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How Do You Know When You’re Recovered?

After the experience with lithium toxicity, my body didn’t seem to want it anymore. Everytime I tried to take it, the symptoms of toxicity returned. And without it those deep dark depressions and periods of high achievement returned. Only now they were overwhelming. The depressions were dark and suicidal. The mania was totally out of control. Psychosis became a way of life. I lost my job. Friends and family members backed off. I spent months on the psychiatric ward. My life felt like it was slipping away. They tried one drug after another, usually several at a time. Nothing seemed to bring me back to life.

Through the haze I was searching for answers. I wondered how other people with these kinds of episodes get by. They couldn’t all be like me-unable to work and almost unable to take care of myself. I asked my doctor how people with manic depression get by on a day by day basis. He told me he’d get me that information. I looked forward to my next visit with great anticipation, fully expecting to find some answers. What a disappointment! He said that there was information on medication, hospitalization and restraint but nothing on how people live their lives.

I took this dilemma to my vocational rehabilitation counselor who was trying desperately to find a place in the world for this mentally ill woman. I described to her a dream. A dream of finding out how others with depression and manic depression keep themselves stable. To my surprise she supported my ideas. With her as my back-up and the help of a Social Security PASS plan, I began a study of 120 people who agreed to share their strategies for keeping themselves.

As information started coming in, my foggy brain got scared. How was I going to compile this data and put it into any kind of format that could be useful to me and others like me? I kept plugging away. The information was so fascinating that I was drawn to it. Once again I had something meaningful to do. I think my return to wellness may have started there.

The first and most important thing I learned from compiling this data was that there is lots of HOPE. Contrary to popular belief, people with recurring episodes of depression and manic depression, get well, they stay well for long periods of time and they do what they want to with their lives. This message of hope, which I had never heard, must be spread by all of us who know it is true.

I soon became aware of a clear difference in responses from study participants. Some people were blaming their instability on everyone else. “If only my parents hadn’t…..”, “if only my doctor would try…..”, “if only my fourth grade teacher had…..”, etc.. Mood instability was controlling these people’s lives. Others were taking responsibility for their own lives, advocating for themselves, educating themselves, getting the support they need, etc., These people were getting well and staying well. You can bet I made an about face at that point and joined the ranks of people taking responsibility for themselves as fast as my brain could adapt. That was the first giant step on my way back to life.

Then I learned from these people who had so much knowledge to share, that I had to advocate for myself, no matter how difficult that might seem for someone with wildly oscillating moods and self esteem in the basement. I began thinking about what I wanted for myself in terms of treatment, housing, relationships, support, work and activities. Then I figured out strategies to make these things happen and went for it. Things began to change in my life and they continue to change. My life gets better and better.

As many others have done, but I hadn’t, I began to educate myself. I read everything I could about depression, manic depression, medications, and alternative treatments. I contacted national, state and local organizations for help in this process. I told my health care professionals what I wanted and expected from them rather than depending on them to make decisions for me. I began to take better care of myself. I developed a plan that instructed certain people to make decisions for me in the event that I couldn’t make them for myself, and told them how I wanted to be treated in these circumstances.

Through this effort I discovered that, even though I had been hospitalized at several major medical centers, no one had bothered to give me a complete thyroid test. I found that I had severe hypothyroidism (hypothyroidism causes depression) which needed to be treated. Once that treatment began, my mind really began to clear and my progress was remarkable.

I got connected with the national movement of psychiatric survivors. I began attending meetings and conferences with other people whose journeys had been similar to mine. I felt validated and affirmed. I began teaching in earnest the skills I was learning through my study to others who could benefit like I was.

With the help of several excellent counselors, co-counseling and numerous self help resources, I undertook the task of getting to know myself and my symptoms in a successful attempt to discover early warning signs of impending moodswings and, in effect, cut them off at the pass. At first I developed detailed daily charts to assist me in this process. As I got to know myself better, I found that I didn’t need to use the charts anymore.

How Do You Know When You’re Recovered?

Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Copeland, M. (2018). How Do You Know When You’re Recovered?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.