What Does ‘Recovery’ Mean?

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The word recovery means very different things to different people. The word is problematic and can ultimately be damaging. When people talk about recovery it marginalises those that can’t.

Some people use the word to describe the process and not an actual milestone. Some see it as having a positive outlook, that they see as a form of recovery. Others actually mean being in a stable place and free from mental illness. ‘Clinical recovery’ is a term many mental health professionals use to describe someone who no longer presents symptoms of their mental illness. I think many people think of this when we hear the word recovery and this is my main problem with it.

I prefer to say manage rather than recover.

Managing to me signals acceptance. That the person has come to the point where they’re no longer in denial. They’re now willing to find a way to manage the condition they’re faced with. This isn’t a phenomenon categorised just for mental illness, but for many physical health problems. Managing diabetes and other long term illnesses comes with similar challenges.

Ultimately it’s about building something new for myself. 

I can’t go back to who I was before. I don’t recognise that person. For a start, she was a young teenager and without mental illness and its impact I would be an entirely different person. Would I even want to be that person? I have no idea.

If you’re not seen as moving forward, you end up feeling like a failure. There is so much pressure to be better, to be able to work and socialise, to be a productive member of society. The impetus is put on recovery above helping those that it isn’t feasible for. It’s this unattainable goal that is set for us that so many with severe and enduring mental illness will fail at. Why isn’t there more support for those that need and want to manage a mental illness?  There’s this idea that we can recover if only we tried hard enough. For some of us it’s an impossibly high standard to measure up to.

I’m not here to be an inspiration. I’m not someone that’s going to miraculously be better and totally stable for the rest of my life. It’s not realistic. I can’t pretend that everything is going to be ok. I can’t pretend to be in some form of recovery, because I’m not, and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m managing bipolar and psychosis and it will also be a part of who I am.  I don’t intend to recover from bipolar and psychosis, because it’s just not an option. This is an illness that I will have for life. It’s severe and chronic and I’ve had to accept that. It’s part of my life. I can be miserable and hate the fact, or I can learn about it, start to understand it and find ways to manage it.

 

What It’s Like To Have A Mixed Episode Of Bipolar

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A couple of weeks ago I had what’s called a mixed episode of bipolar disorder. What this means is that I was experiencing mania (the highs) and depression in very short succession, to the point that I felt both at the same time. In this post I wanted to write an account of what it felt like at the time, to hopefully shed some light on this difficult to understand symptom of bipolar.

I’m sitting at a table outside a restaurant, waiting to be served. I’m with my husband who is attempting to start a conversation. The air is warm and the sun is out and canal boats are drifting along the canal next to where we’re sitting. It should be an idyllic setting, leaving me feeling happy and contented, but I’m not. My head is abuzz with uncontrollable thoughts. The world around me feels very surreal right now, like I’m seeing it through a kaleidoscope. The images keep flicking backwards and forwards, never staying still. I’m restless and on edge, my whole body feels on high alert. Everything and everyone is irritating me. The chair I’m sitting on is way too uncomfortable. My husband is talking and right now I can’t stand his voice. The laughter from the table behind us is grating on me and I feel like screaming until my throat is hoarse,

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

My head is full of pressure, it literally hurts from all the thoughts racing in my mind. It feels like my head is going to explode. I can feel my hands and body trembling. It feels like I’m on the edge of a cliff  with a safety net below. I know I need to jump and if I do they’ll be a release from the ceaseless, building pressure. I can’t make myself jump. It’s like my legs are stuck and I can’t move forward.

Now, suddenly, I have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It feels like all the energy has been drained from my body and I feel utterly useless and completely broken. The pressure in my head is still there, and my mind is still racing away. The thoughts are negative and intrusive, telling me I’m worthless,  pathetic and don’t deserve to live. Ten minutes later our food has arrived and I can’t stop talking. My head is full of thoughts, mostly gibberish that I can’t decipher. I’m laughing but I feel like crying at the same time. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I’m losing grip on who I am and the world around me. i can’t concentrate because I’m trying so hard to grip hold of some type of stability.

I feel like I’m at a crossroads and which ever way I go something terrible is going to happen, but I don’t know what. I maybe at the crossroads but some other force beyond my power is going to choose the direction I turn. Will it be mania? Or depression? Its a terrifying feeling to have seemingly no control over your own mind.

This had been going on all weekend and now it was Monday and I was mentally exhausted. We went home and I cried on the sofa, not knowing what to do with myself, as my body and mind continued to hum along with a relentless energy.

The mixed episode broke, eventually, but not to my relief. I found myself severely depressed, a depression I’m still trying to ride out. I hope my story helps others going through these experiences and shows people what it’s really like when someone says they’re in a mixed episode. if you want to help someone, listen and above all be patient with them.

 

Stability

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I’ve found myself in a a strange situation. It’s one I haven’t experienced for years. It’s called stability. My life has been full of desperate lows and extreme highs and not much in between. It’s been like this for over a decade. It’s true I have had periods of stability, but usually they only last up to a month. This time it’s different. This time I’ve experienced stability for nearly four months.

It feels strange and alien to me. I’m used to living an intense life, full of drama, fear, anger and emotional heights and depths. The euphoria I feel during a manic episode is unparalleled to any other I have experienced. I’ve experimented with drugs but nothing comes close to a full on bout of mania. I always say I don’t need to take hallucinagens because psychosis has that covered.

Back to life being surreal right now. I’m not used to this. I’m not used to feeling calm and organised, feeling happiness without worrying it will morph into something toxic. Or days when I wake up and I feel slightly on the down side, but being able to carry on without depression creeping up on me. I feel like I can accomplish things, without obsessing over a task and becoming completely absorbed by it. I’m wondering if this is normality, or if there is such a thing. Is this how healthy people live?

I’m lucky that I have finally found a combination of medication that works for me, and hasn’t given me extreme side effects. I’ve put on some weight, but now I feel stable, I’m less likely to drink and crave junk food. It’s something I could change if I wanted to.

I’m not always sure I like this feeling. Life feels quite bland and monotonous. It’s like my world is slightly overcast and grey, instead of full of darkness or bright sunlight. I don’t know how to act or to live like this. Sometimes I daydream about the fun side of mania and how if I stopped taking my medication I could get back to that. However, I then remember all the negatives that come along with it. The delusional thinking, the intense anger, obsessive and dangerous behaviour. There’s also that air of foreboding surrounding me that at any time I could become seriously ill again. If I push myself too much I’ll trigger an episode of mania or depression.

It’s a bit cliched to say but I’m taking each day as it comes. Life I know shouldn’t be full of extremes constantly and should be quieter. Sometimes yes, even boring. I’m grateful that I’m in this position and I’m trying not to take it for granted.