As I have spilled my guts and shared all the gritty details of my shitty experience of hitting rock bottom… I’m tentatively excited to get into the good stuff. The delicate and tough but incredibly rewarding battle of recovery. Unsurprisingly I have found this to be just as full of misconceptions, lack of information and stigma as mental illness itself.
So first off, recovery is not adopting the “she’ll be right” attitude that us kiwi’s are often quite guilty of. Or even attending a session or two with a psychologist. And I definitely don’t think it’s being given a diagnosis and walking away to let it define your life. It’s not finding someone to lean on and expecting them to save you, and it’s not doing this for others either. It’s not just taking the drugs the doctor gives you, and it sure isn’t weeks of bed rest as we once thought. And it’s not even simply delving into meditation, or church, or some kind of spiritual activity. Some of this has it’s place in recovery for sure, but it’s important we realize that just like mental illness is comprised of a billion and one factors, so is recovery.
For me recovery (so far) has been taking a step back from the mess I have made for myself. Moving back home for a while and letting myself be mothered and cared for in a way I have resisted for so long. It has been uncomfortable at times, I was so proud of the independence I had built for myself when I started traveling the world a few years back. But it has been necessary, and deeply refreshing to surround myself with the people who share the values I hold so close to myself – these are the people who gave them to me after all. It has been little things, sitting outside in the backyard I once spent hours playing in imaginary worlds. Baking in the kitchen I learnt to cook in. Drinking too much tea. Letting my Mum fuss over me eating my greens and cooking me proper dinners. Spending hours talking with my Dad and brother about science, travel, the world and all the things that used to excite me so much. Re-uniting myself with the me I pushed aside so long ago in an attempt to be what I thought others needed and wanted from me.
I have stopped talking so much with those people who couldn’t or wouldn’t see me, stopped giving all of my energy to those boys I just wanted to love me. And I have learnt instead to be open only with those who are willing to listen, those who love me already. I have started undoing beliefs I have fostered since I was a child around what I am, and am not, allowed to feel and express. Already I feel more heard, and less alone.
I have stopped asking for approval before making any decision. I let my Aunty trim the split ends from my hair after I had kept it long for so long because that’s how they liked it. I have started sharing photos and thoughts with less concern for how others will see me, and more concern for how I see myself. Already I am starting to feel more me, and more free.
And I am trying to stop waiting for other people to be happy before allowing myself to feel joy. I have stopped trying to fit into other’s worlds for their benefit and started to learn to let go. I am slowly rediscovering how much happiness I am able to soak up from the little everyday wonders of the world around me. Already I am starting to feel more energy, and more alive.
I am allowing myself to reconnect with my creative side that I let get beat out of me by high-school’s idea of art, and slowly letting go of the idea that everything I create must be “perfect” to be of any worth. And I am rediscovering my love of nature and exploration that I let myself lose to peer pressure and boys, and finding the confidence to explore in solitude as I used to love so much. Already I feel more inspired and connected to the world around me.
On top of all this poetic fluffiness I am diligently taking the medication I have been prescribed and accepted that, for the short term, it is a way for me to take back control over the symptoms that grew to define me. I have committed to weekly psychologist appointments and group therapy to help me get to the root of my trauma and weaknesses. To learn to use my sensitivity and empathy to my advantage instead. I have let go of my part time job, and am realizing as I try to get back on top of university- that if I want to do this right, it’s going to be a long, slow process.
There has been a lot of taking the good with the bad. It has been cancelling on friends and not drowning myself in guilt for it (one day I’ll have a social life again!). It has been accepting that some days getting down to the couch is the biggest achievement I could hope for. It has been dropping my all or nothing attitude that had me convinced I had to start over every time I slipped up. And I have slipped up, lots. Trauma creeps up on you at the strangest of times. It is a lonely journey in many ways, when so much of your life has been soaking up others for so long, it is scary to be on your own.
I’m lucky to have been able to ride out the bad days so far with cuddles on the couch with my lovely little cat, a constant shoulder to cry on from my amazing Mum and Dad, and an endless supply of poetry and art to get lost in. Recovery for me has been a deeply personal, sometimes uncomfortable, and incredibly delicate journey. I’m still in the early stages. I have yet to move back home, or even fully get back into the swing of university. There are large parts of my life that still hurt to think about, and challenges ahead of me I am not yet sure how to tackle. But I am slowly learning there is no rush, and when they say you have to take it one day at a time they really mean it. I am excited to regain my independence and throw myself back into my studies that I am so passionate about. And the rest will come with time. I know I am at last on the right track and I have opened myself up to the right support around me and a sense of confidence and assertiveness I have never given myself before.
So I guess what I’m saying is recovery is so much. It is finding people who can empower you to get better. It is taking a step back and realizing what actually matters in your life, and making the tough decisions to let some things go. It is a whole lot of patience, and self-care. And it is being honest, first with yourself if no one else. Because mental illness is really just your mind’s way of telling you that it has been neglected in some way. Often that is the hardest part, no one likes to look at themselves that hard or that objectively. But, that is recovery. Not just a pill, not just a person, and not just a hobby, but many many things that ultimately much like mental illness itself – will look different for everyone.
And it is a journey that in reality you will continue on for the rest of your life, because recovery is growing to understand and love yourself, and that’s not something we should ever stop doing.