I talk a lot about recovery. And of course, recovery is always the goal. Living with any chronic health condition, whether it is mental illness or a physical condition, presents challenges. The more we can recover from those challenges and live healthier lives, the better. Yet it is also important to be aware of the dangers of recovery from mental illness. I write this post not to dissuade anyone from getting better, but to avoid pitfalls that may come up during recovery so that you avoid some of the backslides I’ve experienced.
The biggest risk is of course relapse. And sadly, this risk is something that you can be mindful of and try to mitigate, but even if you do every damn thing right, you could experience a relapse. And that sucks, but it does not mean you are weak. In fact, there is some evidence that those who have had a serious episode of mental illness may be more prone to future episodes yet we still fight, which I would argue makes us stronger in the long run. The most important thing when you come across a relapse is to remember that this happens sometimes, it sucks, but it is absolutely not your fault.
And as I said, there are ways to mitigate possible relapses. For me, medication and therapy are two of the biggest factors in avoiding a relapse. It seems sometimes silly to me to be taking a medication when I feel fine right now, especially because when I am not actively in a depressive episode, it seems so hard to imagine being back in that episode. But then I remember that one of the reasons I have fewer episodes now is specifically because of the medication. And of course the therapy.
In fact, I’ve seen first hand the benefits therapy has at merely maintaining mental health. With my first therapist, I got to a place where I felt better, at which point I believed I didn’t need the therapist anymore and stopped going. This caused me to slowly slide back into a depressive hole and eventually I needed to return to my therapist. Nor would this be the only time I stopped therapy, only to realize I needed it back. And this is one of the biggest things I want to warn readers about. Just because you feel better with therapy, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right time to end it, and if you are thinking about stopping therapy, it might be a really good idea to have a serious conversation with your therapist about whether, in their opinion, that would be good for you.
Another risk of recovery is that you settle for good enough. In other words, you might not be having debilitating depression anymore, but you have lingering low energy, or sleepless nights, or whatever. You may think because you are functioning, you are good enough, but there are times that you can still get better and part of advocating for yourself means recognizing that and making it clear to whoever might be saying that you don’t need more treatment that actually you do.
And lastly, there is the biggest risk of recovery, specifically recovery from depression. And that risk is suicide. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in some cases the extreme low-energy from a severe depression may prevent a suicidal individual from taking the necessary actions. However, if recovery gives them more energy without recognizing and addressing the suicidality, there is potentially a grave danger.
And again, I don’t mean to scare anyone away from recovery. On the contrary, I want people to have the best journey to recovery they can, and hopefully learning from some of the risks and pitfalls I’ve had with my journey will be beneficial for that. As such, I hope this will be helpful, and until next time, be well.