Mental Health Blogs

Recovering from Chronic Mental Illness: Reconciling With Relapse

I touched on this topic in my post, Flashbacks and The Fear of Relapse, but there is a lot more to mental health recovery than a single post can cover. An entire book spanning thousands of pages cannot describe the fear associated with relapse.

Fighting to Achieve Mental Health Remission

masks
When I think of a chronic mental illness, I always imagine that picture. It summarizes the disease for me. The famous two masks: melancholic and, perhaps, manic. But there is a gray area and that area is where we tend to live in, at least some of the time, in relative stability.

Achieving Mental Health Remission

It took me over ten years to recover from bipolar disorder. This partly due to the addiction and alcoholism I battled alongside my disease. The word remission is different than the word recovered. Remission implies, in the context of chronic mental illness, an abating of symptoms, a period of stability. A time in which life moves as smoothly as it can. It’s lovely, but you ask yourself, will it last? Will I relapse? In my life, this question bothers me immensely. But it’s something I try not to think about, and you  might want to do the same. If we are focused on the possibility of relapse when in remission, the stress of that can, in fact, trigger an episode.

That is the most difficult part: forgetting that a chronic mental illness is, in fact, chronic. Remission is often determined to be recovered. When the symptoms of mental illness are gone, when you are stable, you are in recovery. The symptoms of the mental illness have lessened.  But if you cannot accept the reality of relapse, that it might happen or it might not, recovery is fruitless. You cannot enjoy it. Recovery, remission, hard fought, should be cherished but it’s difficult, to say the least, to ignore the word relapse. To live without it dwelling in the back of your psyche.

Learning to Embrace the Reality of Relapse

This is a tall order. Is it possible to embrace the notion that we might not always be well? I argue that in order to become well, to stay well, we must.

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You cannot walk through life full of fear. Well, you can, but that isn’t living at all. It is simply existing. The body is not properly connected to the mind. In order to recover, to achieve remission, you must understand that you might relapse. Your life will probably not be entirely smooth. It might be a bit harder than those who do not have a chronic mental illness, it probably will be, but your life is worth fighting for.

In my life, I have a plan when symptoms start to show. As much as it bothers me, I have told my partner and family to let me know when I might be slipping. Usually, I tell them that they are wrong. “I am perfectly fine.” They have no idea what is going on. They are usually right and I visit my psychiatrist. We have made a plan to avoid relapse. This is a very good idea. If I start to show signs of depression, we move up specific medications. If I start to feel a bit speedy, we lower others. It’s like juggling: sometimes the ball falls even if you are an expert. More often than not, having a plan can greatly reduce relapse and, in turn, fear. If you have a plan, you feel less lost. You have options that can work to ensure you stay well.

I urge people to have a wellness recovery plan, if you do not already,  because walking through life full of fear is not a life at all. Embrace your recovery, the reality of relapse, and make a plan to stay well.

This entry was posted in About Natalie, Lifestyle Changes, Managing Bipolar Disorder, Medication and Treatment, Mental Health, Mental Health Advocate, Recovery Issues, Relapse and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Recovering from Chronic Mental Illness: Reconciling With Relapse

  1. Alistair McHarg says:

    Relapse is not a requirement of sobriety and believing that you always have an escape hatch will seriously decrease your chance of long-term sobriety. – That said, I would encourage others to embrace life AS IT IS – which includes illness, death, unfairness, loss, terror, and yes, sometimes relapse.

  2. Hang in there girl! Good writing, deep thinking and just staying on the path will bring more informed recovery. My own book on recovery [Deep Recovery] covered the issues of how to use your most difficult relationships to understand your own recovery process. Having been through a few, I wrote it as a counterpoint to less effective psychobabble.
    cp

  3. Hi, Dr. Charles Parker:

    Thank you for this comment and the positive encouragement. Much appreciated. Your book sounds interesting and I hope people will look into it. I certainly will.
    Sincerely,
    Natalie

  4. this is a good article. i agree with the sentiment. the full truth of bipolar is that there are – not to be an idiot about it – ups and downs. they both inform each other. if you know there will be depressions, if you can normalize them, it can be a time of learning and walking through the pain. my illness has been active, and it has been passive. passive, quiet, is most definitely better.

  5. Hi, Louise:
    Thank you for the positive feedback! And yes, I agree, the illness is chronic in nature. I still cycle, but it’s something I can live with now. Life is much easier.
    Thanks for your comment.
    Natalie

  6. Natalie,
    One more quick thot: consider exploring the relevance of immune dysfunction in any chronic psych challenge. It is the most frequently overlooked problem and we use immune testing in our offices multiple times everyday with refractory immune challenges. This vid is a bit over the top with some details, but will give you a beginning idea of what I am talking about: http://youtu.be/V4WP0blFdjk

    Best,
    Dr Charles Parker
    ADHD Medication Rules: Paying Attention To The Meds For Paying Attention

  7. Dr Musli Ferati says:

    By course of any mental illness we are learning more about real life in which are intertwine favorable and bad things. As long as the main intention of recovery from mental illness is the affinity to recognize more efficacious the reality, which one tells us that the relapse of mental illness is component part of the same illness. In this direction, Your suggestion to make a plan to recovery is crucial step in successful management of mental disorder as long lasting health disturbance. Besides medication treatment of mental illness, it should to undertake many psycho-social engagement that helping to stabilize the remission as prerequisite of recovery from mental disorder. Indeed, it ought also to contribute oneself person with mental disease in this complex process, by improvement the manner of life style, in order to more functioning in daily life. Every other approach in psychiatric treatment of mental illness would be incomplete and temporary as well.

  8. Hi, Dr. Musli Ferati:

    I always look forward to your educated comments on mental illness. It is great to have diversity in feedback. I do believe having a plan is crucial to sustained recovery.

    A comprehensive approach to treating mental illness is important.

    Thank you for for providing feedback on this.
    Natalie

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