Explanation of recovery from bipolar disorder, depression and the importance of hope, personal responsibility, education, advocacy, and peer support in recovery.
Recovery has only recently become a word used in relation to the experience of psychiatric symptoms. Those of us who experience psychiatric symptoms are commonly told that these symptoms are incurable, that we will have to live with them for the rest of our lives, that the medications, if they (health care professionals) can find the right ones or the right combination, may help, and that we will always have to take the medications. Many of us have even been told that these symptoms will worsen as we get older. Nothing about recovery was ever mentioned. Nothing about hope. Nothing about anything we can do to help ourselves. Nothing about empowerment. Nothing about wellness.
Mary Ellen Copeland says:
When I was first diagnosed with manic depression at the age of 37, I was told that if I just kept taking these pills - pills that I would need to take for the rest of my life - I would be OK. So I did just that. And I was "OK" for about 10 years until a stomach virus caused severe lithium toxicity. After that I could no longer take the medication. During the time I was taking the medication I could have been learning how to manage my moods. I could have been learning that relaxation and stress reduction techniques and fun activities can help reduce the symptoms. I could have been learning that I would probably feel a lot better if my life wasn't so hectic and chaotic, if I wasn't living with an abusive husband, if I spent more time with people who affirmed and validated me, and that support from other people who have experienced these symptoms helps a lot. I was never told that I could learn how to relieve, reduce and even get rid of troubling feelings and perceptions. Perhaps if I had learned these things and had been exposed to others who where working their way through these kinds of symptoms, I would not have spent weeks, months and years experiencing extreme psychotic mood swings while doctors searched diligently to find effective medications.
Now the times have changed. Those of us who have experienced these symptoms are sharing information and learning from each other that these symptoms do not have to mean that we must give up our dreams and our goals, and that they don't have to go on forever. We have learned that we are in charge of our own lives and can go forward and do whatever it is we want to do. People who have experienced even the most severe psychiatric symptoms are doctors of all kinds, lawyers, teachers, accountants, advocates, social workers. We are successfully establishing and maintaining intimate relationships. We are good parents. We have warm relationships with our partners, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues. We are climbing mountains, planting gardens, painting pictures, writing books, making quilts, and creating positive change in the world. And it is only with this vision and belief for all people that we can bring hope for everyone.
Support From Health Care Professionals
Sometimes our health care professionals are reluctant to assist us in this journey - afraid that we are setting ourselves up for failure. But more and more of them are providing us with valuable assistance and support as we make our way out of the system and back to the life we want. Recently I (Mary Ellen) spent a full day visiting with health care professionals of all kinds at a major regional mental health center. It was exciting to hear over and over the word "recovery". They were talking about educating the people they work with, about providing temporary assistance and support for as long as is necessary during the hard times, about working with people to take responsibility for their own wellness, exploring with them the many options available to address their symptoms and issues and then sending them on their way, back to their loved ones and into the community.
A word that these dedicated health care professionals used over and over again was "normalize". They are trying to see for themselves, and help the people they work with to see, these symptoms on a continuum of the norm rather than an aberration - that these are symptoms that everyone experiences in some form or other. That when, either from physical causes or stress in our lives, they become so severe that they are intolerable, we can work together to find ways to reduce and relieve them. They are talking about less traumatic ways to deal with crises where symptoms become frightening and dangerous. They are talking about respite centers, guest homes and supportive assistance so a person can work through these hard times at home and in the community rather than in the frightening scenario of a psychiatric hospital.