The Mighty Logo

When You're Afraid of Recovering From Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

We hear and talk about recovery a lot. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Recovery is a beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel or any other inspirational (and cheesy!) images you wish to apply to it. The idea of recovery can be extremely motivating for those who struggle and bring hope to those on the sidelines.

I don’t mean to imply that recovery is not a good thing. I wish it on us all. Yet, what does it feel like to not want recovery? This is a question that baffles many. I’m often asked in a professional capacity how do we help those who won’t accept help. To society it makes sense to want to recover, to end the pain. So, why are some people hesitant?

Here I will draw on my own personal experience. I can’t answer for everyone, and I won’t pretend to. Saying that, I do have a response. Recovery can be scary. If we struggle for a long time, then we may lose who we are and our sense of independence. Our identity may become subsumed by our illness. We become comfortable in who we are in the present.

The thought of recovery, to me at least, was the unknown. Who was I on the other side of this struggle? Who was I without my depression? After many years of gradually having my identity chipped away, I had lost myself. Someone once described depression to me as trying to walk or swim through treacle. I’ve heard similar descriptions from those with experience with depression a number of times.

I had become absorbed. I was dragged down by my illness until I had lost who I was. My mum said I had lost my spark. Friends noticed there didn’t seem to be anything happening behind my eyes. For all intents and purposes, I was gone. I no longer existed as the girl I had been for the past 16 years. Returning to me, re-inhabiting my life was a terrifying prospect. Who had I become over the past years? Who was I at the other end?

It wasn’t just the fear of who I would be that had me baulking at the thought of recovery, but also the idea of leaving my comfort zone. Over time, depression had become where I was most comfortable. In my own little world, I was almost entirely apathetic. I had withdrawn inside myself. I had no concerns about school or exams, although I had always been a high-achiever. I worried about friends and family, but I wasn’t living in the real world enough to notice what was going on.

There was little thought process happening. I had once been someone who loved creativity, had a good group of friends and couldn’t wait for the next adventure. Now, my world had shrunk. I lived from day to day. My greatest challenge was making it through 24 hours. My only outlet at that time was poetry, and I wrote it in heaps. That was my life. My writing and I. My negative thoughts and me.

The idea of rejoining the world seemed implausible. There didn’t seem to be a way back. How could I reenter reality? I had withdrawn within to protect myself, as a defense mechanism. How could I be expected to crawl out of my shell and reveal myself to the world? In my head, I was opening myself up for attack, the fear of being vulnerable held me back.

There was one last reason that recovery struck a chord of fear with me. It’s really a culmination of the two explanations above. I couldn’t open myself up again, and I didn’t know who I would be because I had drifted so far from my path. People in my life had continued on the expected path, whether set out for them by others or by themselves.

Growing up, I’d had a rough idea of who I would be and I had been traveling along this road with my peers. Then, illness struck and stole me away. Over time my friends had continued on the same path, but I had veered wayward and had taken a roundabout route while they had gone on with the straight and narrow.

How could I be accepted by them? They had had what I deemed a “normal” teenage experience. They had done what they were supposed to. I’d had a different experience, which I felt I had barely survived. In my mind, I could never go back. I could never fully be myself, return to the path I had trodden, knowing I had struggled so. Believing my friends and family could never accept me the way I was, how could I return to my former life and open myself up to that kind of rejection? It was an insurmountable obstacle.

With these fears rearing up at me, I seemed to have good reasons to reject and to dismiss recovery. Life was easier protected by my depression. Recovery came despite my fears. I’m unsure how much I played a part in it, but I came out the other end. As it turns out, going back to who I had been was easier than I thought. Seemingly, most people hadn’t realized what I was going through or were just glad to see the “real” me back. My mum was overjoyed that my spark gradually returned.

I’ve since learned my depression is a part of me. On occasion, I still feel it here with me. Sometimes, I can tap into it to understand others. Overall, I think it’s made me a more empathetic and sensitive person. I’m still on my recovery journey, but I believe we all are. Whatever has happened to us, life puts us through our paces.

We’re all improving day to day. We’re all changing, hopefully for the better. This may not answer the question on why some are hesitant to recover. At the end of this blog, it’s just the story of one girl’s recovery, and until next time and the next, it will continue.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on My Musings and Me.

Originally published: October 10, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home