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Process Over Progress on My Mental Illness Recovery Journey

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I have always struggled with the whole concept of “recovery” from mental illness. It would be nice if it was some neat, ordered, linear process with quantifiable markers of success. I think if we are honest enough with ourselves we would realize we all wish for that. It would be nice if there was a 12 step program or magic wand we could wave and all of a sudden all the pain and heartache would go away and we would be better.

Instead it is a tangled mess of two steps forward, three steps back and then slipping on a piece of junk and riding the spiral downwards to end up somewhere near where you started or sometimes even further away from your “goal.” I have also found the further I journey into recovery, the more I realize my efforts and striving and struggle have brought some improvements, but my final destination isn’t actually where I thought it was going to be. It has now changed and I am left feeling that for all of my striving I still have so far to go. It can be a little disheartening.

It can be hard to explain the journey to those who don’t understand it, because they would think that surely after being in therapy for a year and a half and taking medication surely you must feel “better,” as if a lifetime of experiences both negative and good is something that can be processed and healed in a short period of time.

Even my doctor tries to put a number on my progress. She tries so hard to justify some level of improvement and laments when I tell her today is not a good day to ask me that question. I hate those scaled assessments they make you do because I feel such a broad spectrum of feelings, which cannot be simplified down to a five point scale.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Recovery Warriors group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Recovery Warriors is a safe space for anyone who's in the process of mental or physical healing. Lean on others for support and celebrate your recovery milestones here. Click to join.

Some days I question if it is worth all of the effort I have to put in to achieve so little on my journey to wellness, but that is when I turn to those close to me for a little bit of motivation. And maybe my goal needs to change? Maybe I will never be free of depression and anxiety as society once led me to believe I could be. Maybe I will learn that while these things are a part of my story, they do not define me. Until then, I will take the steps, try not to slip on any junk and keep on the journey, no matter how painful it may be.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Originally published: November 11, 2020
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