Recently, I realized the importance of both fighting and surrendering to mental illness. I was hospitalized for a horrific bipolar mixed episode I suffered through for several months. I hadn't been this sick with mental illness since my four-year-long battle with postpartum depression and have never experienced anything like it. Now that I'm out of the hospital and slowly stabilizing, I'm becoming startlingly aware of a paradox in getting through mental illness -- healing isn't possible without both fighting and surrendering.
Relapse - Recovering from Mental Illness
Many people who experience periods also experience depression in the form of mood fluctuations that can range anywhere from frustrating to debilitating. If you're like me and you're in recovery from a mood disorder like depression, these monthly fluctuations can be a real source of fear and hopelessness.
Learned helplessness is a phenomenon that occurs when someone repeatedly faces negative experiences that they can't control, and eventually, they stop believing they have any agency at all. It's something that sabotages my life over and over.
In addition to recovering from mental illness, it's also important for us to learn how to prevent mental health relapse in times of stress. Lately, my mental health has been doing really well. I've put in a lot of work, and it's finally paying off, but recently, some family stress has put all of my progress to the test. I've noticed a lot of my typical mental illness symptoms struggling to reemerge, to rear their ugly heads and completely derail my life. Luckily, I've managed to keep them to a minimum and prevent a full-on mental health relapse. I thought it would be helpful to share how I'm managing to prevent relapse.
How do you determine if you're depressed or just sad? Navigating emotions while recovering from mental illness is incredibly tricky. For me, mental illness completely broke my internal emotional compass. Before I experienced depression, I could identify emotions like sadness, worry, and joy fairly easily. But after I experienced depression, it became nearly impossible to distinguish between depression and sadness or nervousness and anxiety. Even though I've been recovering for years, this is still one of my biggest struggles as a human being. Luckily, all those years in therapy have taught me a few things, and I'd like to share them with you.
As a mental health worker, I am always concerned about how first responders treat mental health concerns and crises. Two such duties are safety checks and dealing with suicide attempts. (Safety checks are when law enforcement checks on someone who has been reported in danger or will possibly harm himself or others.) Here in Toledo, suicide attempts are taken very seriously by emergency services. However, safety checks are of low priority. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
I've resisted recovery for all kinds of reasons, including because I was sick of trying to be perfect. I spent most of my adolescence trying not to be like other teenagers, not to go through "phases" or be bad. I tried so hard to do things "right." When mental illness appeared in my life, I could barely do things at all, let alone do them "right," so I got angry.
I sit in my home by myself because my family left. I don’t blame them. They just couldn’t take it anymore. What they couldn’t take was me and my posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have come to refer to it as “the PTSD me,” because it often feels there’s two completely different people within me.
This week my life closely resembles one of those old country and western songs. You know the ones. Basically everything that could go wrong has, and even the dog doesn’t want to get close to me. I’m sitting alone in my four bedroom home, contemplating the condition of my life and wondering just where this is taking me. I’m very fortunate that I have people in my life, specifically my wife and kids, who truly love me. They love me enough to tell me I need help and they want me to get it. Until I do, they’ve decided that for their own well being, they think living apart from me is the best thing for them right now.
In 2010, I worked as a peer support specialist for a mental health organization in my community. Having been on the job for just over a year, I was feeling fulfilled and proud of myself for what I’d accomplished. Most importantly, I was making a difference to other people who suffered from mental illness. My colleagues were happy with my work and made it a point of telling me so. So imagine my surprise when I was called into the boss’s office one day. She looked at me and said, “Mike, you are decompensating.” I didn’t even know what that meant.