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Is It Possible to Recover From Chronic Mental Illness?

It is possible to recover from chronic mental illness. But 'recovery' from chronic mental illness requires a different working definition. Here it is.

The title of this blog, Recovering from Mental Illness, argues that, yes, it is possible to recover from mental illness. But recovering from a mental illness is different from, say, recovering from a physical injury. I broke my ankle two years ago and spent time on crutches and in physiotherapy. The recovery period was slow, six months passed before I could walk with both feet, but my ankle slowly healed. It became well and functioned as it once had. I could rely on it to take me through the day. I could go running again.

Recovering from mental illness is not the same. The process probably does not require physiotherapy and Tylenol as the drug of choice. The road to recovery from mental illness is much longer, not usually smooth, and perhaps hot to the touch. Metaphors aside: it isn’t easy.

Recovering From Chronic Mental Illness Differs From Recovering From a Physical Injury

A physical injury might tie you to bed for weeks or months, maybe you have to get surgery, or perhaps the injury will recur down the road. You may have to tell your supervisor that you need a few weeks off as a result, but can usually provide a date in which you will be back at work. Functioning as you were before the injury. The cast you wear tells the world that you are injured. Colleagues tell you to get well soon. And, with any luck, you do.

If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, the road to recovery is probably not as easy. It’s easy to accept that you have physically injured yourself. It’s depressing, sure, but acceptance of physical injury comes much easier. When coming to terms with the idea that you will have a mental illness for the rest of your life and will need to take medication and change your lifestyle, acceptance of the illness is anything but easy. It is probably the hardest thing you will come to terms with.

What Does Recovering from Chronic Mental Illness Mean?

Recovering from a mental illness is different than recovering from physical injuries. First, it is an invisible disease. It’s not easy to explain to people that you are sick if you do not look sick; even though you are in pain and working to be free of it. Sometimes, you lose people who had previously been a vital part of your life. Surely, the best people will hang on for the ride.

The definition of recovery, the very roots of the word, mean to be healed or to be cured. People are not cured of mental illness but we do heal, and we do recover. It’s important to understand what the word recovered means when tied to mental illness. Recovering is the process you take to find wellness and stability. It is the months, the years, you work to find the right medication and balance in your life. Recovering is hard work. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and something I work to maintain on a daily basis. Unlike a self-limiting physical injury, recovery is defined on a  consistent basis. It is the medication you take when you should, the appointments with doctors or therapists, and the support network you nurture.

Achieving a State of Recovery From Mental Illness

Recovering is exhausting, but achieving a state of hard-earned wellness is liberating. Mental illness is a chronic disease, and so the word recovered implies remission. An abating or elimination of symptoms for a duration of time.  A life that is not defined by the illness and instead the ability to move forward. It’s important to plan for relapse but equally important to plan to for success.

Having a mental illness is not a life sentence. If the glass is is half full, and let’s believe that it is, we might think of it as an opportunity to grow and to become stronger than we were. To live in the present moment and move on from the past: to work to recover and rejoice once we have.

39 thoughts on “Is It Possible to Recover From Chronic Mental Illness?”

  1. I believe there is TOTAL RECOVERY. i have had 2 severe mental breakdowns if you like to call it that where I became quite psychotic/delusional. They were very traumatic and I was pretty told I would never fully recover, or would have to MANAGE it and would be on medication for the rest of my life . I would like to disagree totally to this. I have now been recovered for 7 years (no medication) and actually been working in mental health for that entire time. Sorry if this offends anyone but this was the case for me and I hope it inspires and brings hope to those who don’t believe.

    1. I believe like you, but have been unable to find consistency in feeling positive for any length of time longer than 4 to 5 weeks at a time.

    2. I’m 67 years old. Mental illness has been a battle since I was a child. I tried, in the 50’s and 60’s to find help in books and through journaling. Finally in my mid 20’s I started actively seeking help. Dozens of meds and combinations of meds, hospitalizations, and everything from ECT to DBT to VNS and now ketamine infusions have been tried. My doctors say I’ve worked harder than anyone they’ve ever seen as I tried to get better. I’m so tired. I am trying a new approach…acceptance. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but I’m not beating myself up so much. And when people are mean, I try not to take it so personally.

  2. I had a major depression but I am lucky one and survived/recovered.I got good family support and social support in my recovery from chronic illness. I was on medicins for the lasr 35 years and i still continue with minimum dosage of medicins.plus exercise, Nutrition,EFT and exposure to Natural sunshine.This is my suggestion for all those who want to recover from this difficult trauma.
    Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma

  3. I had a major depression But i am a lucky one i survived and recovered.I got good family support and social support in my recovery from the chronic illness.I was on medicines for the last 35 years.and I still continue with minimum dosage of medicines plus exercise,Nutrition, EFT,and Exposure to natural sunshine. This is my prescription for all those who want to recover from this difficult trauma.
    Mr Ramesh Kumar Sharma.

  4. I’ve had chronic severe depression and anxiety for almost 30 years. I’ve had every type of treatment available. When I was around 45-50 years old I realized there is no “getting well again” with depression and anxiety. There is maintenance therapy. I was in so many CBT groups and all I heard was “cure” and ‘complete recovery”. For a while, I believed them. As time wore on and I continued to get worse, I knew I was smarter than those group leaders. Eight years ago I found the most fabulous psychotherapist on the planet. (probably the 6th psychiatrist over the course of my disease) After our first session, I felt the weight of believing I was going to be “my old self again” lifted from my shoulders and thought I would fly. I asked him in our second session if he thought I would ever be “cured”. He asked me the question in return, I answered “no”. He told me we were going to get to work on helping me feel as good as possible. I take a few medications, therapy and family support and I am maintaining and that’s okay with me.

  5. Recovery to me is life long process that waxes and wanes throught, i ain’t bothered about cognitive behavioural therapy nonsense or taking pills to cope with life challenges. I just get up every morning out of bed, go to the group/activity i am signed up for if i want to (well just turn up) then walk home 6 miles, watch telly, on my laptop, write about my rather shit day. I am anxious, I am anxious if I am depressed im depresed (just symptoms at the end of the day) and hope to fall asleep in a long coma. I don’t bother with meds because of the horrible side affects (numbness, that leads to overeating weight gain and further depression) its just the way I am. I don’t speak unless it’s truly necessary (do you want a coffee, can you give me a lift to x y z today) and i learned it’s easier to just pretend you feel alright whe you don’t, pretend to “enjoy” actvitities, look happy but inside feel like utter dogshit and look forward to my “stay in days with iphone ignoring the world and it’s wife” I gave up on the friends situation years ago (making friends) i gave up on trying to be socialable and enjoy life.

  6. I had major depression my entire adult life and probably before that too. I have been on medication of some kind for more than 25 years and in therapy off and on for at least, half of that time. and I still want to die most days, in spite of a pretty normal life.
    My current therapist thinks recovery, with no symptoms is possible, is the goal.
    I do not believe her, but trust her with everything else. It is complicated.

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