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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.

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

  1. 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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