To the Person Just Beginning Their Mental Health Recovery
To the person just beginning their mental health recovery,
It’s time. You’ve finally decided to work on whatever demon(s) have been taking over your life. You are excited to be feeling better and getting back into the swing of things – getting back to “normal.” Maybe you’re on medication. Maybe you’re in therapy. Maybe you’re working through a self-help workbook. Whatever it is that you’re doing, you’re dedicated.
You’re likely also nervous, confused and maybe even a bit scared. Mostly though, you probably just can’t wait to start feeling better.
But, the weeks might pass by. Those weeks could become months, maybe even years. You might begin to wonder if you will feel better. If you can feel “normal.” If all of this effort is worth it.
I promise you it is. Please keep going. Please don’t give up.
Here are my suggestions to you:
1. Commit to a new “normal.”
There really is no such thing as “normal.” I know that’s an annoying cliché that you might not believe, but it is true. Normal for you might mean medication every day for the rest of your life. Normal might mean therapy once a month for the rest of your life. Normal might mean finding a job that allows you to work from home. Normal might be glancing at your scars and remembering why you started all of this work in the first place, every single day. Whatever your normal is, embrace it. And realize that the changes you’ve made to get to today have been worth it, no matter how small the positive step may be.
2. Embrace the exhaustion.
Working on yourself happens 24/7. Your brain might be battling against itself so much, especially initially. Changing your negative beliefs or patterns might feel inauthentic and unnatural. Waking up in the morning might be a struggle. Attending appointments or remembering to pick up your medicine will probably take work. The steps on the road to recovery involve so much extra effort. Effort that your already defeated brain will have difficulty with. It’s OK if you need to take a nap. It’s OK if you need to ask friends or family to pick up your medicine for you because it’s just too difficult today. It’s OK if you need to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, like a grandma, just to help yourself process a long week. As long as your path keeps leading you in an upwardly positive direction, it’s OK to rest. Resting is a large part of the recovery process.
3. Do what works for you.
Advice will come from every which way: keep a gratitude journal, write down three things that you did write every day, go to therapy take medication, admit yourself to the hospital, exercise more, sleep more, eat healthier foods, just force yourself to get out and do things. The advice alone can be enough to make you retreat back into bed. That being said, if someone’s advice appeals to you, give it a shot. If it works, great. If not, great. Take what you need and leave the rest. Recovery is about you, so find what works for you and stick to it.
4. That being said, sometimes what works in the beginning stops working.
Maybe taking a bath used to help but now you find it doesn’t. Or a tried and true medication doesn’t seem to be helping you level off anymore. It’s frustrating, but it is completely fine. Search for what works now. If in the past year, your journal has been your main source of moving forward, but lately it feels like a chore and you get down on yourself because you’re not writing in it, then let the journal go. The tools you have in your toolkit are cultivated by you and when one of your tools doesn’t seem to fit in the kit anymore, move on and either replace it or realize you might not need it anymore.
5. Don’t stop searching.
No one tells you that recovery might feel like a never-ending scavenger hunt. If you’re testing out medications and you already feel bad, and then you find out that the medication is going to cause side effects for three weeks and you won’t know for six weeks if it’s going to work, it’s the most frustrating thing. But it’s important. Journaling might not work on day one, but maybe it will click on day eight. Therapy might feel awkward and useless for some sessions, but then you will open up and have a break through five weeks in. Who knows what path your attempts will take. You need to keep searching for the moments of improvement, they will pay off.
6. Finally, take note of what you’re doing when you don’t notice you’re ill.
Maybe you’re on vacation in the middle of the ocean and you feel light as a feather without a care in the world. Maybe it’s when you immerse yourself in a movie at the theater. Maybe it’s when doing a zumba class at the gym. We can’t always be on vacation and find the ocean, but if in that moment you are carefree, do what you can to recreate it in your natural environment. Be outside near a lake, a beach, a pool, heck, even a kiddie pool! When something makes you feel good (and is safe and isn’t destructive), reach for it and ensure it finds a place in your everyday life. Recovery is work, but it should also involve some play and moments of peace.
So fellow warrior just beginning your journey, take heart and take note. It might not be easy. It might not feel “normal.” It will probably take time. You might stumble, fall and even fail. You might try more things that don’t work than things that do. You might be mad, sad, frustrated. You might regress. You might also fly. You might find what works. You might notice one day that your illness is getting farther away, whether it’s miles away or inches away, as long as the trend is toward health, you’re doing the right thing and you’ve got this.
A fellow recovery warrior you’ve never met but who can relate
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Thinkstock photo via frimages