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The scene is all too familiar. I am in bed, paralyzed by my anxiety and held down by my depression. I’ve been here too long but I am still tired. I think about the outside world and instinctively pull the covers over my head until there’s darkness and silence again. I close my eyes tight and hope that sleep will come soon to get a break from my mind.
Would you have thought that this person is in recovery from reading this? Probably not. Recovery is painted as the other side of the fence where the grass is finally greener or the place beyond the finish line where you stand on a podium and receive a medal for all of your hard work. This image we have in our head couldn’t be further from reality. Recovery is ugly, it is difficult, it is uncomfortable. It presents a whole new set of challenges that you never could have anticipated before embarking on this journey.
And please, don’t get me wrong. Mental illness and addiction is no walk in the park. It is a dark and lonely place. It is insidious because it doesn’t take the things that give you joy away from you, it just makes you completely disinterested in those sources of joy and even resent their existence. You suddenly look around you and find yourself in a world that you can no longer recognize and you start to forget that your life was anything more than the personal hell you are experiencing. You have withdrawn yourself from everything and everyone that you have cared for or about and you find yourself alone. This is absolutely fucking terrifying. All you are left with is your mind which feels toxic and unwell. It tells you that you are no good, unworthy of those things or people that brought you happiness. And the worst part? The worst part is you believe it.
But, despite this happening to you, there is something inside of you that makes you keep on fighting. So that’s what you do. You fight. You tell the people who have still stuck around you what has been happening. You go to therapy and find out a lot about yourself that you had been holding down. Soon, you begin to catch glimpses of the person you used to know, someone who isn’t plagued by their own mind. But, mental illness is not that simple. It won’t release you from it’s grasp even if you really want to get better and return to your life. It takes grit and determination to drag yourself back up everytime that you are pulled back down by it. This is recovery. It is doing what is uncomfortable for you because of your illness and doing it anyway because you know that on the other side is the life you have been dreaming of.
This is my story. I have been battling chronic depression, generalized anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, dissociation, and self harm since I was 15 years old. After 7 grueling years of trying just to survive, I can finally say I am in recovery. Not too long ago I didn’t even know you could be in recovery for mental illness. I thought that my life would be a relentless challenge, and I didn’t see any way forward. The most I could handle was surviving another day. After a stint in a psych ward, years of therapy, medication, dropping out of art school, and barely holding a minimum wage job down, I am here. I think of my future and I have hope, plans, drive, and determination. I am working at my dream job and I feel more like myself than I maybe ever have done.
However, this is not where my recovery story ends because despite the hope, the healthy coping skills I have learned, and the wonderful support network around me, I still have to consciously make healthy choices for myself. At every turn I am confronted with making a choice that feels comfortable for my mental health, or the choice that I know will be difficult but that will help me in the long run. Believe me when I say that choosing the uncomfortable option is not easy, but I like to think of these decisions as turning point moments, because I know that with every decision I can be brought closer or further away from my goal. Something as simple as drinking water can send me into a tailspin some days because even though the action of it is easy, it takes all the might that I have to choose myself rather than my illness. I have to remind myself that my illness is my enemy and I should not be catering towards it. It has taken everything away from me before and it will do it again if I do not continue fighting it.
At the beginning of this year, my boyfriend and biggest cheerleader was deployed with the US Army and I began setting myself up to reinforce my healthy habits to deal with the challenge up ahead. I started my job here at Turning Point CT, journaling everyday, going to the gym regularly, going on hikes with my dog, and regularly practicing yoga at a local studio. I began to feel in a position where I could handle this upcoming 9 months, if I was only able to keep the momentum going. Little did I know that this plan was about to be turned on its head during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. Suddenly, I was bound to my bed like I had been in the midst of my mental illness. I was forced to be isolated like my mental illness had done to me. On top of all of this, my anxiety is screaming at me telling me that I can lose someone I love and care about. I was shaken to my core and experiencing real grief for those all over the world dealing with this global trauma. I felt myself slipping into my mental illness again. So I had to scramble and figure out all new ways of keeping myself on my path to recovery. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but I am trying to be gentle with myself while I do.
So I hope that you will join me in my recovery journey while I continue fighting this fight. I am going to try everyday to do something that shows myself that I am still here, showing up. Somedays the only thing I might be able to do is make my bed, or make sure I have fed myself enough food and water. Some days might be bigger and I manage to fall back on healthy coping skills rather than unhealthy ones during a panic attack. What I am saying is, that recovery is not a straight line because it requires constant effort. There will be times where it looks like I am not making progress, but even a small step forward is still a step forwards.
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