Mental Health Recovery Isn’t Always Daisies, Puppies and Rainbows (and That’s OK)


A lot of folks are surprised when I tell them that, despite having a great combination of meds and coping skills, bipolar recovery, for me, does not look like complete and total stability.

I still have ups and downs, and sometimes those mood swings are more intense than you’d expect for someone who calls this phase of their disorder “remission.” I wallow, and I cry, and sometimes it takes a minute before I’m back on my feet.

I say this because I want people to understand something: There’s this idea that mental health recovery is supposed to be some kind of fantastic, magical place where we never experience a negative emotion ever again. But it’s a myth — and a lousy myth at that.

I will probably always feel more intensely than neurotypical folks do. I will have some inexplicable sadness from time to time. I might find myself anxious about a worst case scenario that I know isn’t going to happen. I may even have to take a day or two off work to get my shit together again.

My recovery has not been daisies and puppies and rainbows. And to my surprise, I’ve found that most recovering folks I’ve talked to have not experienced the puppies or rainbows, either. We’re all just doing our best to cope — we are, by no means “cured.”

One question I get asked often is, “How do I know when I’m on the right track?” We try out so many different coping skills and therapies and medications that we start to get a little lost; our baseline can change so drastically that it becomes difficult to understand at what point we should seek out help and at what point we can call ourselves “normal.”

What is normal for mental health recovery, and what isn’t? It’s a question I think about a lot.

My recovery goals have changed significantly over time. I used to crave a kind of recovery that meant I would never have to think about bipolar disorder or anxiety ever again. But I’m not the poster child for “normalcy” as I’d once hoped I would be, and having had years now to reflect on this, I’ve learned to be OK with that.

What does recovery look like for me? It’s a series of questions:

  1. Do I have enough stability and energy to meet my needs and pursue my desires (within reason)?
  2. Do I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of my life? Do I feel like I am in charge?
  3. When my mental state shifts, am I riding the wave or do I feel like I’m drowning?
  4. Am I able to cope effectively when confronted with a stressor? What do I do when I’m stressed?
  5. Am I in survival mode, or do I feel like I’m truly living my life?

Ideally, I’d bring these questions to someone who is involved in my recovery to talk it out – whether it’s a partner, a best friend, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. I need to bounce my answers off someone who can help me think through them and let me know if they’ve seen red flags I haven’t.

What does my mental health recovery look like right now? Here are my answers:

Lately, I’ve had enough stability and energy to meet my basic needs. I’m able to perform at my job, make myself food if I need to, get myself to appointments, and I’ve been showering regularly (for those of y’all who have lived through it, you know how big of a deal that is).

I also have enough energy to pursue my desires – I’ve been applying for better-paying jobs, going out with friends, taking on new work responsibilities, seeking out new volunteer and travel experiences and finding a lot of satisfaction in the activism that I’m doing.

I feel, for the most part, that I’m in the driver’s seat; when a mood shift happens, I feel like I’m very much on top of that wave. When I’m stressed, I have plenty of ways that I can deal – Netflix, coloring books, talking through it with my partner, going for a walk, reading a book.

And now more than ever, it feels like I’m living a life I’m proud of, instead of surviving within a life I don’t want to be living.

So for me, my bad moods lately are more like bugs. I still have mood swings, but they are more like your common cold – annoying and sometimes messy, occasionally so much so that I need a few days off – but not-all-consuming, infrequent and nothing I’m worried about.

Do your episodes feel like an ongoing disease you’re battling or like a bug you pick up from time to time? There’s a big difference between a disease and a bug. Namely, the impact, the frequency and the severity.

Who knew that figuring out if we’re healthy could be so complicated? Physical health might be less complicated for most of us because we have a baseline we’re familiar with. But when it comes to navigating mental illness, sometimes we aren’t sure what an acceptable baseline is if we’ve never actually experienced one before.

I spent the longest time unsure of when I could call myself “recovered” because I couldn’t remember the last time I was mentally healthy, if I ever was. Not to mention, there weren’t many resources that could confirm what “recovery” feels like.

When you have no sense of an acceptable baseline, it results in creating unrealistic expectations – that we’ll never feel intensely about anything, that anxiety is a thing of the past, that we’ll be able to get out of bed every day with a spring in our step.

You’re not Mary fucking Poppins, OK?

Are you setting up some of those expectations? Because it’s time to let them go.

I can accept my sensitivity, my moods and my intensity, as long as it still feels manageable. This is subjective to some extent and scary, too, because mental illness often teaches us not to trust our instincts. But here’s the bottom line: If it isn’t disruptive, dysfunctional or distressing, it’s likely just part of the process.

It was a relief when I realized that mental health recovery does not always look like complete and total reformation. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, sometimes there are hiccups – it doesn’t mean you’re back at square one.

After all, a mental health crisis can be traumatic – and even after we’ve leveled out, there’s still trauma to unpack and deal with.

The fun never ends, right?

Let go of the expectation that you should be aspiring to some kind of “normalcy.” Because, hey, there are plenty of repressed folks who would swear up and down they feel “normal” until you get them to start talking. There are lots of “normal” people who wait until the divorce to fall apart. Appearances aren’t everything.

I promise you, “normal” is really deceiving.

Give yourself permission to have ups and downs; give yourself permission to still have “issues.” Give yourself permission to be a flawed, confused, and feeling person. As long as you’re in a space where you can deal with it in a way that doesn’t consume or harm you, I’d say you’re doing just fine.

The reality is – pardon the cliché – that recovery is a journey and it’s not a destination.

It’s especially not a destination that resembles a tropical island or a luxurious resort.

It’s OK to be unsteady. You’re not doing a “bad job” at recovery and it’s not a “setback.” It’s all part of the process, and it’s totally, 100 percent fine. Every journey that’s worth being on is a little messy. Take it from somebody who knows.

Follow this journey on Let’s Queer Things Up.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.




You Need to Hear This Former NFL Player’s Speech About Mental Illness


During his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, former NFL player Charles Haley spoke up in a moving and humorous speech about a part of his career previously left in the shadows — his mental health.

“I walked into the league a 22-year-old man with a 16-year-old inside of me screaming for help, and I would not ask for it,” he says in the video below.

Haley, a former linebacker and defensive end for both the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, had unaddressed bipolar disorder throughout his 13 seasons of professional football. Despite his success, which included a record five Super Bowl wins, he said his life was spiraling out of control.

“But today, guys, I take my medicine every day, and I try to inspire others to do the same. Because I finally listened,” he said.

Recently, more NFL players have been speaking up about the prevalence of depression among retired football players. In a 2010 study of 34 ex-football players, nearly a quarter were diagnosed with depression. Haley hopes to inspire younger players to address these issues as soon as they arise.

“The only way that you can grow is that you’ve got to ask for help,” Haley said.

Watch Haley’s full speech in the video below. He starts talking about mental health issues at 3:18.


5 Reasons My Autism Makes Me an Awesome Dad


My wife and I have three beautiful boys. When I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I was worried about whether or not I had been a good dad to my children. Recently, our oldest son told a friend how much fun he was having with me while his mom and brothers were out of town. I was totally shocked to hear this because, quite honestly, I’m not all that outgoing, social and, well, fun.

Then it dawned on me that there are at least five reasons why my autism actually makes me an awesome dad:

1. Routine

My autism causes me to stick to routines. I’m pretty predictable, but that’s what makes me an awesome dad. Our kids know what to expect from me, and they know what I expect from them. Our relationship is transparent and authentic because of that. Most of all, they know they can always count on me because their dad is consistent.

2. Repetition

This may sound like number one, but let me explain why it’s different. I often repeat myself — a lot. It’s a part of my autism, and I especially do it when I’m passionate about something I’m discussing. This works for my kids because I don’t mind saying the same things over and over. And if you have children, then you know that repeating yourself is a huge part of the job. Bottom line, our kids see me as patient because I repeat things to them until they learn it. With Dad, they don’t feel pressure to get it right the first time.

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3. Resilience

I have a tendency to get really focused on whatever I’m engaged in, and I’m compelled to complete whatever I start. This sends a great message to our kids because they’ve never seen Dad quit anything. I recently graduated with a doctorate degree in four years despite having major surgery, relocating, seeing my wife go through major surgery and having a major employment transition while working a full-time job and being a full-time dad. My boys see that Dad doesn’t quit, and they admire it so they don’t quit either.

4. Reflection.

I’m not overly social, so it’s fairly obvious to my kids that Dad needs some alone time every now and then. Rather than take it personally, they see my need to retreat as a need to reflect. They see Dad as a thinker, someone who takes time to process so they’re learning to become thinkers, too. Ultimately, they’re learning to make good choices because they’re learning to think and reflect first before acting and speaking.

5. Reading

I wasn’t a very social kid growing up, so I took up reading in order to substitute for my lack of a social life. To this day, I’m still an avid reader. My kids see Dad reading all the time, so they love to read, too. As the saying goes, “Leaders are readers.” Every day, we see them learning how to become young leaders.

Our kids don’t necessarily know that Dad is on the autism spectrum. They just know that Dad is a little different, but I’m glad the fact that I’m different is making a positive difference in their little lives. It makes me grateful for the opportunity to be their dad with autism, and I look forward to seeing them grow up.


So You’ve Received a Diagnosis for Your Child. Now What?


After I received my daughter Jasmine’s diagnosis of urea cycle disorder (UCD), the first thing I thought was, “Great, now I know what’s wrong with her and we can fix this.” But I also panicked: “Oh my gosh… I have a kid with a medical condition.”

People might tell you it’s great to have a diagnosis, but then they go on with their lives and what do you do? Yes, I have a “diagnosis,” but now what? What’s going to happen? What am I going to do? How will this affect our lives?

How do I tell my family and friends? How do I explain her condition?

The doctors explained it over and over and we thought we understood what was happening. We thought we understood her condition. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t ready to answer questions.

I called my mom and tried to explain. I tried my best to make it simple and help her understand. “She can’t process protein. There’s a process that your body goes through called the urea cycle. At the top of her cycle, her cycle stops working. Ammonia builds up in her system and she can’t flush it out.”

I must have tried to explain this to every one of my relatives, and yet each time I felt as lost as they were. The truth is, I wanted to crawl in a corner and stare off into space. I didn’t know what to tell anyone anymore, so I stopped talking to anyone I didn’t have to. I went into survival mode and shut the world out. It felt like none of my friends and family could possibly understand how I was feeling.

We brought Jasmine home from the hospital after just 24 hours in complete shock.

The doctor suggested we find groups for her condition. We found the National Urea Cycle Disorder Foundation, the NUCDF Facebook page and my favorite so far, the Urea Cycle Disorders Worldwide Facebook group. Reading about others who have what Jasmine has and hearing they’re alive and healthy and living with their condition was so helpful. The community for urea cycle disorders has been a life-saver.

After receiving Jasmine’s diagnosis, it has taken months for me to fully understand her condition, and I’m still learning. It has taken months for me to tell people what’s happened to our family.

People might think the world is a better place once you receive a diagnosis, like the clouds open up and the sun shines through. But in our world, a diagnosis is the beginning of a long journey. It’s a lifelong road of working to stay healthy.

Jasmine’s condition is now a big part of her life. She won’t “grow out” of it or she “recover” from it (unless she needs and receives a transplant). She will carry this with her all the days of her life.

To any other parents out there who just received a diagnosis for their children and aren’t sure what to do next, this is what I suggest: Surround yourself with good, supportive family and friends and soldier on. Find groups of people who truly understand your child’s diagnosis and lean on them for support. Understand as much as you can about your child’s condition so you can be the best caregiver and know you’re doing everything you can. Focus on one day at a time, and each evening, you’ll know you’ve accomplished something. It may be small but it’s something.

We hear all the time, “I don’t know how you do it.” We do it because we have to. There’s no choice when your child needs you; you figure it out.

Follow this journey on Jasmine Marie and Her UCD.

Do you have a story about your experience with disability or disease? Maybe a moment that made a big impact on you? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.


How Meeting This Fan at the Gym Left an Impression on The Rock


Actor and entertainer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently met a fan who left an impression on him.

A girl named Lexi ran into Johnson while at the gym with her mother, according to a post The Rock shared on his Facebook page. Lexi’s mother then told him how every time her daughter has to go to the hospital for treatment, Lexi says, “I gotta be strong ’cause The Rock told me to be strong!” She also brings a picture of him to the hospital as a reminder.

Johnson was touched.

Hearing that story gave me instant perspective (and gratitude),” he wrote on Facebook. “Moments like this [one] with Lexi will always be the best part of my fame. We all play a part in it, you know? And I appreciate [that] I can share it with y’all.”

I said "Hey Lexi" from across the gym and she came running over and said "you came back for me!!!" Her mom just shared a...

Posted by Dwayne The Rock Johnson on Sunday, August 9, 2015


Since The Rock posted the photo on August 9, it’s been shared nearly 13,000 times.

One fan, Hannah Marie, commented, I have the same thought in my mind every time I go back to the hospital for an MRI, and for the last four brain tumors I’ve had, as well as all the days at the hospital. I am strong, because The Rock says I can!”

Another, Lo Smallcanyon, said, “Awwww… [This] makes me tear up. I miss my little sister. She [had] Down syndrome and passed away from leukemia. I see my sister in her and pray she keeps strong and healthy.”

See the full text of The Rock’s post here



When a Woman Suggested How to Make My Son With Autism Look ‘Less Disabled’


qbb mighty “We need to figure out this stimming behavior so your son looks less disabled…”

These words fell out of her mouth and landed like a slap across my face. This woman, who was on my son’s preschool care team, came to us to discuss loud vocal noises that peers (and staff) found disconcerting. She suggested our son’s self-stimulatory behaviors could prevent him attending outings and also made him highly distinguishable (and thus ostracized) among his peers. 

Her reasoning was grounded in practicality; admittedly, I understood on an intellectual level that vocal stims (humming “ahhhhh”) were annoying and might result in my son Quinn’s exclusion from peer groups or social settings. I live with these sounds and they grate on me from time to time. I knew all this. But here’s how I reacted: I hissed at her, “I don’t give a flying #$%^ about making my son look less disabled.” I went on to say that our parenting priorities for our child have little to do with how uncomfortable or irritated his disability might make other people feel. 

I explained that our objectives relate little to making Quinn look “less disabled” and are focused on providing him with opportunities to develop and work within his own abilities to learn, grow and be happy. Her insinuation — and I’ve heard it many times — seemed to be that our child should aspire to neurotypical conformity, and failing that, we should do our best to make him invisible and unproblematic. 

This insinuation derives from the larger social issues around neurotypical and ableist privilege — or the implicit or explicit understanding that if my child was just a little “more normal” he would be able to participate and enjoy the opportunities that so easily flow to other children. These include friendships, invitations to birthday parties, camps, recreational classes, preschool placements and so on. 

But because my child deviates more significantly from the “norm” and is disabled, somehow the expectation is placed upon him to adapt rather than society. I refuse, however, to believe the onus should be on him to stifle his vocal stims as a down payment on the price of admission to the neurotypical club. He will always be disabled; he has classic nonverbal autism. We have every hope, however, that with therapies and support, our son will find his unique place in this world and do so happily. 

I wish, however, instead of tossing out an expletive (because no one enjoys being sworn at no matter how sincere the content of the communication), that I had walked way. I wish I could have gathered my lioness-like instincts and channeled them into a more productive discussion. Because this woman is a caring person who would likely have been receptive to my message. 

I think she would have empathized with my view that instead of trying to silence the vocal stim, we smile at his joy or assess if he’s overstimulated and needs a quiet room. She likely would have agreed that instead of glaring as a child has a public meltdown, that parents receive offers of assistance. And hopefully she would have been receptive to my plea for a society that instead of begrudging a request for an accommodation, greets these with more kindness and support. 

This is the kind of world I want our son to grow up in. The woman who made this comment likely comes from a more realist camp; she knows this isn’t the world we live in. I missed out on my chance to ask her to join me in cultivating better expectations for society, and thus my son. Because I know we both have similar objectives; she wanted Quinn not to stand out to fit in. I want Quinn to stand out and still fit in. 

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


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