Chronic Mental Illness: I'm Not Sick Anymore

January 16, 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Many who struggle with mental illness and addiction have a hard time understanding that they need treatment for their entire lives. How can we accept this?

"I'm not sick anymore!" Sound familiar? It does for many people who struggle with mental illness, particularly chronic mental illness, but also addiction and alcoholism. It's important to mention that this feeling is not exclusive to these diseases but for the purpose of this blog let's focus on them.

Defining Sick

Sick DayIt's been a couple weeks since I have referred to my lovely, coffee stained, thesaurus but I want to define the word sick--abstractly. What does 'sick' mean in a general sense and how is it different when applied to mental illness and addiction?

To be sick is to be:

  1. A sick person (Yes, I heavily scoffed when I read the obvious)
  2. An invalid (This is the part when I consider throwing the book over my patio)
  3. A terminal case (I am now picturing the book hitting the pavement)
  4. Under the weather (How can they go from terminal to under the weather?)

Yes, I'm done with this. You may wonder why I occasionally refer to the Book Full of Words. Millions of words. Two reasons: I love words, and more importantly, I think it's important, interesting, to see how a complicated feeling, a state of being, such as being sick can be described.

I think it's safe to say that in the realm of mental health and addiction the word sick is tied to emotions: despair, feeling helpless, the world suddenly black and above all--fear you will not recover.

The Flip Side of Sick Feels Odd

But what about when you do recover? When, after years of hard work, the sun comes out again. You can smile; you can laugh. You are able to abstain from abusing drugs and alcohol. Time moves on and you stay well. You start to think: Maybe, just maybe, there is nothing wrong with me! I am cured! The Doctor's, my family, are incorrect! I am not sick!

This reasoning makes sense on a basic, human, and primal level. Nobody wants to believe they are, and sorry for the terrible reference, 'terminally under the weather.' We all want to be healthy--we would rather not take medication. We wish we could have a glass of wine like everyone else. Just one glass with dinner.

Believing You Are 'Cured'

Whew! What a perfect word--cured. I try not to think about it. In my life, that's healthy. But I do not consider myself sick either. I have always understood that I need my medication to stay well. Sure, I have mulled over going off of it all, even lowered the dose to test the water only to find myself inching toward sickness. I promptly moved them back up, resigned, but happy they work.

But addiction, that's a different story. New in my sobriety, I convinced myself, more than once, that a glass of wine never hurt anyone. I was not an addict, not an alcoholic, I was just going about it the wrong way. But one glass always became one bottle. Without fail--the math of addiction.

But I understand it now: bipolar disorder, addiction, these are things I will--for the rest of my life--need to stay on top of.

I am not terminally sick but consistently recovering.

Accepting That Addiction and Mental Illness is Chronic

This is important. This is necessary. This is the key to your recovery.

Despite this knowledge, most people do try to at some point, to go off their medication. To use drugs and alcohol just one more time (that is the mantra of addiction). And this makes sense. We do not want to take medication, abstain from alcohol--for the rest of our lives.

This is when it can become scary. If you try to rationalize your illness. If you go off your medication or take that first drink, that first drug, life can fall apart quicker than you can pick up the pieces. I suggest that if you feel you might not need your medication you make an appointment with your mental health team. Talk about how you feel.

Some people, very few, can effectively go off their medication after a period of wellness. But if you do, it's important to be closely monitored. Even so, the idea frightens me. Does it frighten you?

Chronic mental illness and addiction are frightening---relapsing is even more terrifying. Embrace the fact that you can recover if you take care of yourself.

I'm curious-- what are your thoughts?

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, January 16). Chronic Mental Illness: I'm Not Sick Anymore, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Dr Musli Ferati
February, 3 2012 at 8:15 pm

To understand the true nature of any mental disorder indicates the essential approaching of these frightening and insiduous humane health difficulties that fundamentally destroy global individual and community well-being. Just this cue of psychic illness, along centuries has lead to an impassable misconception on mental diseases. The same anathema is value till nowadays, unfortunately.Thus, it is to impose the necessity of an clearly explanation to community of these morbid entities. Your above intention exhibit a useful aid in this direction. Nevertheless, to persuade the psychiatric patient that respective mental disorder presents only a variant to along continuum of personal performances that should moderate to concrete life circumstances is an hopeful point in the treatment of respective psychic alteration. In this course, exist numerous solution that benefit to any mental deviation. it ought to implement up to date recommendation of psychiatric knowledge in individual andfunctional pattern.

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
January, 20 2012 at 6:17 am

Hi, Tiffany:
The word "cure" is a tough one when connected to mental illness. It goes against everything we have been told by many people--that the illness is chronic.
You most certainly got physically ill as the body is used to the medication and dropping it causes your body to go in withdrawl...when I even lower a med I get sick. Scary stuff.
And if our meds work, you are right--we are lucky!
Thanks for the great comment,

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
January, 20 2012 at 6:14 am

It's completely frightening, on my end...but it means we have reached a point of acceptance--however hard that has been.

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
January, 20 2012 at 6:13 am

Wilda, thank you for the positive feedback, Going off your meds makes sense in a way..we don't want to take medication, to know we need it. It's a tough blow. Sometimes, going off meds clarifies it--though I don't recommend it!:)
Thanks for the comment,

January, 18 2012 at 7:03 pm

I kinda thought I was well last Christmas/New Years holiday (2010-2011). Well. I hadn't gotten any side effects in a while (and I'm the queen of side effects) so I figured maybe my pills weren't working and I was cured. Why not take half the dosage?
I got SO sick. Physically. I'm sure it was all side effects but it was bad enough to get me back on.
How disappointing.
When I think about it now, it was a really dumb move to make. Because I remember all of the dumb crap I've ever done while manic that I'm embarrassed about now (funny how I can remember all of that stuff vividly but not remember what I ate for dinner last night?), and how miserable I am while depressed, why would I mess with something that was working for me? But you know the brain doesn't always go in a logical straight line like that. It's more like "WHOA! I have this BRILLIANT IDEA! I'm gonna stop taking my pills and see what happens!!!"
I'm always worried about other people when they say they're going off their meds. Because when I'm thinking straight, going off meds sounds really scary and unpredictable. And when my brain is working right, I *like* predictable. I hate surprises. I like a schedule. I like to know what I'm doing considering that I spent so much of my life having no clue, running around "crazy".
I just gotta figure out how to convince myself that these "brilliant ideas" aren't really that great. Fortunately these brilliant ideas don't come very often, and I'm with someone who always makes sure I take my meds, no matter how much I complain (I hate all pills in general, don't even like recreational drug pills). But he keeps me in check, and I'm lucky.

January, 18 2012 at 5:30 pm

"I am not terminally sick but consistently recovering." I love this. Thank you.
Going off meds...Does it frighten me? Yes, however I have done it several times for various reasons. It makes no sense. A friend of mine who is a recovering drug addict says that he has a brain that wants to kill his ass. I can relate to this regarding my bipolar disorder also. For me nothing good has ever come from going off my meds. In a way, it's like taking that first drink or pill-one is too many and a thousand is never enough.

Natasha Tracy
January, 18 2012 at 8:46 am

Hi Natalie,
I just want to highlight this part:
"Some people, very few, can effectively go off their medication after a period of wellness but in doing so it’s important to be closely monitored. Even so, the idea frightens me. Does it frighten you?"
Because, yes, I always find it frightening when someone tells me they're going to go off their medication. It's their choice, of course, but it's always scary, nonetheless.
- Natasha

Jeanne M.
January, 17 2012 at 5:09 am

Your article contains many very sound, and resounding, topics for thought. Well-stated and provocative. Thank you.

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