Well today is day thirty in this thirty day mental illness awareness challenge and it means that I have reached the end of this particular journey of reflection. Although I am certain that the reflecting will go on – perhaps not in as structured or even as open a way – but it will, no doubt, continue.
Today’s question asks me to look at recovery and what it means to me. And in truth that question brings several different thoughts to mind. As well as a couple of additional questions.
Questions like, “What kind of recovery do they (the person originally asking the question) mean? Did they mean ‘Full Recovery’?” But then I guess, in many ways, it is – with this particular question – less about what they meant as it is about how I perceive it.
After all, if nothing is or has gone wrong, why would I need to recover?
And I think that is such an important first step. And I can’t help thinking of my own childhood/early life when I knew that I was somehow different but didn’t recognize how or even what that truly meant.
And of course, something or someone being ‘different’ or not being quite right doesn’t always mean that it or we are rendered useless of even ‘temporarily out of service’ (as the above picture) suggests. (I am personally convinced that there are thousands out there who are experiencing difficulties with their mental health who have never sought proper help.) But it does call for a response does it not?
But recognizing that fact and actually accepting it can be two very different things, can’t they? For example: As a child I recognized that I had difficulties with my mind but I somehow became convinced – or indeed convinced myself – that everyone did. They just didn’t talk about it.
Additionally, let’s look at some of the regular messages and indoctrinations that the world throws at us.
‘Be strong!’, ‘Be independent!’. ‘Never admit or show your weaknesses!’, ‘Only the strong survive!’, Or how about the classic, ‘Be all that you can be!’? statement? Or the one which I heard several times as a child – “Well we all have problems, the secret is to just get on with things and not to make a fuss.”
It often confuses me how, if our car starts showing warning lights we usually take note and ask for help of take action to fix the problem. But when it comes to our own lives – even our own physical or mental health – oh how often we try to ignore the warning lights flashing in our minds.
As I said, in my opinion, recognition and acceptance certainly can be two different things. And the truth is that I don’t personally believe, that acceptance is ever full unless we actively, where we are able, respond to the recognition.
And how we respond is so very important isn’t it?
And what I am going to say next I really am saying out of a spirit of compassion and love. And I truly do not mean anyone any offense by it.
It is, in my opinion, so very easy – having recognized and accepted that we have a mental illness – to simply resign ourselves to that fact and to live out the labels that we and others apply to us. To become, if you like, our diagnoses. To be so defeated and/or so demoralized that we just can’t even conceptualize reaching beyond our circumstances. To accept the labels that are applied and to simply live them out.
And I really do make that statement out of a spirit of compassion and of love. And I openly and freely admit that I make that statement in the full knowledge of the fact that there have been times when I have done that very self, same thing.
I fully accept that there are a number of factors and circumstances which contribute towards this happening and I fully accept that sometimes that is all we feel we can achieve. I know, first hand, how sometimes simply surviving through it all is all we feel can do. But the fact remains that I am convinced that simply surviving on the road to recovering is not always actually moving forward towards that recovery.
I want and need to be very clear here. I really do know only too well that there are times when simply surviving on that road to recovery is all we can achieve. And I am making no judgement and intending no criticism of anyone who is in that position. I am just extremely aware that sometimes we can get so very used to that position and that we do always need to be mindful of the need to move out of it.
If we have recognized and accepted that ‘where we are at’ in our mental health, or our lives as a result of our mental health, is not where we want or should be. Then recovery by very definition, it can and has been argued, has to be a destination. Or at very least a journey towards a destination. So to reach it we have to commit to getting there. (But I reserve the right to return to this thought a little later)
And that can be a very long and at times a very painful and stressful journey. Not only for ourselves but also for those immediately around us and who love and care for us. A journey which will require the commitment we have made to that journey and indeed which can and often will require us re-committing to it time and time again.
I made a statement in the above section which read, “If we have recognized and accepted that ‘where we are at’ in our mental health, or our lives as a result of our mental health, is not where we want or should be. Then recovery by very definition, it can and has been argued, has to be a destination. Or at very least a journey towards a destination.”
And I made that statement very deliberately and reserved the right to return to it later. Which I need to do now.
I am so convinced that sometimes we can be forced or encouraged, (even coerced) into unrealistic expectations, or that other people can have unrealistic expectations of us and our mental health, when it comes to ‘recovery’.
Just as there are physical conditions and illnesses where a ‘total cure’ is not available to us. And where the best we can hope for is a) the management of the symptoms presented by that condition, and b) to achieve as best a quality of life as we can with that condition. So too are there mental conditions and illnesses for which the same applies.
This, as far as I can see, is not defeatism, it is simply realism.
Whilst I, of course, accept that there are mental health conditions which are temporary and/or which can be ‘cured’ or ‘healed’. The fact remains that there are some for which no total ‘cure’ or ‘healing’ is currently available. (*Please see statement of faith at end of post.)
So, in these cases, the very minute we set ‘in our own minds’ (or allow others to set in their minds) a destination of the total absence of mental illness in our lives, where this is just not possible. We are simply setting an unobtainable destination. And so setting ourselves up for defeat.
Compassion, Understanding and Forgiveness…
Likewise, as I said before, I am convinced that sometimes the journey through life with our mental illnesses (or the journey to any form of recovery) can be a very long and at times a very painful and stressful journey. Not only for ourselves but also for those immediately around us and who lover and care for us.
And sometimes we will face set-backs and sometimes that ‘road to recovery’ of which so many people speak can crumble. Either before us and even all around us.
And let’s be honest here, among the numerous reasons for this happening, sometimes it is our own attitudes or actions which seem to bring that on or complicate it. Well at least in my own experience sometimes it is.
Whether it be something nobody else could or has influenced, or something brought about or complicated by ourselves or others. Approaching it and ourselves (or others) with compassion, understanding and if necessary forgiveness can be so essential and can truly help.
“What does ‘recovery’ mean to me?”
Well, it means all of those things I have mentioned above. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean one single destination nor does it mean one single act or fluid motion.
Instead it means a whole series of lots of little acts of recovery. Why? Because I am human and because often the road crumbles before me or all around me. And I recognize that when this happens, even getting them all back together and moving on is a recovery in and of itself.
In truth, and bearing in mind what I said about some conditions having no known cure, I am not sure I will ever fully recover if ‘recovery’ is defined as the absence of mental illness, or indeed the presence of perfect (or even good) mental health.
That is not to say that I don’t have hope. Because I truly do have hope!
I have hope that I can reach a level of understanding, and a level of treatment, and a level of management, where I can achieve and generally maintain a fairly good quality of life for both myself and those around me. And even more than this I have hope through my faith.
*Statement of Faith…
Regular readers will probably know that I am a Christian and thus a man of faith. As a Christian I fully, freely and openly believe that God can and does bring healing. But it is neither my understanding nor my experience that He always does bring healing just as and when we ask for it.
And whilst my faith is core to who I am, and will sometimes be reflected in my posts. This blog focuses on Mental Illness and Mental Health and is not (specifically) a faith-based or faith-focused blog. Nor is it’s purpose to be enable me to a) evangelize or b) proselytize.