R.E.L.A.P.S.E. Seven letters. Just seven. This seems impossible: the experience of mental illness relapse requires millions of words. As many words as the emotions it evokes, the pain it causes and the feeling that, you, that I, cannot escape. The fear of mental illness relapse isn’t lessened by knowing recovery will follow.
Writing About Mental Illness Relapse
I like my blogs to reflect both my experience and what I believe others can relate to. Mental illness is, after all, a shared condition. Although our diagnosis, level of recovery and treatment are distinctly different, commonalities exist. Feelings about the diagnosis, emotions surrounding it, and the treatment involved. In the end: we all work to maintain stability. Above all, we work hard to accept our illness.
I feel responsible, as the writer of this blog, to offer information that can help people. I recognize that I have bipolar disorder, struggle with addiction and anxiety, but usually, I remain stable. Because of this I feel comfortable talking about my experience, my journey to wellness. But I have a chronic mental Illness and it does not care if I write a blog entitled Recovering from Mental Illness. It has it’s own agenda. Sometimes, and when I least expect it, it steals me away.
What am I trying to say? I am not feeling so great. I am finding it hard, at this moment, to give advice when I feel I need some myself. I feel, in some strange way, disingenuous. How can I help you if I am having trouble helping myself? I have come to the conclusion that writing about my own struggle, when it occurs, does not discredit me. It makes it real: I suffer as many of you do. I understand.
Recognizing Mental Illness Relapse
A few weeks ago, I wrote about stress. I mentioned the impact it was having in my life. Specifically, I suggested ways in which we can identify the symptoms in order to stop relapse. Despite our, my best intentions, it does not always work. The brain is complex; mental illness is complex. It does not wait for you to finish things in your life. You cannot ask it to give you a few months to tie up some odds and ends.
Often, life changes can negatively affect mental health. You can do everything you should; sleep, eat, take your medication, ask for support. You can pray, even if you are not religious, that your life will not fall apart. It’s never good timing. It is never good.
I took my own advice. I tried. But the end of a three year relationship brought me to my knees. Depression. I tried to scratch my way out. I convinced myself that I was perfectly fine. It was hard to differentiate whether or not the abrupt change in my life, my reaction to it, was normal or symptoms of relapse.
The Reality of Mental Illness Relapse
Well, it isn’t what I wanted. It is frightening. Confusing. Walking through the day, doing what I usually do: writing, cleaning, walking my dog. But I find myself in bed. I am either crying or to numb too muster tears. I have to force food down. I try to explain this to my parents who worry. They ask me, “Why are you starving yourself?” I say, “Imagine eating a huge turkey dinner and then having to eat two more.” It is not with intent. It is a sign that something is wrong. But I understand their fear: years of eating disorders, having been recovered for ten years, they still worry. But it’s the depression.
Learning the signs of relapse are important. It can save your life. It’s often the basics: a change in sleep, appetite, energy, a mind that moves too quickly or slowly. Agitation. Isolation. And I am good at this one: I lock the door, I hide in bed, I turn the phone off. Thankful I have a dog that needs to be walked. Without him, well, I don’t think I would leave my home.
Recovering From Mental Illness Relapse
You might wonder, “How can she write about recovery?” And I can tell you that I can because I have been here before. I know I will get better. Back on my feet. When I was first diagnosed, if I fell ill, I was certain I would never recover. The world would always remain black.
Having some experience with my illness, fourteen years of it despite being twenty-six years old, I understand that getting on top of this, visiting my psychiatrist and letting people in, will make it possible for me to write these blogs with a clear head. But it’s hard. It hurts.
I could have written about something else; not about my life as it is now. But I think it’s important for me to express that I struggle too. My struggle, my recovery, is what allows me to lend my experience. It makes the person behind the screen real.
And relapse, recovery, it’s part of the job. Part of maintaining stability–as the title of this blog suggests, Recovering from Mental Illness, is a journey and I am walking it beside you and, I hope, you beside me.