Us mental illness sufferers usually spend a very long time battling this monster in the shadows, quietly, sometimes without the understanding of even those closest to us. We do this because the stigma of mental illness still falls thick throughout society, and the fear is wedged in our hearts, deep. As the years pass, we become convinced that any type of recovery is simply not an option; this is the way life is going to be for us until the grave calls our names. We then resign to an existence of pain, futility and worst of all, hopelessness. But, does it have to be that way?
It is true that mental illness comes in variety of sizes and colors, and some cases and conditions are more severe than others. However, I do believe that we have made enough progress in understanding the disease that we can treat it, even in severe cases, to the point where the patient has an opportunity to live a more fulfilling life that they ever thought they would.
Sometimes, in the depth of our despair and the lack of understanding from the outside world, we feel that we are beyond repair, and we highly doubt that any type of recovery is outside of our reach. But I am here to give you some comforting news:
RECOVERY AND MANAGEMENT OF MENTAL ILLNESS IS POSSIBLE, AND IT STARTS WITH YOU
My struggles with depression and anxiety began when I was nine years old, and for more than two decades they incapacitated me tremendously. I was convinced that I was forever broken; the nightmare was dark and without end. Drugs and alcohol were my only escape, and they were helping me dig my own grave even faster. I was at the end of my rope, convinced I wouldn’t last much longer. I was ready to completely give up.
When there was nothing else to hold on to avoid going overboard, I was faced with a difficult and paradigm changing choice: Give up and die, or find a way to get better. That’s when I really understood how amazing the human resilience and survival instinct is, as I found a strength I didn’t know I had to go out and search for the right answers, and to find a treatment that would work for me.
Recovery is not a straight shot to the top; there’s a lot of trial and error, and definitely a lot of falls. Not all days will be perfect, as a matter of fact, most days won’t. Sometimes your strength and determination will have to concentrate on just surviving, on getting through the day. But getting better IS possible, and you are going to be surprised about how much you can really improve your mental state.
A lot of people have come to me in great fear and despair, lost, without guidance, not knowing where to even begin. They ask me if I am sure that there really is hope, because they have a hard time believing it. Most of them are afraid to ask for help, first due to the stigma, secondly because facing the illness head on (the one that they have been hiding from for so long) can be flat out terrifying. But believe me when I say that tackling the issue and finding the right treatment can dramatically affect your life for the better.
Don’t give up, it is not nearly close to over.
Here is your starting roadmap on your journey to recovery. Take these pointers seriously and apply them, and I guarantee you that you are going to be on your way to very good things in the near future.
BE OPEN ABOUT YOUR ILLNESS
This is something that initially is going to go against every fiber of your body, as all you have probably done until now is whatever it took to hide your condition. But when you talk about it without shame to others (initially those you trust most) you will feel a great sense of empowerment. It will also make you accountable for your self-management, which is really important in the recovery process, especially if your illness comes with addiction (as it did with me). Are there going to be people that will not understand? Yes. Is it going to be difficult at times? Yes. Will You incur biased and ignorant opinions from time to time? Most definitely. But all these things are going to make you stronger, and make you realize that a lot of the stigma that surrounds mental illness is in the minds of people that don’t have a clue about it.
Find someone that you can trust and that you know will really try to understand. Once you become more comfortable and you get to understand your own condition better, people’s ignorance will roll right off your back. As a matter of fact, you may even feel the impulse to share your story and your struggles, so that others in similar situations may benefit. This will give you a great sense of accomplishment, and it will make you feel like all you have endured has not been in vain.
FIND THE RIGHT DOCTOR
This is something that, if you’ve been following me for a little while, you know that I stress a lot. If your condition is severe enough that you have to seek medical attention (I recommend everyone with any type of mental disorder to see a therapist and/or psychiatrist, and really get to understand their condition) find the right mental health professional that will work for you. Unfortunately, there are psychiatrists out there that have gotten used to medicating patients as if they were guinea pigs, switching them from one medication to the other until they stumble on what works somewhat ok. Although trial and error is definitely, as I mentioned before, a part of the recovery process, you need to find a doctor that will also take the time to understand YOU and YOUR condition, and not only throw cookie-cutter remedies at you to see what works.
With that said, once you do have a good regimen in place, you need to make sure that you stick to it religiously, not missing doses unnecessarily or making your own combinations, which could be really dangerous. You do not want to keep telling your doctor that the meds are not working when you are not taking them right. You will be hurting yourself and no one else. Give yourself a real shot at getting better.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE MEDS
Yes, the meds will have side effects. Yes, some of them might make you feel worse before they make you feel better, and yes, some of them might not work for you at all. But remember that finding the regimen that works for you will be a huge step toward recovery, in some cases, a life-saving one. It is worth the effort that you put into it. I will give you an example.
Think of mental illness as a heavy iron ball shackled to your leg, like the ones they used to put on slaves or prisoners back in the day. Any time you try to accomplish something in life, any time you want to enjoy something, or be something, or find something, including happiness, you struggle immensely to drag the heavy ball around. Usually, you will lose all your strength before you can reach your goal. Medication will help you, if not remove that iron ball completely, at least make it light enough to move through life with ease, lighter, being able to do things that you would have never been able to do with that huge chunk of metal tied to your leg. I think that medication is a worthy investment in your journey of recovery.
DON’T ALLIENATE YOURSELF
This is something else that many of us do, mainly because of shame, fear, and the idea that the world will never accept us how we are. Other times we simply don’t have the energy to do anything else but to be alone with our thoughts, sometimes for weeks, even months at a time. First, let me say this: The world belongs to you just as it does to anyone else, and you should go out there and demand what is rightfully yours, figuratively speaking. This doesn’t mean that you have to drag yourself out of bed on the days that the depression is torturing you, or that you should go outside and risk having a panic attack when your anxiety is acting up. What it does mean is that, on those days that you feel you have the energy to go for a walk, and the sun is shining bright, don’t give yourself an excuse not to do it. If your friends invite you out and you have the energy, you should go out and find a smile somewhere in nice conversation. If there is a movie that you’ve been waiting to see just released, you should check it out, and see how you feel being part of a small crowd. Take risks, explore, be bold. Sometimes this could simply mean having the strength to take a shower, brush your teeth or comb your hair, other times it could mean going for a nice hike with your dog. Mental illness takes a lot away from you, make sure you demand some of it back.
DON’T GIVE UP
There are going to be times when you feel like you’ve totally failed, when you will be convinced that it is impossible for you to get better. After all, every time you make some process you end up screwing it all up. But you cannot give up. As I mentioned before, recovery can be a sloppy balancing act that will include plenty of failures. This is just part of the process, nothing out of the ordinary, just like life in general. You have to take those failures and turn them into lessons, every one of them showing you, little by little, how to do better next time.
As an addict myself, I’ve had plenty of relapses and many times I’ve been convinced that sobriety is just not in the cards for me. But I have found sobriety, and sometimes looking back I have no idea where the heck I found the strength to truly get better. But remember what I mentioned about human resilience. You are stronger than you think. Don’t give up.
TO CONCLUDE, yes, recovery IS possible, and you can become one of many people that have found a way to successfully manage mental illness. Drop your comments below if you have any other suggestions for those in the battle, or if you have any further questions.