We hear and talk about recovery a lot. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual etc. Recovery is a beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, or any other inspirational (and cheesy!) metaphors you wish to apply to it. The idea of recovery can be extremely motivating for those who suffer and bring hope to those on the sidelines. I don’t mean to imply that recovery is not a good thing. I wish it on us all. But what about those who don’t wish to recover? This is a question that baffles many. I’m often asked in a professional capacity how do we help those who won’t accept help? I hate the answer I give as it’s often that we can’t. People have to be willing to recover and to those of us trying to help it can be a mystery why people are resistant. To society it makes sense to want to recover, to end the pain, so why are some people hesitant?
Here I will draw on my own personal experience. I can’t answer for everyone and I won’t pretend to. Saying that, I do have an answer. Recovery can be scary. If we suffer for a long time we may lose who we are, our sense of independence, our identity may become subsumed by our illness. We become comfortable in who we are in the present. The thought of recovery, to me at least, was the unknown. Who was I on the other side of this suffering? Who was I without my depression? After many years of gradually having my identity chipped away I had lost myself. Someone once described depression to me as trying to walk or swim through treacle. I’ve heard similar descriptions from those with lived experience a number of times. I had become subsumed. I was dragged down by my illness until I had lost who I was. My mum said I had lost my spark. Friends noticed that there didn’t seem to be anything happening behind my eyes. To all intents and purposes I was gone. I no longer existed as the girl I had been for the past 16 years. Returning to me, re-inhabiting my life was a terrifying prospect. Who had I become over the past years? Who was I at the other end?
It wasn’t just the fear of who I would be that had me balking at the thought of recovery. I was also afraid of leaving my comfort zone. Over time depression had become where I was most comfortable. In my own little world I was almost entirely apathetic. I had withdrawn inside myself. I had no concerns about school or exams, although I had always been a high-achiever. I worried about friends and family but I wasn’t living in the real world enough to notice what was going on. There was very little thought process happening. From being someone who loved creativity, had a good group of friends and couldn’t wait for the next adventure my world had shrunk. I lived from day to day. My greatest challenge and achievement was making it through 24 hours. My only outlet at that time was poetry and I wrote it in heaps. That was my life. My writing and I. My negative thoughts and me. The idea of re-joining the world seemed implausible. There didn’t seem to be a way back. How could I re-enter reality? I had withdrawn within to protect myself as a defensive mechanism. How could I be expected to crawl out of my shell and reveal myself to the world? In my head I was opening myself up for attack, the fear of being vulnerable held me back.
There was one last reason that recovery struck a chord of fear with me. It’s really a culmination of the two explanations above. I couldn’t open myself up again and I didn’t know who I would be because I had drifted so far from my path. People in my life had continued on the expected path; whether set out for them by others or by themselves. Growing up I’d had a rough idea of who I would be and I had been traveling along this road with my peers. Then illness struck and stole me away. Over time my friends had continued on the same path but I had veered wayward and had taken a roundabout route whilst they had gone on with the straight and narrow. How could I be accepted by them? They had had what I deemed a ‘normal’ teenage experience. They had done what they were supposed to. What I was supposed to do but I’d had a different experience which I felt I had barely survived. In my mind I could never go back. I could never fully be myself, return to the path I had trodden, knowing I had suffered so. Believing my friends and family could never accept me they way I was, how could I return to my former life and open myself up to that kind of rejection? It was an insurmountable obstacle.
With these fears rearing up at me I seemed to have good reasons to reject, to dismiss recovery. Life was easier protected by my depression. Recovery came despite my fears. I’m unsure how much I played a part in it but I came out the other end. As it turns out going back to who I had been was easier than I thought. Seemingly most people hadn’t realised what I was going through or were just glad to see the ‘real’ me back. My mum was overjoyed that my spark gradually returned. I’ve since learnt that my depression is a part of me. On occasion I still feel it here with me. Sometimes I can tap into it to understand others. Overall I think it’s made me a more empathetic and sensitive person. I’m still on my recovery journey but I believe we all are. Whatever has happened to us, life puts us through our paces. We’re all improving day-to-day. We’re all changing, hopefully for the better. This may not answer the question on why some are hesitant to recover. At the end of this blog it’s just the story of one girl’s recovery and until next time and the next it will continue.