The Journey of Recovery

Recovery is a tricky word.

re·cov·er·y /riˈkəvərē/

  1. A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength: “signs of recovery in the housing market”.
  2. The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost: “the recovery of his sight”.

First, what exactly is “normal”?  I typically refrain from using that word, because there really is no standard definition of normality that is not relative to a societal standard.  In mental health, there is no standard.  There is no “normal”.  Everyone remains precisely unique in their own conscious and subconscious cognition and emotional regulation and processes.  No neurology is identical and no biochemistry is identical either.  Therefore, normality cannot be judged against anything.

I would rather substitute words like “typical” and “average”.  Typical describes a certain relativity, but does not fail to include atypical presentations as something that might be “normal”.  In addition, the word “abnormal” carries such a heavy stigma.  The other words carry a connotation of individuality, as seen in our uniqueness as humans, being part of the human condition.

Secondly, I would deviate from using the second definition.  I am not reclaiming possession of anything.  There was nothing lost in the first place.  There was a dysfunctional state of mind and being.  The only thing that was disrupted was typical functioning.  I would refrain from claiming that there is any possession in function.  It provides a definition of a standard of control that is impossible to achieve, even at the highest and best of functioning.

It is impossible to describe it as the process of “getting better”.  That insists that I can return to the state of mind and living prior to the onset of symptoms.  In fact, for me, I am not entirely certain that such a place even exists – I have been symptomatically in one way or another for longer than I can recall.   There are no U-turns in this journey.  The path does not allow for that.  There is only forward.

Getting Better has the wrong meaning when it is being used.  “Better” is often thoughts of a permanent state of wellness where we are devoid of symptoms entirely.  It may be a daunting thought, but I do not necessarily believe that mental health disorders have a solution or a “cure.” No such state of “better” is in existence.

Recovery to me means many things.  I can describe it best as a process toward refining overall wellness and optimal mental health.  There is always a state of progression of “getting better”. That’s what recovery is.  A road.  A journey without a particular destination.  There is no end of the road, just the road itself.  Sometimes, it’s smooth and flat, and other times it winds, laden with potholes and detours.

The responsibility rests on me to navigate this road as best as possible.  I should anticipate these hazards.  When I’ve lost my route, I can plan to reroute with the help of certain guide posts and road markers.  I should understand that everyone loses their way.  Everyone gets a flat from time to time.  And there is no shame in stopping to ask for directions or calling roadside assistance.  These people exist for a reason.

And above all else, it’s my own journey.  No two journeys are alike.  It’s irresponsible to hold my journey against another as the standard.  And even when the weather is bleak and I am on a turbulent road, I should always look forward and keep my eyes open for clear skies.  The journey itself is all that matters.

11 thoughts on “The Journey of Recovery

  1. Great post! I take issue with the word recovery. There’s a lot of pressure behind that word. I like to use management.

    • Management is a good word. I like that. Recovery definitely pushes the idea that there is an end destination to being fully recovered. I’m not sure there is a such thing. It’s an awful thing to say, and I don’t want to discourage anyone by saying that there is no end point, and that there is no hope for being fully recovered. But, I think there is always room for improvement, and better management of symptoms of disorder(s).

  2. Very good post. Managing mental illness is key. It’s taken until my mid thirties, to realise that I will never be fully recovered, but things can improve and I need to be forgiving of the fact that there is an illness at play here

    • When I first started seeing my second Pdoc, my most recent (I’m in the process of switching docs), he likened it to a chronic somatic illness. We were discussing maintenance medications, and the inevitable question came out. “Will I have to be on these medications for the rest of my life?”

      The answer? Yes. Of course it was yes!

      And he went on to say, “If you had diabetes, you’d be on insulin. If you had heart disease, you’d be on statins. It’s no different.”

      That’s when I started to believe in the physical model of mental illness. Mental illness is, what my psych teacher in college used to say, faulty wiring. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance. Maybe it’s genetics. Whatever it is, there is medical proof that a disordered brain looks different, even if it’s slightly, on brain scans.

      So, that begs the question, are people with MS, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinsons, etc, ever cured? No. There is no cure. There is maintenance. And that’s the best we can do

      It sounds like a really haunting thought. “I’ll never get better.” What is better? Better is a relative term. Better than what? Sure, we can “get better” by increasing our mental wellness. And that’s what keeps me going with my own hope to manage my disorder.

      • I think of bipolar as a relapsing-remitting disease. There is usually a point of remission (stability) which can be short or long. But the key to remission is management of the illness through medicine and behavior changes, this includes avoiding triggers.

        • In the course of my treatment, I have only ever experienced a three month period of stability. That’s three months in three years. It’s difficult for me to believe that there is a place I can get to that might be symptom free. Because even in my “stable” state, I was still mildly symptomatic.

          I don’t want to suck all hope out of it. I really don’t. I am trying to be realistic about it for myself. And maybe once I lower the bar a little, then I can start to experience more relief.

  3. Well, I would say that maybe recovery is regaining control over yourself when you’ve lost it? I don’t know. I’m not sure I ever had much control in the first place . . .

    • Control is an illusion I get caught up in all of the time. I have difficulty with control, because I prefer to be in total control. That is, unless I have willingly given control over to someone else.

      The worst feeling for me is feeling like I’m losing control over myself or a situation. I’m so far gone at this point that I don’t generally even like to be in public anymore. I’m afraid that I’m going to have some kind of public meltdown, because I’ve come so close before.

      Part of it stems from domestic abuse, and I know it. My husband falls victim to a lot of that, because he likes control too. He’s not trying to harm me, but I am always defensive in certain situations.

      Wanting to have so much control makes me lose even more control. It’s kind of like grabbing a handful of M&M’s with the same hand. When you attempt to grab more, then a whole bunch spill out of your grasp.

      I think part of recovery, for me anyway, is surrendering control. I can’t control everything all of the time. And there are going to be some points where I won’t even be able to control myself. Instead of control, I should be managing symptoms, rather than attempting to subdue my behavior.

      For me, behavioral suppression is more dangerous than taking the time to talk myself down off of the ledge after I’ve already lost it. Have you ever tried to hold a kid down? Or really anyone else for that matter? It’s close to that, in a metaphorical way. I will kick and scream, and act out even worse. Because when a maladaptive behavior pops up, then it’s trying to convey that there is something serious that needs attention.

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