It was as if I had been running this ultra marathon and was down to my last mile; I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it was coming. I knew relief was just around the corner and I knew when I crossed that finish line I was going to feel ecstatic. I’m talking about my journey to recovery from bipolar disorder, a long, arduous grueling recovery process where blood, sweat and tears would have surpassed that of my fictitious ultra marathon example.
It was nearly four years ago when I signed up for the Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Workshop. I was handed a really nice gigantic self-help workbook and several extra inserts. The book alone has several hundred pages of interactive guides. It is a place to write down real live examples of how one is going to recovery from a mental illness. Everything from writing a vision statement for what your dreams are to identifying short and long-term goals for how you are going to reach that vision.
The problem of course is that writing is one thing and doing is another. The other problem is continually managing an illness while you are trying to recover. I think that’s an oxymoron. Exactly how do you recover while you are still managing symptoms? Doesn’t the word recovery mean, “healed?” Well that’s exactly what it does not mean, because there are no “cures” for mental illness. There are medications and remedies that treat the symptoms but not cure the disease. So the very nature of recovery is geared toward managing the symptoms and getting them to such a point where you can begin to rebuild your life. The hope is that symptoms will not interfere with being able to do other things, but if they do interfere then we have the support systems in place to be able to handle them.
Everyone has her own definition of what “recovery” is. I think of it as being able to reclaim a positive sense of self despite having a mental illness. I look at recovery as a journey where finding healthy outlets become the “norm” and dealing with my mental illness is just part of my day but does not ruin my day. I have always expected to recover and that’s probably a large part of why I have been able too. But it does not mean that I don’t have bad days or difficult days where the medication side effects bother me to the point where sometimes I have to sleep 12 hours a day just to be able to function. It used to bother me but I came to realize that if this is how I need to manage the illness this is what I have to do.
For a long time I did feel shattered because I had a mental illness. But now I feel as if it is just part of who I am and what card I’ve been dealt in life. We don’t get to choose what illness we get and what we don’t get but we do get to choose how we are going to deal with it.