9 Thoughts on Recovery

1) Fighting for recovery…

Fighting my way to recovery has been a battle I refused to lose.  I think it’s hard for the average person to understand how someone who lives with a mental illness has to learn how to get her life back.  It is not easy and some people will not be able to ever recover from it.  But many people do and they do it by fighting.

2) Analogy…

Imagine if you are going along and “doing life” and all the sudden everything you knew changed.  Your friends were gone, you lost your job, and you were faced with dealing with the consequences of matters you didn’t bring upon yourself, but your illness caused everything around you to go up in smoke.  Worse than a rug being pulled out from under you and more like a dam bursting with rushing water heading right toward you–that’s the essence of describing what it takes to survive.

3) Returning to life…

In the past year I started quietly asserting myself as a Mental Health Advocate.  As the year has gone by my voice has gotten stronger and louder.  Self-esteem, dignity, respect and confidence gently worked their way back into my persona.  I have become a different person.  The very thing that caused me pain, bipolar disorder-has also given me insights, knowledge and compassion like I have never felt before.

The one thing I have learned is that faith and hope and belief in recovery are critical to have in the journey.  When you get to a stage 4 of mental illness, recovery is bleak and perhaps not expected.  But I refused to become a statistic.  I kind of like defying the odds, I always have been that way.  

4) You gotta know it to beat it…

I will say that the amount of time I spent studying bipolar disorder and mental illness in general, was far greater than the energy I spent working toward a Master’s degree and the stamina it took to become an Olympian.  I consider learning about my illness as one of the key success factors.  I highly recommend becoming a student to those who suffer.

5) Respect it..don’t fear it.

I love the ocean.  It is fierce and constant and sometimes calm, but you better be careful of the riptides.  I am not afraid of it, but I respect it.  This is similar to how I view bipolar disorder.  There was a time when it scared the hell out of me.  But that fear paralyzed me from living.  I had to learn to swim with the ups and downs and not fight the diagnosis, but accept it.  Respect what my brain was going through. Learn to let the current carry me to safe waters.  

6) Stick to the vision…

I have a vision for how I want my life to look.  It may be a little foggy some days but I still know what I want.  I have a vision to become a national speaker on Mental Health Recovery.  I want to write a book about it in the hopes of helping other people.  I want to shed light, a big bright light that even people who get to stage 4 can still recover.  

A vision is not the same thing as having goals or objectives.  The vision is like a dream but with much more direction.  Setting goals and objectives that lead you to your vision keeps you on track.  

7) Move in the direction of your dream…

It would be great to have everything we needed all at once, but it does not happen that way.  Big dreamers make their dreams a reality by moving in that direction.  The dream may take different forms and even change a little.  But you’ll be more likely to make that dream a reality if you accept you will have to collect what you need a long the way.  

Sometimes things will fall into place easily and other times it will be a struggle.  But reaching the dream depends on continuing to move.  My dreams I keep private until I achieve them, so I will keep you posted.

8) You gotta walk not run…

You don’t sprint if you are running a marathon.  Recovery is a long distance race and it requires pacing yourself.  Some days I get frustrated that my pace is not faster.  I have to remind myself that I am in this for the long haul.  

9) Celebrate the wins…

I have learned how to be proud of me.  There is no one who knows how much I have been through except myself (and God).  I can smile by telling you you will have to trust me on that one.  I will say this, I don’t get my insights by reading alone.  I have many experiences to draw upon.  I celebrate where I am and where I am going.  I make a habit of it.

Hope I have given you a few things to think about.  I hope you have a greater understanding of how hard it is to recover from a mental illness.  I also hope you know it is possible.

How harmful is stigma?

I recently read various comments related to bipolar disorder that emphatically stated, “Bipolar disorder is not an illness.  Stop calling it one!”  I was struck the individual said he was in the medical profession for years and knew for certain mental illness simply did not exists, but was merely behavioral problems and not something based in science.

I became a bit curious about the definition of illness, trying to understand if in fact there was any merit to what he said.

The definition of “illness” is a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.  The last time I checked human anatomy the brain, in fact, is part of the body.  How then can someone argue mental illness is not a sickness?

Around the globe mental illness is fighting against centuries old stigma.  There are some places around the world who still practice exercism as a form of “treatment.”  Some people are chained to trees for the remainder of their lives, watched over by priests who believe through spiritual healing they can heal the mentally ill.

While I believe faith can play apart of recovery, faith alone will not heal a mental illness anymore than cancer can be cured without some type of treatment.  It is surprising to learn that there are people who hold on to these archaic and harmful beliefs that end up damaging people who have mental illness in mind, body and spirit.

Fortunately, in the United States we don’t chain people with mental illness to trees.  But even in our “advanced” culture we still manage to blame the victims.  Of course the media is to blame for perpetuating stereotypes.  But also many high profile politicians can’t seem to discuss mental illness without talking about gun control.  It seems that for every step forward we take two steps backwards in the fight against stigma.

The only way we will change stigma is through better education and more informed decision making.  Our discourse must begin to include the reality of how our brains can get sick too.  

Mental illness is not about being possessed by some evil spirit that needs exercised.  It is far more about how the brains neurotransmitters have gone arrey.  Scientists  do have some understanding of how serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine impact moods and psychosis, but these facts seem to get buried in the munitia.

The only way to combat the age old stigma is to continue the conversations with more informed discussion.  We owe it to our young people to move the dial beyond aged old stigma.  It is not acceptable to continue perpetuating stereotypes, yet we do it every day.  

Time has come to resist the notion that people who live with mental illness are less than those who do not.  People may be surprised to learn that many of their colleagues and family members struggle everyday with a mental condition.  The more we can talk about these illnesses the louder our voices will be heard.  Until then, standing up to stigma will be something only a few will continue to fight.