What does recovery look like? I’m reminded of my appointment with a new doctor right after my psychiatric admission a couple of years back. He didn’t know what schizoaffective disorder was, which is fine, but it has “schizo” in it, which I think is recognisable enough for a rough idea. He said that I’ve recovered because I was no longer in hospital. I was offended, because surely it’s known that mental illnesses don’t work like that. I wished he’d actually listened to me explaining how it is a long term or life long illness. Just because I’ve recovered enough to get out of hospital does not mean I am “cured.”
I never saw that GP again. I needed understanding so that he could help me by crafting an accurate and compassionate mental health plan. That was not the mental health plan he gave me. Sadly you can’t expect understanding and compassion from everyone. People will tell you that your suffering is wrong and inappropriate and like that GP, they’ll muddy your path in the guise of helping. Recovering does not mean recovered! From the outside it looks like I’m in a good place, which is true, especially in comparison to other times in my life, but it should not be confused with a good place that functions independently without support. If you take away the support that keeps you okay because you seem to be doing well, you are no longer okay in result.
One goal of being recovered out of many is not to get rid of your supports, but to function alongside them, rather than because of them. Sometimes you can never be truly “recovered” in ableist terms and there’s no shame in that. The goal or expectation of being “recovered” can be extremely harmful, because for some, that will never be a reality. I like the term “recovering” better, because a lot of people are always in a state of change and movement, and there often is never a full stop to the end of our sentence.
“Recovering” doesn’t have to mean the possibility of a fully recovered state, it can just mean the faith in working with what you got. For some people, the best hope there is is to just to be alive and using the term “recovering” can be harmful as well. It could seem like it’s calling no change or movement a failure. People can be recovered, recovering or being and those three things are beautiful and a constant success. We do not need to compare ourselves to what ableist society calls success. We get to create our own reality and what it means in the context of our lives. A win for you may not be a win for someone else, but that does not invalidate it in the slightest. Look at yourself with the lens of compassion, because we all deserve that.
Sometimes my mind judges me and my “productivity,” because I think if someone saw into my life, they would think I’m a lazy bum who is getting away with cheating the system. When people ask me “what have you been up to?” I get instantly painted in shame, because my life does not mirror what society expects for adults. I feel like I’m bad because I can’t work and some days I achieve nothing because all of my little amount of energy goes to just being okay. My medication has made me put on a lot of weight, so because of lack of motivation and energy I don’t exercise, which just contributes to more weight gain. As a person who had an eating disorder since I was 12, I feel such disgust and shame when I look at my body. But my mental health is more important than being skinny.
I tell people that I find it hard to get out of the house more than twice a week, and some say things like “aim for 5 days,” as if that’s a reasonable goal. Goals should include steps, not impossible leaps. I feel like I’m expected to suddenly do things I can’t do, just because I’ve seemingly recovered. If you have a mental illness or disability, you have to change your viewpoint on what your successes are. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to your wins in life – we don’t come from cookie cutters.
I promise you, when you look at your life with compassion and ignore what society expects, you see that you are succeeding a lot more than you realise. “Productivity” does not make a life valuable. The idea of productivity isn’t needed to be a human worthy of love and respect. Judgement harms, especially if it is coming from within. It’s so helpful when you are compassionate towards yourself and your recovery, even if no one else is. If you have experienced darkness, every source of light, no matter how small, is evidence of success.
Recovery isn’t a straight line. I’ve recently had some really bad lows, but that does not mean I’ve gone backwards. Falling is a part of every route you take, so it’s important to know that you are enough, you are worthy of love and you are good.
Thank you for reading.