A few nights ago, I used a crisis text line for the first time. I had no idea what to expect; I just knew I was in too dark of a place to really manage it on my own anymore. So I reached out, and I'm really glad I did. (Note: This post has a trigger warning.)
Recovering from Mental Illness
Healing from mental illness isn't linear. Most of us have had to recover from a mental illness relapse at one point or another. Triggers show up whether we invite them in or not: medications stop working, we lose loved ones, a pandemic hits. We aren't guaranteed unending remission. There's no one-size-fits-all path back to sanity, but there are ways to make healing from a mental illness relapse a little easier.
Having undiagnosed mental health issues is really hard; I'm not going to lie. For so many years, I have craved having a distinct, definitive mental health diagnosis, but it just never seems to happen. I've had several diagnoses over the years, but none of them have ever really felt right. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the problem, if nothing will ever feel right for me.
According to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the suicide death rate in the first week after patients leave inpatient psychiatric care is 300 times higher than the general population. This doesn't mean that hospitalization isn't effective; it means that hospitalization is not meant to be the sole treatment for mental illness. I wish mental hospitals were like car washes, and we all magically emerge sparkling sane upon reentry to the world, but my hardest days have always been the first few days after discharge.
Recovering from mental illness is a lot of work all on its own, but lately, those of us in recovery have been handling another major mental health issue: pandemic fatigue. I'm calling pandemic fatigue the sense of weariness and hopelessness that comes from social distancing and missing out on big events as the world battles COVID-19. Lately, pandemic fatigue has been making it much harder for me to focus on my mental health recovery because I've had to go without my usual coping mechanisms for months now.
For the last year or so, I have been doing a lot of work to process my childhood trauma. I've been in therapy, I've been taking psychiatric medication, I've been doing outside reading, and my therapist and I even found a way to work one of my favorite TV shows into my trauma work. In general, I think it's going really well, except for one problem: parenting. I don't know how to avoid causing my son the same trauma that happened to me.
Recently, I realized the importance of both fighting and surrendering to mental illness. I was hospitalized for a horrific bipolar mixed episode I suffered through for several months. I hadn't been this sick with mental illness since my four-year-long battle with postpartum depression and have never experienced anything like it. Now that I'm out of the hospital and slowly stabilizing, I'm becoming startlingly aware of a paradox in getting through mental illness -- healing isn't possible without both fighting and surrendering.
Even though I've been working toward mental health recovery for years now, feeling better makes me nervous. I spent the past few months struggling harder than I have in quite a while, so I reached out to my psychiatrist, and he prescribed me a new medication. He said it should help prevent some of my suicidal ideation and give me more energy so I would be less overwhelmed by my life. There are so many things that can go wrong with new medications, but that didn't happen for me. It worked exactly like the doctor said it would. I feel much better, and that makes me nervous.
For many people with mental illness, mental health medication and recovery go hand in hand. Unfortunately, psychiatric medication comes with a lot of stigma and stress. There are a lot of people who don't understand how psychiatric medication really works or why it's so important for many people in recovery, and their stigmatized view of medication can stick in our brains long after we've heard them say something.
Therapy has been my number one tool in my recovery, but every now and again, my therapist is wrong about something, and it freaks me out. I've had several therapists over the years, and in the past, when a therapist misunderstood something I said or made an assumption that was incorrect, I had no idea how to respond. I felt ignored, wrong, and bad, and I had no idea how to say any of this to them. But it doesn't have to be that way. It is possible to speak up when you're being misunderstood.