Recovery has only recently become a word used in relation to the experience of psychiatric symptoms. Those of us who experience psychiatric symptoms are commonly told that these symptoms are incurable, that we will have to live with them for the rest of our lives, that the medications, if they (health care professionals) can find the right ones or the right combination, may help, and that we will always have to take the medications. Many of us have even been told that these symptoms will worsen as we get older. Nothing about recovery was ever mentioned. Nothing about hope. Nothing about anything we can do to help ourselves. Nothing about empowerment. Nothing about wellness.
So what does recovery from a mental disorder look like?
You will recognize your own recovery when you start experiencing one or more of the following:
There is hope.
A vision of hope that includes no limits. That even when someone says to us, “You can’t do that because you’ve had or have those symptoms, dear!” – we know it’s not true. It is only when we feel and believe that we are fragile and out of control that we find it hard to move ahead. Those of us who experience psychiatric symptoms can and do get well. I (Mary Ellen) learned about hope from my mother. She was told she was incurably insane. She had wild, psychotic mood swings unremittingly for eight years. And then they went away. After that she worked very successfully as a dietitian in a large school lunch program and spent her retirement helping my brother raise seven children as a single parent and volunteering for a variety of church and community organizations.
We don’t need dire predictions about the course of our symptoms – something which no one else, regardless of their credentials can ever know. We need assistance, encouragement and support as we work to relieve these symptoms and get on with our lives. We need a caring environment without feeling the need to be taken care of.
Too many people have internalized the messages that there is no hope, that they are simply victims to their illness, and that the only relationships they can hope for are one-way and infantalizing. As people are introduced to communities and services that focus on recovery, relationships change to being more equal and supportive in both directions. As we feel valued for the help we can offer as well as receive, our self-definitions are expanded. We try out new behaviors with each other, find ways in which we can take positive risks and find that we have more self-knowledge and more to offer than we were led to believe.
It’s up to each individual to take responsibility for their own wellness.