Recovery from a broken leg takes 6 months. Recovery from a C-section takes 6 weeks. Recovery from a gallbladder takes 7-10 days. Recovery from a mental illness? A lifetime. Since August 2015, I have been in recovery from depression and anxiety. It’s now January 2016 and recovery is still very difficult. I’m not where I hoped I’d be by now.
I thought that as soon as I asked for help, went to counseling or started anti-depressants, I’d suddenly be All Better and Normal. I should have been more realistic and really thought about it. I know that dealing with mental illness is a lifelong-thing, I’ve told that to friends before, but I never thought about it in regards to myself.
I thought that the Final Chapter of my recovery from anxiety and depression was taking anti-depressants. I’ve been on full pills for five weeks, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. Starting the medication wasn’t the beginning of my recovery, but sitting in front of my computer, bawling my eyes out while Googling counseling services in my city was. After talking to a friend who had some counselling at school and talked about how much it helped her, I knew it was time for me to move on too. That evening, I went home and started my recovery by admitting that what I was feeling was real enough and bad enough to ask for help. That I needed help and that was okay.
The next step was to tell my mother. I didn’t have the means or money to get myself to a session every week, so I had to ask my mother. My body was pumping with anxiety all day at school. I printed off papers for the counselling service I wanted to go to during my free period. I walked into the living room with an unbreakable knot in my stomach. I asked her to turn off the radio, then asked her to listen until I was finished because what I was about to say was really hard. I handed her the papers and begun to talk. There were tears on both our parts. She agreed in a heartbeat and I asked her to be the one to tell my father.
On the 8th of September 2015, I had my first ever counselling session. I left it feeling lighter than I had in years. It was the first time I’d gotten to openly talk about my own experience dealing with the trauma I’d been through. It was really amazing. She introduced me to Mindfulness, which I wrote my first article for Margins on. I went back for six sessions, and then we agreed, upon my suggestion, that the next best step was for me was to get on anti-depressants to take the edge off my anxiety and ease my depression.
After waiting weeks for an appointment with a physiatrist, I gave up and went to see my normal Doctor instead. I left with a prescription. On December 5th, 2015, I started half a pill a day for three weeks. Then, just after Christmas, I started on one pill a day. At first, the medication didn’t have any side effects on me, but then I had a few days where I felt very depressed. This disappeared and came back in the new year, where I spent a week feeling more depressed and hopeless than I could ever remember. I had the worst panic attack I’d ever had because I was so overwhelmed with everything. The last week has been much better, though. The depression (as a medication side effect) has mostly gone away and I’m starting to feel like my usual ‘okay’ self. I have two more weeks on the medication before it’s properly in effect. Then I go back to see my GP.I’m feeling optimistic or I’m trying to. All I’ve been thinking about this year is to just get through January. That’s currently my first and biggest hurdle, but I’m beginning to be able to think beyond that.
I don’t know if this medication is going to work. It’s just supposed to take the edge off so I can get through the difficult days, but everything feels pretty normal at the moment. I start my final year of high school in a few days, though, and I reckon that will test me and this medication. Maybe I need to get on something different. Maybe this in between feeling is my ‘good’.Maybe this is the best it gets. It’s scary to think about. This isn’t what I expected. I thought about writing about my experience with recovery when it was over, but a) it may not ever be over and b) my perspective on it will change as the year goes on. Writing about it whilst I’m right in the middle of it is really important for me to be able to look back on.
Recovery is difficult because you have to start defining yourself as something other than your illness. You have to start finding out who you are. I’m not who I was before all this started, I was fourteen and now I’m seventeen. I have no idea who I was, and I don’t know how to be anything other than what I’ve been turned into by my illness. It’s all really different and new. I feel like a little kid just beginning to form some kind of identity. I also have this constant doubt that I’m going to fall off the ‘mentally healthy wagon’, that this peace that I feel at the moment is temporary or fake and it’s all going to be gone soon.
Getting better is scary because that means having to live a life and not just survive.It means standing up, looking around, and taking it all in. It means not crawling back into that dark place when it gets hard. That said, it’s incredibly important to remember that relapse is a part of recovery and that there isn’t a finish line for recovery. It’s moving half an inch some days, or not at all. You’re not suddenly all better. You may never get better. It’s not a moment when you suddenly realize you’re there (wherever “there” is). It’s a lifetime. But I’m learning to be okay with that, accepting that this peace I feel now is always going to be better than feeling depressed.
If you’re wanting to get better than where you are now, I say to you that there’s no bad time to start. I’ve wanted to get on medication for the past two years, but only recently was I really ready to ask for that and go through the process. I was so often worried that I wasn’t sick enough to need help. I often thought that maybe everyone felt like this, but I just couldn’t deal with it. No matter how bad it is; you have options. There’s always somewhere even a little better than where you are now that is so worth working towards. It’s little steps. Over half of them are just admitting things to yourself and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be honest, and to seek help. Whilst recovery is an illusion and a very long journey, I’m glad I finally got myself to the stage when I was ready to say “This is enough. I don’t want to do this on my own any more. It’s time.”