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When You Fear Your First Mental Illness Recovery Setback Will Mean a Relapse


One thing most people in recovery dread is the first setback. It feels like you are back at square one and you feel so defeated. Recently I went through my first setback, and because I didn’t expect it, I thought I was straight back to where I started. I felt drained of energy, I cried so hard and nonstop for two days. My friends, who saw me break down, assured me I would be fine and would push through it and be back to my “normal” self. I felt as if I had spiraled back down the rabbit hole again. It was as if the cross I was carrying had gotten too heavy and crushed me with its weight.

I felt as if I was letting others down. In some, I could hear the disappointment or even the frustration in their voices. It made me even more upset to see them physically get upset with me. I felt so ashamed. I couldn’t even believe I was feeling this way.  As I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, I sobbed harder than I ever had. I felt worse than ever, and I basically lost all hope. My solace came in the form of my younger brother. He came over and helped me inside the house while helping me calm down.  He reminded me I was gonna dust myself off and continue on with my life. He hugged me as I cried and told me despite everything, he believed in me — which if you knew my brother’s and my relationship, you would know how strange that sounds.

Another form of solace came in the form of my best friend. She was the one who I felt like I was disappointing the most with this setback. I was afraid of her being upset at me because I fell back. I was glad to know she wasn’t, and when we talked, she told me it was just a setback and not a relapse like I had catastrophized it to be. She told me it would get better and to not let this setback define me. I felt so much better knowing she understood and all I needed to do was continue on.

Just like Jesus did on his way carrying his cross, I got back up and continued on my way. I know fully well now that setbacks are going to happen. This does not mean we are weak, these setbacks help us to get stronger. They test our strength and our ability to bounce back. Recovery, as I’ve learned, is a journey and there are going to be bumps on the way that will trip us up. The trick is to not let the worst of it get to you, but if it does, to not beat yourself up. It’s important to be gentle with yourself and to take care of yourself on those days. Setbacks are frustrating, but necessary. So if you are or have gone through one, please know no matter what you are going through, you will get better. Just hang on, because once you make it through the storm, the sun will shine brighter than it ever did.

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Thinkstock photo via Pavels Sabelnikovs.

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