Recovery is as Unique as the Patient

As the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) wraps up its 63rd National Mental Health Week, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss recovery in my latest blog.

At Ontario Shores, we are focused on recovery-based care. Our philosophy is one of which all persons with mental illness can and likely will recover.

But what is recovery? Is it freedom from symptoms? Is it having less frequent symptoms? Is it being able to function in the community? Is it flourishing?

To me, it could be some or all of those outcomes. Recovery is unique to every individual and it must be defined in their own terms. As I have blogged before, I have my own story of recovery as I have lived experience with eating disorders, social anxiety and major depression.

The hardest work that I have ever done in my life was recovering from my mental illness. I could not be a passive recipient of treatment. I participated in all of the groups, therapy and medications, when I was at my lowest point.

Our patients are on all different levels of the recovery continuum.  They may find it difficult to stay motivated and participate actively in treatment. They consistently overcome hurdles every day, some which may sound simple but are difficult for those in the depths of mental illness. In my own recovery, if I could complete the task of making my own bed, my day would be better.

Thinking positively is another hurdle but one so rooted in recovery that we need to push it to the limit. If I am always thinking that I am ugly, I am going to feel ugly and believe it to be true. I have heard a lot of patients say that they are dumb and useless. This type of language needs to be squashed instantly. Just today, in group, I had a patient say they were “mental.” I asked him to please reframe that term and he was able to see the negativity associated with it.

Another roadblock I encountered was fear of the future. I could not envision going to high school. But I did it and the more I dealt with my fears, the better I was at accepting the world for what it is. When I was really depressed I didn’t see a future because I thought I would be dead. Now I don’t have a clue what life might throw at me in the future but I feel confident that I can overcome anything. For anyone struggling with transitions and future- break it into baby steps and focus on one accomplishment.

My support system was crucial in my recovery. I was one of the lucky few. Not only did I have a psychiatrist and psychologist, I had my family’s unconditional love and support. I had to learn how to accept help instead of just pretending to be OK. My poor family was always perplexed when I went into hospital because they hadn’t a clue that I was feeling so terrible. I had to drop the act.
Finally, I had to find my life all over again.

When you’re sick with mental illness you tend to forget the things that make you smile, the things that make you feel good about yourself, the things that make you who you are or aspire to be.

I feel like passion has swallowed me now, in the way that depression once did, and it feels amazing. I don’t go to bed anymore wishing that I won’t wake up. I love waking up, even on challenging days.

I am human and I have negative emotions, too. Sometimes I feel sad or lonely or disappointed but I no longer give power to these negative thoughts.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain,” is a quote I cherish by author Vivian Greene.

I hope we can all teach our patients how to dance in the rain.