I have been intending to write a blog on mental health recovery for some time, but for some reason, I have found it very hard to find the words for this one. About a month ago, I did a short post on mental health recovery and posted it to the ‘Mountains for the Mind’ Facebook group. I didn’t think it was anything particularly moving or inspiring. Either way, they have published it in July’s edition of Trail Magazine. Therefore, it seemed like the right time to finally do this piece.
I think part of what has made this so difficult to write is being aware of so many people still struggling with their mental health. I couldn’t decide if this would provide hope/reassurance or more frustration. As I have also said before, I don’t believe absolute recovery exists, but that’s not a bad thing. I just need to find the words to explain.
Mental health is like its own identity within us. If you allow it to run wild inside you, it will become your primary identity. For years I was swept up and trapped by what was going on inside my head, believing every negative thing that it told me.
I desperately wanted answers, and I was angry that the doctors wouldn’t give me a formal diagnosis. During this time, I did have some psychotherapy and eventually went on to medication. I’ve now been medication-free for over two years.
Looking back, would a diagnosis or the treatment I received make an eventual impact on my recovery? Yes and no.
A diagnosis would have made no difference to my recovery as I believe my ‘treatment plan’ would have been the same regardless. I also don’t think psychotherapy did much for me, but I think the primary reason is that I wasn’t ready for it. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this experience is that you must be willing to change. You need to be able to step out of that ingrained identity, the thing that makes you who you are, and take a risk to see if you like the new person that comes out of it. My biggest fear was that I would be less interesting and have less to talk about, it sounds bizarre, but that’s me being honest.
Medication was critical to this, as it calmed down the noise inside my head enough to take a step back and take a long hard look at myself. If you do that, you realise that you don’t need a diagnosis to understand your own triggers and patterns of destructive behaviour. Once identified, you can then think about how you can break these patterns of behaviour. For example, that might be a plan of who to talk to or understand what may calm you enough to break the rabbit hole you find yourself spiralling in.
If any of you are marvel geeks, there is a scene in the recent Moon Knight series where Marc looks at Steven and says, ‘you’re the only real superpower I had’. For those of you who aren’t as geeky as me, the moral of the story is that YOU are your own superpower. It’s only after working with yourself to combat these issues you realise you are your only real way out of them.
But I guess this only part of what contributes to mental health recovery. External factors play a considerable role in this, being happy in other aspects of your life, enjoying your job, having the right friends, relationships etc. People are such a crucial part of your life. They can build you up and just as equally tear you down.
I have a terrible habit of focusing on the negative comments I’ve had in the past rather than the positive ones. I’ve let people decide and determine how I should think and view myself. I’ve had social media, film, and TV dictate how I believe I should look and what standards I should hold myself to. But I also have a small circle of friends who are always there to encourage and support me.
I’ve always maintained that a compliment by a friend or loved one would mean more than 10,000 likes on social media. When I break it down, it’s only ever their ‘approval’ that I’ve wanted. More importantly, I’ve learnt not to be so critical of myself. I’ve graduated to saying ‘thank you’ after a compliment. It’s small, but it’s a win and a step in the right direction. Only you get to determine your own value in life. If you put a little trust in yourself, you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
Sometimes you have to be a little harsh in life. Good relationships, friendship or otherwise, should encourage and help you be the best you can be. If something/someone isn’t making you happy, be decisive. Doing nothing is an active choice. It is a decision.
So, where I am now?
This journey has been a long one, and I never actually thought I would get to this point where I have been off meds for over two years, and I haven’t self-harmed in a very long time. I can function mostly without my mental health affecting me too much. I still have my triggers which I am acutely aware of. Instead of trying to avoid them, I plan for them. It doesn’t always make the anxiety easier, but it makes the stress on me and those around me less.
I communicate better. If I feel like I’m going to be difficult to be around, I will say. I’ll be honest when I don’t know why I’m upset, and I will help people around me know how they should deal with it. As a result of all of this, I respect myself more, and I am less afraid to say no.
Does mental health recovery exist? Mostly, somewhat, I think so?
I’ll never be 100%. I am a product of my life so far, with all its positives and negatives. There are still things that make me anxious. I still have bad days, and I still think about self-harm. But those days are in the minority. The good days outweigh the bad, and I’m learning to deal with the rest.
There was a time I thought I’d never be able to live my life without the preverbal black dog following me around. So many things that I felt were out of my control (even my own mind at some points).
I am glad I persisted because there is just so much beauty in this world if you go out and find it. There are some amazing people out there too! I am very grateful to my friends for persevering with me!