I have a friend who is the epitome of stability, but twenty-seven years ago she was diagnosed as insane. Before stability, she would flit off to France at a moments notice because she had a craving for duck confit, dash to Pamlona to run with the bulls during the festival of San Fermin because she felt such an overwhelming yearn to taunt something wild. She sailed the Grenadines and married a deckhand she had known for less than a week, divorcing him one month before their son was born. In the throes of psychosis she looked at her son and saw a laughing child covered in blood. The macabre hallucination tormented her, accused her of killing him and urged her to follow. Convinced that she had murdered her own child, she swallowed two vials of medication and attempted to hang herself. Before she could finish tying the knot that would end her life, her ex husband arrived unexpectedly, he had been concerned about her increasingly erratic behaviour and had “a bad feeling” that drove him to check in on her. She was taken away by ambulance and hospitalized under a mental health act, deemed both unfit and insane, until five months later when she was diagnosed as manic depressive, now know as bipolar disorder. Since her initial hospitalization, my friend has been admitted to psychiatric facilities seven times, each time unwillingly and in the depths of psychosis or delusion. Every time she was released from hospital she came out a little bit stronger and more aware of her illness and her triggers. It has been over a decade since she has been admitted to hospital or experienced psychosis of any sort. When I asked her what the golden key was that gave her stability she chuckled and said, “there is no stability without recovery.”
When we hear the word recovery most of us not living with a mental illness automatically relate the word to addiction and rehabilitation, which obviously fits, but when it comes to mental illness, the Canadian Mental Heath Association states,
Recovery is the personal process that people with mental health conditions experience in gaining control, meaning and purpose in their lives. Recovery involves different things for different people. For some, recovery means the complete absence of the symptoms of mental illness. For others, recovery means living a full life in the community while learning to live with ongoing symptoms.
My friend the loving mother, devoted wife, and Community Outreach Organizer, credits her recovery to structure, routine and discipline. She takes her medications faithfully at the same time every day, has a strict sleep schedule, and stays away from alcohol, drugs and toxic people. This routine is crucial to what she calls her recovery, without it who knows whether or not she would be alive today, never mind a successful woman who is flourishing in all areas of her life. She still has her moments where her illness flares up, but she has worked so hard to recognize her triggers, and for the most part, has a handle on them before they take over. She must do this because in her own words, “life throws you enough crap that you can’t prepare for, it would be detrimental to my health if I didn’t take care of what I could.”
In my blogs I always write about choice and taking responsibility for our own mental health as best as we can, and my friend is the perfect example of what I am talking about. She did not choose to have bipolar disorder, nor did she choose to damn near destroy her life, but she did ultimately choose to live well. Yes, it took her years to get to where she is now, but she didn’t give up, she’s not giving up, and she’s healthy and happy and helping others now. Choosing wellness requires work. There is no such thing as snapping out of or getting over mental illness, and just because you choose to live a healthier life doesn’t mean that you’re automatically happy or symptom free, I would never suggest something so ridiculous, but there are choices that you can make to put you on the path of recovery that will eventually lessen your symptoms and open up a life you never thought possible. The question is, will you choose to do the work?
We have absolutely no control over other people and how they are going to react, all we have control over is our own reactions to situations, and sometimes that’s iffy too. I had to make a choice to cut out so many people in my life, people that claimed to care when in fact all they did was trigger me. I had to quit my job and seek employment elsewhere as my job of fifteen years was a huge trigger for me. I had to make the choice to enroll in CBT classes and follow through with attending them, even when I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, so that I could work on how to better myself and arm myself with some coping techniques. None of this came easy, every single thing I did required work, hard work and commitment, but had I not have done any of it, I shudder to think where I would be right now. Once you make one small but hard choice, the rest become easier.
I know how mental illness works, when you’re up you’re up and things seem possible and doable, but when you’re down, it’s nothing short of terrifying. Mental illness tells you that you’re weak and unworthy and you believe it. Mental illness strips you of your identity and leaves you with a label. The stigma surrounding mental illness is enough to stop people from asking for help, but I do see that changing. People are living healthy and happy lives, but it does require work, and sadly a lot of us get into the mindset of hopelessness, it’s understandable and heartbreaking, I lived there for a very long time. I still struggle, sometimes daily, but I have learned to lean on those people who support me – my friends, my doctors, and my groups. The road to recovery is littered with bumps and sinkholes, one step forward and two steps back, but if you could play a part in helping yourself to live better, wouldn’t you do it? If you could do one thing today to help you onto the road of recovery, why wouldn’t you? It could be something as simple as taking ten minutes to yourself with no distractions, calling a therapist to schedule an appointment, researching that new medication that you’ve been thinking about trying, saying no to that toxic person. Every day we make choices.
You can choose to be in recovery. Or not. If you choose yes, the commitment is immense, but the payoff is stability. And over time, it becomes a lifestyle.