I touched on reconciling with relapse 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. Reconciling with the possibility of mental illness relapse is a difficult task.
Reconciling With Relapse After Fighting to Achieve Remission
When I think of a chronic mental illness, I always imagine that picture over there. 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.
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?
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.
Learn to Reconcile With the Reality of Mental Illness 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.
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.
Make A Wellness Recovery Action Plan
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 manic, 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 action plan (WRAP), 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.