Overcoming Mental Illness: Facing Bad Days During Recovery (Part 2)
This article is part two of a two-part series. Read Part 1 by clicking here.
Yesterday was my birthday and I cried. I cried the night before, too. And guess what? I cried this morning. It’s been a pretty unstable weekend for me, for really no reason at all.
If you’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, you know how frustrating this can be, especially after you’ve “recovered.”
Like I mentioned in part one of this post, recovery and “overcoming” are subjective when it comes to mental illness. When I’m taking meds every day to regulate the chemicals in my brain, can I really consider myself “recovered?” Is a cancer patient who is still undergoing chemo “recovered” yet? Sure, mental illness is different in many ways, but not as different as one might think when it comes to what recovery actually looks like.
I’m on three different medications. I like to call them Brain Meds.
Many who struggle with mental illness have to stay on meds for the entirety of their life. In part one, I talked about how I overcame mental illness. I mentioned that, even now, when I’m in a much better state than my undergraduate years, I still feel haunted by these issues. Depression feels like it could creep up any time. I still have days where my anxiety and OCD seem to be triggered for no reason in particular.
Despite those days, I’m still much better than I was, even a year ago.
If you’re like me, weekends like I just had can feel really defeating.
I’d been doing so well, and then wham, something hits me and my brain seems to go haywire. Great. Wonderful. So now what?
How do we face our bad days? Weeks? Months? How do we still retain that feeling of having overcome? That’s what I’m here to talk about today.
1. Admitting my weakness.
Imagine you made a mistake at work, and you had to fix it and apologize to your boss. No big deal, right? It happens to all of us. Now, imagine if your boss expected absolute, 100% perfection from you, not only when it came to that one area where you messed up, but in all areas. Okay, a little crazy, but it sort of makes sense. Now, imagine if your boss expected you to be able to do her job perfectly, too, and everyone else’s jobs.
That would be ridiculous, right?
When you expect yourself to never slip up, to never relapse, you’re doing the same thing that crazy, hypothetical boss is. You are expecting too much of yourself.
Admitting your weakness doesn’t make you weak.
Confused yet? Let me say it again. Admitting your weakness doesn’t make you weak. Got it?
Someone else might need to hear this today, so tweet it for them, too:
You are going to have bad days. You are going to have bad weeks, maybe even bad months. I’ve had emotional breakdowns every weekend it seems for the past month. It happens.
When life gets more overwhelming than usual, when your chemicals (not you, just your chemicals) malfunction, when you’re PMS-ing, when you’re tired, or maybe for no reason at all… you’re going to hit bumps in the road. And that’s okay.
These bumps don’t mean you’ve completely relapsed. They don’t mean you’re stuck. They don’t mean that whatever hiccup you’re experiencing is going to last forever. These bad days are natural. They are human.
Even those without mental health struggles experience bad days. We are all human, after all.
2. Realizing who I am at my core.
For a long time after my medication kicked in and I started feeling better, I was afraid to cry. I was afraid to let myself feel. I was afraid to be affected by anything, even a trauma I went through. This was far from healthy, and definitely not included among the signs of improvement.
I am an emotional person. I always have been. I’m hyper-empathetic and sentimental. I cried in all three Ice Age movies. Ice Age! I’m not kidding. After my I gained some control over my depression, anxiety and OCD, I became afraid of this part of myself. I thought my emotions were signs of weakness, signs of relapse. I erroneously thought that perhaps my emotions were the thing that drove me into major depressive disorder in the first place.
But I was so wrong. I’d forgotten (or perhaps ignored) who I really was. I’d pushed away one of my favorite parts of myself.
Being emotional allows me to be a good friend. It allows me to be a good writer. It allows me to be compassionate and caring. It allows me to understand people better and have empathy.
Emotion and empathy don’t make life easier, but they do make life better and more worth living. In order to deal with the downs of life in this period after my severe struggle with mental health, I have to recognize who I am.
Getting better does not mean ignoring the self. Getting better means accepting who you are and embracing it, emotional breakdowns and all.
3. Going to therapy/taking meds.
I still go to therapy. Sometimes I don’t have much to talk about because I’m in a pretty good place. I still take medication. Some days, I forget to take it and it hardly affects me and I begin to wonder if I could just quit the meds. Bad idea.
Just because you start to feel better does not mean you should abandon the very things that helped you get better in the first place.
That would be like throwing away your antibiotics halfway through the z-pack because you start to feel better. But with bacterial infections, tossing your z-pack can be dangerous. You may feel better, but unless you kill the entire infection with the entire z-pack, you may only become immune to the antibiotics and suffer through another infection, twice as bad.
Not only is quitting medication a bad idea, it can seriously damage your health and recovery. There are so many negative effects to halting medication. Mental breaks, relapse, even worse relapse… the point is you shouldn’t abandon what makes you feel good. It’s just silly.
4. Reaching out.
Sometimes, I am ashamed of my struggle. Sometimes I get embarrassed when I have a breakdown for no reason. Sometimes I get really paranoid my friends are talking about me, or don’t want me around.
The last thing that helps these situations is locking myself away and trying to get over it myself.
I was having a really bad day a couple of weeks ago. My paranoia was at an all-time high for the semester and I was so sure that my friends were mad at me. I couldn’t get myself to enter the living room where they were because I felt like I’d be invading. A couple of them ended up coming into my room and basically forcing me to tell them what was wrong, and you know what? They basically laughed.
They laughed because the thoughts running through my head were silly. They laughed because they knew what I believed wasn’t true. They laughed because I didn’t reach out to them and tell them what was wrong.
So what did they tell me? They told me that they wanted to know when I felt like this so they could speak truth into me. They wanted to now when I was paranoid because they wanted to be able to talk me off the ledge. They wanted me to reach out.
And that is perhaps the most important part. When you’re in the phase of overcoming, you have to realize you cannot do it alone, and to try would be stupid.
Being alone is not a solution. In most cases, it’s a hinderance to healing. We are not meant to be alone in struggle. We are meant to have community. We are meant to have friends and therapists and family to support us, even when we start feeling better.