The reality of recovery from Mental Illness is one many of us like to tiptoe around for fear of seeming cold or callous, or worse yet, discouraging someone from even reaching out for help. But the truth is, recovery is not simple, or easy, there is no quick fix for years of trauma, or poor coping skills learned to manage our mental health issues. It is painstakingly slow, agonizingly painful, and blindingly hard work! Things get worse before they get better, it’s a lot like corrective surgery, the kind where they break a bone to reset it! It hurts, it takes time to heal, and it requires us to be strict, patient, and gentle with ourselves and others.
One of the first things my Psychiatrist said to me was “I will help you, but you have to do what I tell you! You need to commit to getting well, because I can not do it for you! If you don’t do the work, then you’re wasting your time here, and you’re wasting mine too.” or words to that effect. Cold? Maybe. Tough? Possibly. Callous? NO! Honest? Definitely. They were words I needed to hear, words to jolt me into action.
His straight to the point, tough, and brutally honest approach may have seemed unkind but the thing is he set me up to win. My doctor is no brute, he is one of the kindness, most compassionate, and patiently gentle medical professionals I’ve ever met, he wants his patients to heal. But he also expects that I / then don’t stuff around paying lip service to therapy and never actually learning and implementing how to help themselves.
Those guidelines and expectations outlined clearly on our first session made me realise I was going to have to work, and it was going to be blasted hard work too. My horrible traumas, painful abandonment, abuse, suicidal ideation, self harm, and physical pain did not add up to getting special treatment, there was no quick fix for me, and even if there was, he wouldn’t give it! It was clear I was going to have to work really hard for my sanity!
Learn and live.
It’s pointless learning all about CBT and DBT, mindfulness, or other hundreds of stress tolerance skills if you never use them. It doesn’t come easy but all the knowledge in the world won’t save you unless you put it to practical use. What good is knowledge if you don’t actually force yourself to apply it even when it makes you uncomfortable?
Stop making excuses.
Oh my goodness, I admit it, being honest with myself was the hardest thing. There are always excuses to be found, some might even be valid, but just shut up and get on with it. Once I stopped giving myself free passes, I started to get a sense of pride in the work I was doing. And with that pride, joy!
Writing up a list of accountability items was really beneficial, a contract for myself and my own expectations of success, then I showed it to my husband, a close friend, and of course, my Psychiatrist, so that there were others to help keep me accountable.
Have reasonable expectations.
As mentioned above, it is not going to be a quick fix, it is going to hurt, it is hard, and you will wish you’d never started at times. Some days you will wonder if there is any hope of recovering, if the medications will ever start working, if the DBT will ever come naturally, but trust me, if you keep working hard on it, don’t give up, and set yourself reasonable expectations it will.
Let go of preconceived ideas.
I thought that I would start trauma therapy almost right away, and it was a dreadful though. It is 2 years now, and we have not started discussing actual incidents yet. Why? Because I needed time, and likely still need time, to learn how to really cope with the symptoms of the trauma. It is slow and steady and a good therapist, a good doctor, will recognise that getting you stable and balanced first is more important that ripping the scab off at the beginning.
Medication is only a part of it.
Medication is a crutch, as my Doctor says. A crutch helps you get around while your leg is broken, but you still need to heal and learn to walk for yourself. Just having the crutch is no use to you if you don’t put in an equal amount of effort to get around. Medication helps, it truly does, but by itself it’s unlikely to help you enough to truly recover. It can also take a long time and a lot of trial and effort you find the right medication, then the right dosage, or even the right combination, and then it takes time for it to work, some people feel better quickly but others, like myself can take months before it really takes effect!
Remember it is worth it
It is worth the effort, you are worth the effort. Yes it is hard to go through therapy of any sort, and it seems to take forever to see results. But you are worth saving, life is going to get better, you will learn how to cope with the bad days, and when you start to find contentment and happiness you will be so thankful that you didn’t give up!
So there you have it, tough love, the reality of recovery! It’s not as simple as that famous line in Legally Blonde “Can’t you just take a Percoset?”. It is long hours of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, it is listening to someone tell you that you must get out of your own way and stop making excuses, it is tough!
But it is worth it! Most of all, you are worth it!