Given that this blog is an attempt at charting my journey back to a meaningful life, I suppose I ought to acknowledge the elephant in the room – recovery. What does recovery look like to me?
Recovery, its meanings and theories are diverse but I find it strange that other people, academics and professionals for example, would attempt to define recovery. Recovery is an individual process and has a different meaning for each person. For me, this is further complicated by having an Axis I and an Axis II diagnosis (mood disorder and personality disorder respectively) as my recovery in each of them is a little different.
In terms of my mood disorder, I do not like to consider myself as someone with depression. I am someone that has recurrent and severe depressive episodes as part of a mood cycle, which also includes sustained periods of being ‘high’. At the time of writing this blog, I am neither in a depressive episode nor in a period of ‘hypomania’ so I am recovered from those particular recent episodes. However, the likelihood is that I will have to repeat this process of recovery for each episode and that medication will be a part of that recovery and as a means to helping me stay well. I do not suffer with or have depression. Each episode is distinct. It’s important for me to make a distinction as I do not wish to define myself by a mental health condition.
I also currently have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). If you asked me even a few months ago I would have been angry at a suggestion that you could recover but that was because I held the view that recovery was synonymous with being ‘cured’. Although I will at some point no longer meet the required number of diagnostic criteria for BPD used by DSM-IV and over the requisite period of time, there will be aspects of BPD that I will continue to be aware of and struggle with. The anger generated by a suggestion of recovery in the context of BPD was because I will always have to manage certain aspects of the disorder (although hopefully at a lesser degree of severity). I saw this as unfair and a bit of a whiny “Why me?” phase. However, whether I feel it is unfair or otherwise, I will continue to struggle with aspects of mood regulation, high sensitivity and prolonged reactions to emotional triggers/events, impulsivity. That does not to me mean any longer that I cannot achieve recovery.
I’ve thought a lot about what recovery will look like for me and the main starting point is having a life that isn’t completely marred or dominated by mental health problems but it also includes:
- Being able to sustain employment – initially voluntary work and eventually paid employment;
- Being able to participate in and enjoy the activities I used to enjoy;
- Trying out new activities;
- Managing to travel and go on holidays;
- Becoming active again within the church;
- Re-establishing and renewing relationships with some friends that I have relied upon or distanced myself from during the period whilst I was very ‘unwell’. Enjoying those relationships and regaining a balance so that they are not just a source of support;
- Making new social contacts and friends without the absolute fear and dread with which such situations currently fill me (but didn’t prior to me becoming ‘unwell’);
- Regaining confidence in my abilities and competence to do things – something that the mental health services often (unintentionally) erode; and finally
- Being discharged from mental health services.
I’m sure there are other indications to me that I am moving towards recovery and that the goalposts will move but those listed above are the ones that mean most to me right now.
Recovery to me does not mean living a life symptom free.