When talking about ‘recovery’, what are we talking about?

I’ve started a new series – yet another one! – here on my blog. As this is a personal blog, I write about what is happening in my life and it is mostly related to mental health and psychology. This series will cover the topic of ‘recovery’ and my efforts to find my way in it. At this is the starting point, I have no idea how long this road will be nor how many twists and turns are going to present themselves. All I know is that there are twists and turns, that the road isn’t marked well (yet) and that it isn’t a highway. Here we go …

 

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Mental illness affects the body, the mind, the soul, the heart and your identity. It’s not some capsule that ‘doesn’t work’ in some specific area. It comes and it takes over the whole ‘you’. There isn’t a day or a situation that you can ‘leave it at the door’. I would actually love that, to check my depression in at the airport and run to take another flight. It would find me again but at least I would have some days off!

 

That is not the daily reality. It is always there, the depression, like my shadow. But now it is in remission, the shadow becomes smaller as the sun starts to rise. I’m on my way from being ‘ill’ on being on the road of recovery. But what is that road exactly and what does it mean to be on my way?

 

For me personally, (which is a key concept in recovery that it is a personal preference how you walk the road of recovery) it means going slowly from a passive to a more active position in my life. For me it signifies the shift from ‘I suffer from depression’ to ‘I manage my life with depression’.

 

When you experience living with a mental illness, you’ll notice some symptoms. Those can be positive, meaning they add something (like an auditory hallucination) or negative, meaning that they take away something like anhedonia, the loss of emotions or feelings.

 

The first stop on the road of recovery would be to manage your symptoms, to understand and recognize them. To find a way to reduce them or to fit them into your life. The outcome could be that you feel more in charge and that mental illness isn’t that big wave anymore that turns your life upside down. You know what can happen (to an extent), you know yourself, you have some resources and most important, you have your experience to go on.

 

In this series I’ll use the following definition “Mental health recovery is a journey of healing and transformation enabling a person with a mental health problem to live a meaningful life in a community of his or her choice while striving to achieve his or her full potential.[1]”

 

Building on that definition 4 additional life domains were defined by Dr. Robert E. Drake that can be taken into account when thinking about the topic of recovery.

 

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The road of recovery to mountains of possibilities.

 

  1. Existential recovery.

Being confronted with mental illness can have a profound effect. You can feel empty inside, confused about who you are and what you want out of life.  Hazy about what life is and what your place in it can be. It is not uncommon for depression to place you in an existential struggle. In recovery you’ll need to fill that void, piece by piece.

Many people find purpose and meaning through meaningful employment and social relationships, areas of such importance that they are dealt with in separate dimensions below.

 

  1. Functional recovery.

Functional recovery refers to participation in everyday and valued social roles which are often taken for granted by people who have not experienced mental illness. Being ill I lost my job, you know the reason your alarm goes off in the morning) and some friends here and there. I’ve been able to keep my relationship, not all due to my efforts but as a joint venture between Pierre and me. I’ve kept my most important friend in my life but contact isn’t as frequent as it used to be. I’ll try to phone them sometimes, letting them know that I value their presence in my life very much. I’ve ‘met’ new people in the blogging world and although I don’t ‘know’ them in real life, they have become like real friends to me. They make me laugh with their fun blogs and comments. I feel like I belong in this community which gives me an identity and a reason to get up in the morning.

 

  1. Psychical recovery.

People with mental illness have higher rates of physical health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Many people with mental illness also struggle with poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking. As such, physical recovery refers to positive improvements in physical health.

This can involve adoption of a healthier diet, increased exercise, and reductions in use of substances such as cigarettes and alcohol. Such improvements in physical health frequently have a knock-on effect on mental health: a win-win situation for body and mind. Physical recovery can be self-initiated, or assisted by physical therapists and nutritionists.

 

  1. Social recovery.

Stigma and stereotypes can lead to social exclusion for people with mental illness. This can result in piercing isolation and crushing loneliness. As such, social recovery involves taking action to better participate in the social arena. This can involve connecting/ reconnecting with family and old friends. It can also involve new activity in the social domain, such as community organizations.

 

These five domains are discussed in much more detail by Professor in Psychiatry Rob Whitley in the video below.

 

I will use those 5 domains to discuss my personal recovery in further posts. I predominantly chose this framework to build on as I feel overwhelmed while being on the road of recovery. When being ‘ill’ things were difficult but the difficulties were from another nature. I was struggling to survive. Now I still struggle but I have built some baseline to struggle from. When you can look a bit further because you stand on that shaky baseline, you see all those domains approaching you in full speed. You do have a choice, leave your base camp and go under the blanket or rest at the base camp and start the climbing of a mountain the next morning. What would you chose?

 

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Are you dealing with (mental) health issues? Do you have experience with recovery? Do you have any tips or do you write too about your road to recovery? Let me know in the comments, I love to read them!

 

 

Resources and additional information.

 

Other interesting reads:

Blog about recovery

Caz from Mental Health from the Other Side shares her view on recovery.

 

[1] Online article: ‘Five factors of recovery in mental health’

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24 thoughts on “When talking about ‘recovery’, what are we talking about?

  1. Amazing post! And it is so true what you said about mental disorders affecting one’s identity. This is one of the reasons why my OCD journey has been pretty difficult – like when it comes to functional, social or physical recovery, I can say that I am doing pretty fine but the existential one can be very difficult: not because I think I would ever miss my OCD but after so many years it did become a part of me to be honest.
    And what helped me a lot to get better…was I think defining goals and having a “reason why to live” if that makes sense. When I was a teen it used to be much worse but then I started to work – found an amazing workplace etc. And that did help me a lot.

    Blessings

    Mark

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it starts with accepting things and learn about your condition and symptoms.
      The existential recovery is woven through it all and it seems to be backed up by the other ones (like you mentioned your workplace) and that when you have some pieces of the puzzle, they can support the existential one, which can feed your further goals.
      ‘Feeling or defining that you want to live’, with all of what you’re going through was like a shock to me. It are all small steps but they all add up. I hope recovery can be a good journey.

      Like

  2. “It means going slowly from a passive to a more active position in my life’ – I really like that. Whether or not symptomatic recovery is possible, moving towards a more active stance is something that’s doable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so too. Participating actively in your recovery gives me a better grip on things and I feel better about it. It’s given me some confidence and self-esteem, self-worth. Some days the active part slips out of my hands and it’s hard work to get it back.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad we’ve got a new series coming…I can set my Tuesdays by them. I had a woman tell me the other day that since I no longer attend 12-step meetings that I’m not in recovery and I should use a different word. She said whether you’re an addict or mentally ill or both, “recovery” is only proper for those in the 12-step program.

    So, I killed her with a shovel. Actually I just left the conversation. But I found it interesting someone held that belief. Would it really have mattered to her if I called it “getting better”?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never heard the idea that recovery would be only reserved for people in 12-steps meetings. I can imagine they do believe that.
      The recovery movement is so much larger than AA maybe that they use the term like that.
      I’ve noticed that people who are really trained in the 12-step programs have sometimes difficulties seeing the difference between an addiction, a mental health disorder and dual diagnosis.
      For the sake of argument, she better would be more happy if you go out of your way to adjust terminology that you use.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The militant 12-steppers, especially in AA, are a big piece of what drove me away. For me to recover, my entire life couldn’t be about fighting my addiction. I know you guys get a lot of it here, but I actually do other things with my life. Those militant AA people don’t. They talk about not drinking 24/7. To me that’s not being in recovery. It’s being an alcoholic who just doesn’t drink.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Some people go from one obsession to another. While recovery (for me!) means transforming your whole life and integrating some ‘old’ parts of you with the new ones in a new or refreshed context. I think the key to recovery is ‘you’ and it holds a lot of freedom.
        In my experience it’s very difficult debating someone with such a belief because the ‘steps’ or the beliefs become an integrated part of their person, it is what ‘saved’ them.
        But to each its own and what terminology we use must not become more important than living a wonderful life.

        Like

    1. Thank you for the compliment, I accept it with great joy.
      Of course my post are also a little selfish as I hope they can help me too! Knowledge is power is one of my beliefs.

      Like

  4. Spot on as usual! There are lots of differing opinions on what recovery is, especially in the addiction community. There are those who say that you’re always an alcoholic no matter what you do and I agree with the core of that but I don’t identify as an alcoholic anymore. Obviously I will never drink again because I’m almost guaranteed to relapse but it’s not something I want to do so I don’t see it as an “illness” anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that in certain communities ‘recovery’ is used slightly different. I understand what that meaning is.
      I chose to look at recovery from my perspective and I agree with you that when recovering you can create another identity or expand the view on your identity to a person with …. who maybe needs to be careful off ….
      What I especially like in the recovery message is that it is a flexible concept and you get to be in the drivers seat of your road.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes Kasha, recovery can be a long road and I suppose to an extent, with mental illness, we always remain in recovery as opposed to being cured.

    Things like anxiety, depression and panic disorders along with more severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and Bipolar never actually go away. For me, it’s always there; I still experience depression and anxiety and when I don’t sleep for days due to physical pains and other symptoms of Transverse Myelitis, I still have hallucinations.

    I believe functional recovery is my chosen option tho’ like you, I lost my job and many friends along the way, I don’t get out often to socialise but I do enjoy all the things I get to do.

    I wish you well in your recovery and yes, you’ve got many friends in the blogging community 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a great way of putting it, to “manage life with depression.” Thinking of mental illness in terms of “cures” is setting oneself up for perceptions of failure since conditions like depression are rarely “cured,” but thinking in terms of “suffering” also just reinforces our expectation of that as our new norm. It’s also key that your statement affirms that yes, there is still a “life” to cherish “with depression.” It may not be easy, but it’s there and it’s worth striving for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure it is! I try to focus on the things I can do. I am not my depression, I just need to adjust here and there. Sometimes more and sometimes less but there are good things too that are worth living for and that are being presented to us. It’s the magic to capture them and to see them for what they are.

      Liked by 1 person

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