The Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned About Mental Health Recovery
When life falls apart, and everything shatters into a million pieces, and you’re not the person you thought and have no idea how to rebuild yourself or what a rebuilt life will look like — it’s impossible to picture a future.
As the recovery process begins — be it through pharmacological, psychological, psychiatric or personal support and therapies — it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing “recovery” is a place you find yourself in one day. That by taking medication, doing exercises and believing in friends, the familiar world of “before” will be restored and life will be just as it used to be. It’s impossible.
The longer I traverse the recovery road, the clearer it becomes that there is no destination.
My life is being pieced back together. The million pieces are rearranging themselves in a different manner, and I’m slowly learning who I am, who I want to be and how I might fill my days. I’m developing a new identity.
The road to recovery is just a road. We’re all traversing a path in life — some are destructive, some constructive and some are complete enigmas. Choosing recovery is about making a conscious choice to move from a known destructive path to the assumption of constructive travel into the future. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of guidance — there are a lot of roads out there. So, it becomes necessary to trust in others to help navigate the potholes and detours and forks in the road.
When I struggle with a physical ailment like a virus or sprained wrist, there comes a time when I know I’m recovered. I feel better — the virus has run its course or the wrist has healed itself. I don’t know if it’s ever possible to say the same about mental health struggles. While I don’t have maladies like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, I have been brought to my knees with major depression and anxiety since 2015, and lifted the lid on eating disorders that plagued me for five decades. For a long time in therapy, I felt I was seeking a magical place. That if I kept taking medications, doing exercises and finding self-belief, then one day I’d wake up and be the same girl I was five years ago. But life doesn’t work like that — it doesn’t go backwards.
We all grow and learn and change over the years. Recovery is just part of that process. Perhaps depression and anxiety will be aspects of my life forever — I just need to implement the myriad tools at my disposal when I struggle. Maybe food and body image will always be problematic and I’ll need to trust my trusty confidantes to help me make good choices. It’s possible I’ll always have suicidal ideation, a desire for self-harm, a natural tendency to do more harm than good to myself. I can ponder the whys but it makes no difference. The difference I need to make is what to do with destructive thought processes — do I concede defeat and go with the path of least resistance? Or do I listen to the urges, but choose not to act? Obviously, most people would consider the latter option the preferred choice.
It’s really hard work, you know.
I’m 53 years old now. For 53 years, I’ve navigated all sorts of paths in life. I’ve made choices that led me to become a musician and a teacher. A wife and a mother. A bulimic and a self-harmer. Every choice is a path. Where that path leads to depends on the choice.
Sometimes roads are rocky, sweaty, god-forsaken and just bloody hard work. The desire to sit down and give up is strong. Some days, the roads are paved with rainbows and unicorns and all manner of beautiful things. These are the same roads we all traverse, and the destination is the same for all of us in the end — death. The path I travel is my life, however I choose to live it. Which begs the question, how do I want to arrive at the end? Which path do I take to get there?
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