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7 Important Lessons I Learned During Mental Illness Recovery

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My journey of recovery has been far from easy and it is far from over. But throughout the number of years I’ve been in recovery for various different mental health conditions, I have learned a thing or two that nobody prepared me for.

1. It’s hard.

Of course, I never expected it to be easy, but I never once thought it would be as difficult as it has been at times. I honestly believe those in recovery for any condition deserves some kind of medal — it’s difficult, incredibly difficult. Sometimes it seems impossible. It isn’t, and trying to remember recovery is, in fact, possible during the hard times doesn’t always make things any better, but it can help a little bit.

2. Sometimes you don’t always want it.

I constantly go through fluctuating moments of wanting to recover, then wanting to relapse, then wanting to stay exactly where I am and then wanting to recover again… and it’s exhausting. When you don’t want to recover and people keep telling you to, it can get really overwhelming. You keep fighting for it anyway — just in case. Eventually, you remember why you wanted it and fight on harder.

3. You realize you see the world differently.

I remember when I was younger and I thought that, when I recovered, everything would go back to the way it was before. But in the times when I’ve felt closest to being recovered, it never has. That’s because the world changes. Things aren’t going to go back to the way they were and that’s scary sometimes. Good things come in all different forms — happiness might look a little bit different now, and that’s OK.

4. You feel an incredible amount of pressure from yourself.

In my lowest points of recovery, a lot of what was keeping me from relapse was this constant fear of disappointing everybody and letting them all down. I wanted to recover the best — I wanted to recover the fastest. I wanted to go back to who I was as soon as possible so I could make my family proud, make my boyfriend happy, make my friends feel at ease again. It wasn’t ever going to be that easy. A lot of the time, the people you want to prove yourself to are proud of you for simply continuing to exist. Once I realized that and started to loosen the reins a little bit, it got an awful lot easier.

5. It does not become a part of your personality.

Have you ever played that “Getting To Know People” game where you have to say your name, your age and something interesting about yourself? I hate it. I always found it incredibly difficult to think of something about myself that was separate from my mental health. I struggled to differentiate myself and who I was from the diagnosis on a piece of paper. This makes recovery difficult, because then I became afraid of who would be waiting for me on the other side. Who would I become? What would be left of me when the mental illnesses were stripped away? I still have no idea what the answer to that is, but I know the version of me that is waiting at the end of all this will be so much happier than the “me” stuck in the middle. That makes it worth it.

6. Sometimes you miss being ill.

Some days, when I’m doing well, I think back to the days when I was really struggling and I would miss it. I wouldn’t want to go back to that place, but I would miss part of it. Recovery feels very risky; sometimes it feels incredibly unsafe as you have to let go of maladaptive coping mechanisms you’ve held on to for so long. You don’t miss what you used to do and the consequences that came with it, but you miss the feeling of safety. Eventually, if you keep going on, you’ll find safety in better places.

7. You need to find something to believe in.

People who live with mental illnesses sometimes find it difficult to believe in themselves — I certainly do — so I found someone else and something else to believe in. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; believe in the little things. Believe in friends, in family, in rainy days and autumn leaves. Believe in the little things that make you smile, because they’re something you can always hold on to. If you can hold on to that, they will get you by until you can believe in yourself.

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Thinkstock photo via m-gucci

Originally published: March 31, 2017
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