Firstly, before I begin I'd like to address that this post is a response/agreement to another post that was created by a good friend of mine, Sami over at H.O.P.E - entitled 'Shouldn't I be pooping rainbows?' - links can be found by clicking on the bold text. This post struck me as it addressed the point that one can reach in recovery where occasions of feeling down or blue can leave one feeling confused, and like they've failed recovery in some way.
'Shouldn't I be pooping rainbows', the amusing yet remarkably relevant title to Sami's post, addresses this concept. Recovery is supposed to be perfect, right? Smiley, happy, and positive. Full of hope and determination and strength. We see images and quotes of mental health recovery every single day (well, if like me you spend far too much time on Tumblr). Just now in fact, whilst researching for this post I came across tons of images entitled 'When I recover...' - followed by phrases such as 'I will live my life and be happy', and 'I'm going to wake up in the morning and not worry about anything at all. I'm going to be free'.
I have so many issues with these idealised images and expectations of recovery that get thrust across social media. Pictures of health, happiness and vitality which of course can be expected from a recovered mental health sufferer, yet refuse to acknowledge the difficulties and pressures faced on expectation of a newer, 'recovered' self. The auxiliary verb 'will' enhances these pressures and connotes an idea of perfection and endless happiness as an end result of the recovery journey.
I believe I have spoken about this before previously on this blog, but the word recovery never has one complete definition for all sufferers of mental health. The definition of the word has become so contorted and misinterpreted that an original meaning is unable to be traced. Yet the way I recognise it, that's okay. How can a word in the English language ever encapsulate the momentous journey that one embarks on from a state of supposed irretrievable despair and hopelessness, to somewhere that even dares to venture a footstep from the pit they feel enclosed in. To some, feeling marginally better will be as a result of not feeling suicidal, and to some, it would arise from gaining the strength to return to studying or work. Some people just know when their mental state begins to improve, getting through each day can be an achievement and a step in the right direction. Feeling 'better' or 'recovered' after a period of mental illness could be recognised as never returning to your previous symptoms ever again.
Yet unfortunately, for most that isn't the case. Why? Because life isn't idealised. It comes with its peaks and troughs and basic human emotion is a huge part of that. Mental illness or not, we all have the capability to experience a variation of emotions at any one given time. We have the right to feel sad when sadness arises, we have the right to feel angry or frustrated, we have the right to cry because we're human. Going through periods where you feel low or angry or insecure doesn't mean that you've 'failed' at 'recovery' because failing is impossible. As Sami said, the more that you take each low day and push past it, even if it is just by surviving the day, you're demonstrating an ability to push past your vulnerabilities without succumbing to the darkness that surrounded you before you began on your journey. If that darkness returns, let it. Use each set back and experience to strengthen you, not enlighten your insecurities.
I've reached a point in life now where I never say that I'm 'in recovery'. Because the word means nothing to me anymore. I have no idea where the end goal would be, when I would ever be satisfied once I had spent an evening comparing myself to all of the 'I will be free' and 'I will be happy's. I know that I can't be happy all the time and thus telling myself that I would be happy when recovered is an impossible feat. I'd be lying to myself. To me, I'm in a much stronger place mentally than I was 3-4 years ago and if I make those comparisons, that is the sign of vast improvements that I can be proud of. It does not, however, mean that I believe I will never experience down moments again - I had earlier on on this week in fact. I've learned not to beat myself up so much for the down days and learn from them instead. How did this occur? Could I have prevented it? How can I take care to ensure this doesn't happen again? What coping strategies can I use to deal with this negative event/thought? And vice versa.
Aspirations are good and healthy but only if they are realistic. The way that 'recovery' has been idealised takes from its reality and only allows further self-criticism at hurdles which can be overcome. As Sami rightfully puts it, 'we are not failing, we are living'. Perfection doesn't exist, and I kind of love it that way. I have to remind myself that the days where I feel low are okay, the days where I'm angry are okay, the days where I'm happy are all okay. We grow as people each and every day and I firmly believe every event that we encounter aids our development in some way shape or form. Even the shit ones.
So try not to beat yourself up for your setbacks and imperfections. You're imperfect, I'm imperfect, we're all imperfect and if we weren't, we wouldn't be human.
And guess what? You're doing great.