talk to ITV news to share my experiences. In recovery, I have the courage to speak at conferences on mental illness. In recovery, I am the true me, that is so often consumed by the shadow of mental illness. In recovery…I have the ability to smile, because I know that one day things will get better. In recovery…I have the ability to smile, because I know that one day things will get better for you and that one day, you will smile too. Continue smiling through recovery, and you will get better.

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Above is the tattoo I had a day before my 18th birthday to highlight my battle with mental illness. The recovery symbol allows me to remember that I am in recovery, even if I relapse. The birds signify freedom – freedom that I will one day be free of the dark hold my mind has on me. Hope signifies the belief that I will get better someday, even if I do not hope now.

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