Mental Health Recovery is a Journey Not a Destination

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I am definitely the classic example of a person who rushes through live. Always on the go. A deadline or goal fixed in my mind. Thriving when there is a destination or end point in mind. This is not always a good thing. And, if my mental health recovery has taught me anything. It’s to slow down. Not to rush so much. Yes, goals and achievements are important. But not at the expense of my mental health. And not when they’re rushed towards. My desire to recover can jeopardize my mental health. Putting too much pressure on me. With time I’ve realised that the things we care most about take time and attention to get right. This often means one step forward, followed by two steps back. I know how disheartening it is. But it’s at these moments that we learn.

For What Recovery Means read here.

Recovery Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

The wonderful Pat Deegan, a pioneer of the mental health recovery movement, made this excellent point

Recovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum…you can’t arrange recovery around nothingness

Pat Deegan, Recovery from Mental Illness

For too long, recovery was based on diagnosis only. The assumption that treatment, usually medication, was prescribed by looking at a list of symptoms. Without consideration of the person behind the diagnosis. Who they were. What their life story was. Which support networks they were able to access. The concept of a holistic, person-centred approach to mental illness didn’t start gaining ground until the 1980s. And arguably the work is not finished.

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With the advent of the user empowerment movement and the social model of mental health. We have come to a more nuanced understanding of mental health, mental illness and recovery. We understand as Pat Deegan so eloquently stated, that recovery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. She gives the analogy of growing a seed. If you throw it on the floor and leave it there. Nothing will happen. And you wouldn’t expect it to. You need to plant the seed in the ground. In appropriate conditions. You need to nurture it and support it’s growth. And that’s true for mental health recovery. Yes, treatment options are important. But so are robust support networks, treatment within the community and opportunities to find meaning and purpose. Alongside more understanding and empathy from society at large.

The Ups & Downs

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With the understanding of what is needed for recovery. It’s unsurprising that people are having better outcomes when it comes to mental health illnesses. But whilst we may be gradually raising awareness of this fact in society. And again, the work is not yet done there either. We need to process our own needs for recovery. And accept the fact that it is not linear. Neither is it necessarily quick. For many, it’s the journey of a lifetime. And smaller micro goals tailored to our own recovery needs are likely to be more effective than an overarching goal to achieve recovery.

We need more acknowledgement of the ups and downs that accompany recovery. This will help us manage the expectations of others. Who may be eager for us to recover. And our own expectations. Believing that one day we might be recovered can lead to disappointment. Instead we must consider that we are constantly recovering. Each step carries us further in the right direction. But those moments when we pause where we are. For however long we need. Or even when we turn back are crucial to. When we allow ourselves to stick with a step before we’re ready for another. We consolidate what we have learned. That way we’re less likely to move backward. Or at least it will be easier to take that step once again. And when we do inevitably have to take a step back. Perhaps we do so to be kind to ourselves. We listen to ourselves and our needs. And know that we are finding something hard and progress may not be as important as maintenance.

For How to Understand Fear of Mental Health Recovery read here.

Defining Mental Health Recovery

Of course, the aim of recovery is nebulous. What does it really mean? After all, when we talk about mental health recovery we don’t mean the disappearance of symptoms. Although this may be true of some people’s experiences. But for others, recovery is about learning to live with ones symptoms. Learning the tools to manage them. Creating a resilient support network around us. Understanding our triggers and when we may be prepared to expose ourselves to them. And being able to accept ongoing or short-term help when we need it. Whether from friends, family, colleagues or a medical professional.

But knowing what a recovery journey may entail. Doesn’t pinpoint what recovery actually is. And that’s because it’s incredibly individualized. My recovery will be very different from yours. Even if we have the same diagnosis and even the same triggers or reasons why we were diagnosed in the first place. A recovery journey could mean medication and weekly therapy. It might also mean a robust self-care plan and honest conversations with our support network.

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Likewise, recovery could mean a return to employment, being able to have a trusting relationship, becoming involved in charity work, having children, feeling confident to socialize, getting a first job or starting further education. It’s likely a combination of these. A recovery journey and the resulting recovery is what you make it. There’s no wrong or right way to do it. Ok, there’s some wrongs in there. But it’s mostly just greys which are all up to you. What do you want from your life? Where will you be comfortable? Who do you want in your life? It’s all up to you. You’re in the driving seat of this journey.

What are your thoughts on mental health recovery? Do you find it is a journey? Are you on it? Let us know below!

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17 thoughts on “Mental Health Recovery is a Journey Not a Destination

  1. I think it’s great to remind ourselves of the fact that there is no quick fix or guaranteed formula to working through a recovery like this. You’ve provided some great info that is encouraging and important for anyone going through this. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I think it’s vital to remember this otherwise we can compare ourselves to others. But we’re all starting in different places with different obstacles and supports available. So we need to remain person centered.

  2. This is such a great post and so well written. I’m also on the journey of learning to live with it and acknowledging my triggers. It’s so hard and I have so much admiration for everyone who is also on this journey.

    1. It can be one step forward and then two back. We have to pace ourselves but it can be incredibly rewarding when we do find progress.

  3. What a beautiful reflection. Thank you so much for sharing your take on recovery and for bringing attention to this important aspect: we are all in this together and yet each one of us has their own story, twists, and turns. I appreciate your openness and words. Sending much love and blessings.

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