The Recovery Myth

And I fear being mad again, when newlife, largely lonely, is hurtling towards me. Career, kids, marriage (I want them all, I could have them all). Don’t be mad, not again. Even the sniff makes me fear, I blink at the glare, deny everything. From open, to closed.

So now I am recovered from mental illness. Now I can pass for normal to the untrained eye, one that isn’t looking too closely into my own glazed, unfocused ones. I do Recovered Person Things;  I work, I take public transport and people sit next to me, on a good day.

Whoever was doing the PR for tampons was doing them for mental illness
recovery. The same euphoric aerial splits celebrating the joy of
working Coke machine, the same toothy grin over a latte with your
girlfriends, the giant kitchen, with holy glittering worktops awaiting
a weekend of salad preparation for the family- all this will be yours,
if you get better. A life, they call it. A normal life.

And deep down a part of me sighs, “Don’t believe the hype”. Recovery can be a more profoundly lonely experience than the illness itself. Years have passed now, like a dream. But if it were a dream, then nobody else would remember. But they do, and better than I. Vignettes of a life I had forgotten before I even finished living it are bold A4s in other peoples’ brains. How jealous I am of my memories being locked in other peoples’ brains! And afraid I am to ask for the key. A part of me does not want to remember.

I had expected that after four years, I would one day fling open the door and see a line, stretching far down the street, snaking around the corner and into the road, the people who I had hurt, bored, confused, frightened and bored again waiting, wreathed in smiles, bedecked in flowers, overflowing with forgiveness, welcoming me back.

Back to… where? Somewhere I have never been, as someone I have never been. In the four years of the regrettably necessary self-obsession required to Recover, I had stopped asking about the lives of my friends, the lives of my family, the lives of people I had loved, or could have loved and who could have loved me. In time, they stopped asking me, too. They had Real Lives. They have promotions at work, fall outs, nights out. I had the stasis of the still-sickening, of an inner-life with no outer life. My most exciting trips were to hospitals, or onto the pavement. If it is dull to me (and it is), it is even more dull to them. And rightly so.

You find this too, when you recover. This is not cancer, not even close. You can’t whip your sleeves up and show your self harm scars as a mark of how far you come. That’s bullshit-speak from social workers trying to salve the pain of you destroying perfectly lovely parts of your body for the rest of your life. No-one is interested in your inspirational tale. In fact to mention it you’d think the earth’s axis has shifted ever so slightly one centimetre as people have the irresistible urge to be drawn backwards. Really far back. I’ve made that mistake before. I thought that now I was stable (but not normal, never normal and untainted) everybody would be happy for me. Bumping into an old school friend, the conversation goes like this,

“Oh, hi, Seaneen! What have you been up to?”
“Oh, hello! Well, I’ve been mad for a couple of years! But I’m fine now! Just off to get a sandwich. What about you?”

With no outer life, or at least, with a less of a socially conventional outer life if your mental illness knocked you into a ditch somewhere, you may have lost social skills. How do you talk to people when you’re not a little high? (Slowly, by the way). How do you have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around what your
psychiatrist said that week? (Bullshit, as usual). It’s okay- practice on strangers. Which you’ll be doing a lot since, as mentioned above, you have lost most of your friends in the period in which you were mad and trying to be less mad.

If you were lucky, you might have made some nice mad friends to keep you company. They’ll be really happy for you when you recover and
start to claw your way back to normality. Which is how it should be. Except, some of them think you’re a traitor. Some of them are genuinely pleased for you, but then you find that aside from talking about your mental problems, you don’t really have that much in common anymore.

Where do you go then? Into a new life, with new people. And what do you tell them? What of the past years? What did you do, where did you come from? What did you do? Where did you come from? The answers make you dumb.

17 Responses

  1. The idea of recovery has perpetually reminded me of the old Freud saying that one moves from “hysteria” into “normal unhappiness”. When I thought I was well on the way to recovery a few months back, although I was not in any way reintegrated with society like you, that dictum became a mantra in my head.

    But seriously lady, and I know it’s such a trite fucking cliche so please forgive me, you have so much to be proud of. That doesn’t change your life obviously, but I did want to throw it out there.

    You’re going to kick some hardcore arse as a mental health nurse.

    Take care

    Pan xxx

  2. I can empathise with this so much, mostly through writing CVs and cover letters the last few weeks – how do I explain over 3 years of training, which I ultmately failed, when the DLA tribunal (my only access into DSA) also failed?
    I’m so in-between-the-lines right now, and yes, I am not very mentally interesting, but I am far from normal.
    This sucks.
    I can’t say much more than that.
    Mental illness really really sucks.
    I wish you every ounce of luck in MH Nursing however – I do believe you will be brilliant, but remember to put your needs first – you can’t help others if you aren’t ok x x x

  3. Hello Seaneen,
    Please do not devalue yourself, your Blog Is reaching a considerable large audience and is very well written. As the previous writer said the only person who will know to look after yourself is you.
    Please look at a report on BBC Newsnight on a major break in the treatment of mental health in Cardiff it is probably a bit late for myself but you have a considerable life to look forward to in the future.
    Kind regards.

  4. Good blog. Reminded me of a comment from a work colleague when I said I had finally come off anti-depressants: “I’m so glad you’re cured”.

    ‘Nuff said.

  5. I admire your eloquence in describing the ‘normality’ of recovery. There is something almost lonely about banality. I think its a good thing that your thoughts don’t have to be so preoccupied with the past, of course I know what its like when there are certain ‘resonances’.

    When you say: “Recovery can be a more profoundly lonely experience than the illness itself”, I think you express something that cannot be more eloquently said. As a recovering ‘mental’ myself I find so much of everyday life tasteless and dull. I have my ways of making life interesting though. I used to have hobbies and passions before I was ill, and I’m rediscovering them, and a few more in between (such as badminton).

    5 years ago and one day (to the day), I was hospitalised after an ‘attempt’, nobody is talking about what happened to this day, not my friends, not my family. It’s as if it never happened, perhaps that’s the most disturbing thing about recovery: it’s so easy for other people to pretend it never happened. Sometimes I think I’d rather pretend it didn’t, but I find it disturbing that easily they have “forgotten”. That says something about stigma, it says something about how people don’t want to be uncomfortable, and I suppose, it highlights another sense of my isolation.

    Life is grey, it can be wonderfully dull. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Thankyou Seaneen, for writing this stuff in a way that I cannot. This has helped me think about my own situation, and how I too am on the way to dull wellness, and feeling lonely.
    You give me hope that I am not condemmed to be like I was, forever. And it gives me hope that people I know, and one in particular, has hope.

  7. I felt so irritated when I saw “myth” and “recovery” together that I had to come and read this. And I am glad I did.
    In my own case I came off medication (under supervision) the moment a psychiatrist informed me I’d be taking it all my life. Oh yes? No, not for me. I collected the booby prize, of cataracts, from mega quantities of chlorpromazine. I agree recovery can be lonely but I think that comes from the massive loss of confidence that having a mental illness brings. I found recovery was like doing a huge jigsaw without a picture to follow. Some days it was hour by hour. But please don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t underestimate yourself, and not so much negativity please or why do we all bother to get up each day we might just as well give up now….life is there for us, to make it how we want it to be. It’s about having hope and realising that being normal is not a huge let down it’s just a wonderful starting point to be who you really want to be.

  8. ps can’t see a share button for Twitter or facebook
    or I would

  9. Great post, S.

    For me recovery has been awkward. I have nothing in common with ‘mad friends’ anymore, but similarly old friends got bored of the endless psychiatric admissions and talk of this medication or that, and have pretty much left the building too. I have my best friend still, but we recovered together. Our friendship began in therapy a year ago, and we’ve encouraged each other all along the journey.

    Now I’m doing an access course, and it’s hard not hiding, but not being fully honest about the past. The girls are lovely though, so supportive, even when they saw my self harm scars as I was washing my hands they didn’t ask in case it made me uncomfortable…it was only when I said to them like ‘look, I need to tell you a bit about my past’ that they said they already knew. They’re brilliant. But at the same time I would never feel comfortable telling them that I spent three years in and out of psychiatric wards, or that I take antipsychotics. It’s odd.

    Recovery for me is also dull. My life is work, work, work. Nothing exciting, nothing to report.

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  10. I love this site.

    I don’t really know what I want to say here. All I know for sure is that I recognise my own thoughts in some of your comments above and that today, at least, I hate my life. Yesterday was ok. Untill the evening. Why is it that I lose control only minutes after my poor, dearly beloved husband of 7 months comes home.
    Why is it that today I can’t think of anything to do or find the motivation or interest to do the things on the list? None of it matters. Not getting up, not loving my husband, not not alienating my three actually-great stepchildren, even eating.
    Nothing works. Nothing can reach me. I read somewhere on this Net earlier Bipolar disorder is like something that leaves behind a shell but continues existing…because life this is not…surely!
    But you all are trying to tell me that if I stick to my pills (that make me sick, tired AND fat) and the shrinks and other docs that I will eventually reach a point where I will be able to function but still feel out of place, lonely, selfish, bored with everything…?
    Today I really feel like there will not be a way out of this unless I do something to get out. But I’ve tried that at least once allready, self harm too. My mom doesn’t even know. The ones that do know, as you said, pretend that they don’t.
    I love my husband and loved him desperately in the beginning, still do some days. But everything else seems to be just too much for me lately.
    That I hate!! Because I used to be the young, confident chick who knew what she could handle, would have a setback in life, take some time to cope and get back up.
    Now I am the useless, young new wife and stepmother who bit off too much and can’t chew…but that IS NOT ME! Do you hear me, that is not me. Yes, minutes ago and in a few more I will probably be suicidal again, but right now, this minute I am aware that I am not that pathetic worthless girl. And that has to be good enough for now.

    • Really sorry to hear you feel this way, is there someone you can go and talk to NOW about how you feel is there some place you can GO now and get some support

  11. I’m ok. Thanks. Having a bad week and have some things to sort out. You know what it’s like the first few months after being diagnosed. Plus I got marrieed in that time, to a man with kids and an ex wife…and lives in a city 400km away from the lovely small town that I had grown to love and call HOME for the past 3 years. Did I mention he seems oblivious, even though he does love me desperately and switching off is his way of dealing with what I am going through.
    I actually just need to find an outlet, but can’t seem to find something that will keep my attention long enough, I’m told that is both the ADD and BPD that causes that.
    Anyway, next week will be better. I actually want to start a blog, but I’m affraid I won’t stick with it….never finished anything in my life…:-)

  12. i got a trojan virus on this website… might be someone trying to hack you… please be careful and check… I hope your blog stays safe… i have found it to be a very useful tool in my own journey… thank you

  13. Reblogged this on The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive and commented:

    Written in 2011- the Recovery Myth. I have a softer approach to this now, but still valid.

  14. I love this post. I can relate to it so much. The road to recovery is scary. Always frightened of slipping back into the madness. Never knowing who I am now or how I live a ‘ normal’ life. Part me longs for the mess. I’m stumped.

  15. Hi Mentally Interesting!! Love your posts. Would you be interested to write something about what made you strong and helped you become the woman that you are today, or your struggles as a twenty-something? We can promote your profile and blog at our site. Hope we talk about it soon 🙂

  16. […] A fair amount has changed. I’d have hoped 10 years on I’d be shiny haired in my giant kitchen and recovered, but I’m not. I’ve been off work for the past month with another to go as I’ve been ill again, but I’m coping with it and trying to rest as much as you can with a 2 year old. But there it is- the recovery myth. […]

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