What It's Like to Be 'Almost Recovered' From Depression
When you’ve been living in the fog of depression for months or even years, getting better can seem an impossible prospect. And when the clouds do finally begin to part – whether that’s because of medication, therapy, a combination of both or some other unknown factor – it’s natural to want to grab recovery with both hands.
I know it’s something I’ve done in the past. At the first sign of feeling brighter, I throw myself headlong into life, trying to get back to how I once was. I spring clean the house from top to bottom. I host play dates for my kids and invite a different family over for lunch every Sunday. I take on more work than I have time for, and sign up to help with every school disco, bake sale and coffee morning.
But bitter experience has taught me trying to live at 100 mph when I’m only just beginning to emerge from a depressive episode never ends well. I burn myself out and often end up right back where I was.
This time, I’m playing depression recovery differently. My diagnosis of recurrent depression means I have to tread very carefully if I’m to avoid spiraling back downwards. And over the months of suicidal thoughts and attempts, hospitalization and crisis team visits, I’ve learned that this means living life at a slower pace than I’m used to, and being a lot more forgiving of myself too.
For me, being “almost recovered” from depression means I’m still taking a daily cocktail of medication, and am likely to be for a long time – maybe forever. It means I can’t start crash dieting to get rid of the extra pounds the meds have caused me to gain; I need to eat well, and eat enough, to keep me mentally healthy. I get tired a lot more easily than I used to – partly because of the meds, and partly because of the condition. I need to prioritize early nights. I can’t accept every social invitation, or sign up to every rota. I need to allow myself longer to open my eyes in the morning.
Although I need to integrate myself back into normal life, I avoid situations that have the propensity to be triggering or challenging. This means taking a step back from certain friendships, or protecting myself by not reading the news every day.
If you talk to me about my depression, you’ll notice I can’t look you in the eye, and will change the subject as quickly as I can. Because when you ask me how I am, I honestly don’t know how to answer. I’m almost better, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely better.
My house is not as tidy as I’d like it to be, but I’ve discovered that I can live with my kids emptying the Lego on the living room floor before school and save my energy by not clearing it away as soon as I get back home; they’ll only tip it all out again later. I’ve learned that some days, functioning as a normal human being is more difficult than usual. Every now and then, I’m going to need to scrub out my to-do list and go back to bed instead.
I need to take care to keep my stress levels under control. As a freelancer, I’ve had to learn that there’s no shame in taking a bit longer over a piece of work, or even turning it down altogether, if it helps me keep my head above the water.
I’ve accepted that I’m not, and never will be, Super-Mum, and that trying to be runs the risk of making me ill again. And actually, although I may beat myself up if my kids don’t have a friend over to play at least once a week or have every weekend packed full of activities, they’re perfectly happy chilling out at home.
As someone who’s always set herself the highest standards, and has seen it as a virtue to be able to do everything for everyone, it’s not always easy to accept this new, slower pace of life. I get frustrated with myself when I’m lacking in energy. I resent the fact that I need to wrap myself up in cotton wool. Yet I’m beginning to accept that this is life for someone who’s “almost recovered” from depression.
I’m not the me I was before, and I may never be again. But if this is what I need to do to keep myself well, it’s worth every sacrifice.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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