On Recovery

ON RECOVERY

Recently, a friend shared the following post regarding her recovery from cancer on Facebook:

“I’ve been cancer-free for almost nine months. Some days, I can’t tell if I’m recovering from all of the treatments because it takes so long to recover. But, then I look back on the past nine months and realize that I’ve come a long way. Here’s how I know I’m getting better:

-9 Months Ago: Couldn’t do three push-ups without collapsing.

-Today: Did 20 of them.

-9 Months Ago: I could barely lift 20 pounds.

-Yesterday: I did 48kg deadlifts (I forget how to convert that number into pounds).

-9 Months Ago: Couldn’t run a mile in less than 14 minutes.

-Today: I run multiple miles in less than 12-minute miles… getting closer to 11-minute miles.

-9 Months Ago: Sometimes, I slid down the stairs because chemo made my feet numb and it was easier to slide than try to walk down the stairs.

-Today: I still hold onto the railing for dear life, but I let go on the last few stairs, now.

So, when I type it out like this, I see that there is so much to celebrate on this birthday. I’m still praying for a full recovery, but, really, I’m just grateful to be here and to know so many wonderful people”

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Naturally, I was thrilled to read of her progress and all the supportive comments that followed her post. Then I thought about how far I’ve come with my own illness and I felt grateful, too.  But I wondered: what responses would I get if I posted my progress regarding my mental health condition? Would people think I was just seeking attention, exaggerating, or minimizing my friend’s struggle with cancer? Would others even read it? If they did, would they just roll their eyes and move on?  Or would they avoid me the next time they saw me in person, as if my depression might somehow infect them?

I understand that people might not know what to say to someone who struggles from depression, but saying nothing just makes a person feel more ashamed, more worthless, more invisible, and more alone.  So here is my celebration of my progress within the past 7 years

My Recovery from a Mental Health Condition:

“7 years ago, my brain broke and I was diagnosed with bipolar II and major depression. I felt like I was given a death sentence, because there is no cure for mental health conditions and I will never be “free” of it. Some days, I struggle with feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, and loss of purpose and identity; It all seems too much to bear. But, then I remember how far I’ve come and  how much I’ve learned. Here’s how I know I’m doing better:

-7 Years Ago: I was so ashamed and embarrassed, I isolated. I had no idea what was wrong with me or how to get better.  

-Today: I have shared my story publicly and strategies I use to stay well with hundreds of patients and peers and teach NAMI education courses on an ongoing basis.

-7 Years Ago: I had 30 rounds of ECT and had difficulty remembering things and communicating my thoughts.

-Today: I regained my short-term memory, my brain responds to medication, and I am able to manage side effects.

-7 Years Ago: I was unable to work and convinced I’d never work again, let alone teach.

-Today: I have several jobs that allow me to use the skills I’ve spent my whole life building (NCC, NAMI, PBS, and TUTOR DR)

-7 Years Ago: I wanted to die to stop the persistent feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair

-Today: I enjoy life and I know I have worth, purpose, and hope.

-7 Years Ago, I could barely get out of bed, get dressed, shower, and complete basic household chores

-Today: I get out of bed, complete household chores, and take care of my child on a regular basis.

-7 Years Ago: I didn’t even want to leave the house and took no pleasure in any of the things I once loved.

-Today: I direct school plays, sing in a band, perform  in community theatre, and maintain my own blog.

So, when I type it out like this, I see that there is so much to celebrate, though many will still consider me “weak,” “lazy,” “crazy,” or “over-dramatic.” I know this will be a lifelong battle and there will be relapses, but I’m grateful to be here and to have the knowledge and skills to manage my condition, educate the public, and inspire hope to others with mental health conditions.

Why is a mental health condition treated differently than a physical one? Both are life-threatening medical conditions that affect millions of people. Both require extensive treatments and medications with crippling side effects. Yet someone with cancer is accepted, acknowledged, and supported while someone with a mental health condition is questioned, avoided, shamed, and blamed. No one says to someone with cancer, “get over it,” or “you’re just too lazy to work” or “you just want sympathy” or “there are days I feel like I have cancer, too.”  That would be ridiculous. Yet, people with mental illness hear that all the time. Is a person who is battling mental health condition any less of a warrior, role model, or hero? My friend is resilient, strong, and courageous. So am I. So is anyone who fights daily to overcome any other debilitating disease.  Just because an illness cannot be seen doesn’t mean it isn’t there or is any less serious.

Until mental health conditions are given the same respect, attention, and care as physical health conditions, the stigma surrounding mental illness will continue and people will suffer in silence and shame. Precious lives will be taken that might have been saved. If you are struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. You are seen, heard, honored, and loved more than you could ever know. Fight on, brave warrior—we see you, we hear you, we honor you.

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