The Truth about Recovering from a Mental Illness

The Truth About Recovering from a Mental Illness: picture of a girl in black and white, her reflection is split in two

I have been on a low-carb diet for 6 months. I exercise fairly regularly. I take supplements and nootropics. I do my best to prioritize self-care and mental health work (like workbooks and DBT exercises). I journal. I practice gratitude. I meditate (sometimes). I do all of these things in an effort to heal myself and to improve myself.

So why am I still unhappy? Why do I still feel lost and directionless? Why do I get random bouts of depression? Or irritability? Or just weird episodes of not being able to focus, not knowing what I want, and hating everything around me, including myself?

Some might say, “That’s life! Everyone has ups and downs!” And to that person I say, I’ve lived with these symptoms for as long as I can remember. It goes beyond normal ups and downs. The depth and scope of these episodes and emotions is far beyond what “normal” people experience. There are a lot of us out here struggling with intrusive/obsessive thoughts, suicidal thoughts or suicide ideation, depression for no reason, irritability for no reason, high anxiety, high impulsivity and self-destructive streaks, etc.

I thought I was getting better. Some days it seems that way. I’m in a better place. I’m “dealing”. Even happy, dare I say. Everything seems so crystal clear. I feel what I believe is normal for me. Balanced. Every day life is easier. Things don’t bother me as much. I feel more than just functional; I feel good.

Then, at the drop of a dime, I’m down. Moody. Antagonistic. Irritable. Sad. Lonely. Bitter. Easily triggered. Jealous all the time. Paranoid. I oscillate back and forth between these states for no reason, seemingly, with varying degrees of intensity and frequency. Of course, there are other symptoms to my mental illness that aren’t shaded as negatively, but can still be harmful to myself, others, and my self-image: impulsivity, poor decision-making, poor priorities, finally thinking I’ve hit on the one idea or career path that will fulfill me/bring me success, starting up a bunch of projects or pursuing interests that I later drop.

I thought eating healthy, exercising, getting proper sleep, consuming supplements, and keeping up all my self-help work would be my panacea. The missing puzzle piece. Finally. At 31, I found the key to fixing myself. Or, if I didn’t fix myself 100%, I’d at least fix the damaged parts and learn to be balanced and happy.

So why hasn’t it fixed me?

Why am I still broken?

Why am I not happy?

It’s because recovery isn’t linear. I’m not going to pretend I just figured that out though. I learned that years ago. Some days, I will feel down. Some days, I’ll want to burn it all to the ground. Some days, I’m over the moon. Other days, I’m somewhere in between. Even if I weren’t mentally ill, I’d experience a version of this. It’s just amplified times 100 when you have a mental illness.

The other thing I’m really having to come to terms with is that I’ll probably never be healed. Searching for one big band-aid to put over all my wounds is futile. I will never find it because it doesn’t exist. Maybe I won’t always describe myself as broken, but I don’t know that you can fully heal every aspect of a mental illness. There are certain parts of it ingrained in you for life, right? Sure, maybe I won’t meet the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder some day, but the lingering imprints of fearing abandonment or feeling jealous because I fear I’m not good enough might always be just under the surface.

Realistically, it’s more likely that I could fully deal with all my trauma and process it. I’ll learn to love and forgive myself. I’ll be able to regulate my emotions properly. I could develop a decent sense of self-esteem. I’ll feel balanced and normal, and bad days will just be blips. Nothing catastrophic. I may not fully recover in the traditional sense, but I could be better.

What does that look like? Someone who is happy and never deals with any problems or negative experiences?

No. I’ll still be the same person. Probably with the same challenges. Prone to jealousy. Caring to a fault, but easily irritated. Loving, but with an eagle-eye for critique. Obsessive and anxious, but passionate and conscientious. Sensitive and easily offended, but quick to forgive and loves making connections.

Therapy and self-help techniques aren’t going to fix that about me. They are going to give me the tools to cope with my emotions and intense situations that crop up. It won’t eliminate the moods and emotions that cause me to be sad, impulsive, annoyed, or jealous, or whatever, but I can find better ways to process those situations and react appropriately. Even when I’m not feeling normal and balanced. I could prevent falling down these black holes, potentially.

Maybe that’s a better goal than healing myself and becoming mental illness-free.

If I look at the timeline, I’m already making progress toward that goal. Progress toward not falling down the black hole–at least, as much or as hard. I can see the growth. I may not be where I want to be, but I’ve come so far from where I started. It’s called self-improvement; not self-perfection.

I’m learning to set boundaries and treat myself with respect. Not at the level I want to be, but I’ve come so far. Old me was self-destructive just for the hell of it. Old me didn’t listen to my gut and let people blatantly disrespect my boundaries. I did a lot of things that now make my skin crawl. I know better now. I respect myself enough to listen to my gut. And that’s progress.

I’m learning to forgive friends for slights they didn’t know they committed. To either communicate or try to give the benefit of the doubt. I wrote off so many people, for little to no evidence, without any empathy, critical thinking, or direct communication with them. I made assumptions, I got hurt, and I rejected them before they could reject me. The hurt might be real, but the event might not be. So I’m being slower to judgment, quicker to empathy, and letting more small things go.

I can have a conversation without it being a confrontation. I can be assertive without being aggressive. My needs are important. Their needs are important. Together, we can solve an issue. Old me would run. Old me would start a fight. Old me would avoid until I imploded.

I can face awkward and uncomfortable situations. Old me would have no-call, no-showed to a job that was giving me hell. Me of today called and had a conversation. Me of today pushes myself through bad days and hard days and no energy days because I know feelings are temporary and tomorrow will be different.

I’m learning that not everything is the end of the world, and if it is, then I’m going to live through it.

I lived through my fiance dumping me, when he was my whole world, when I thought I couldn’t breathe without him, much less love without him. I did though. I breathed without him. I loved without him. Several times.

I lived through depression. I lived through some of my worst days to pull myself out of an unhealthy living situation. Lesson learned.

I lived through admitting some of my worst mistakes and coming clean that I was wrong.

I’ve lived through a lot of pain and heartbreak, but I’ve lived to see my successes and triumphs. I have lots of good days. I’m proud of things I’ve done. I’ve come so far. My checkered past is a mosaic of who I am, and there are some great spots in there that I cherish.

I’m not going to be normal or well-adjusted. I’ll be patched up, stitched together, not quite broken anymore, but maybe never fully healed. The scars will always be there. Problems will still rise.

But so will I.

Published by Jessica

Writer, video production freelancer, and still trying to figure it all out

5 thoughts on “The Truth about Recovering from a Mental Illness

  1. Thank you for such honest insight! I’m sorry that things are still hard. Sometimes these hard seasons feel never ending! I’m in a tough one right now myself. Hang in there, and always keep fighting!

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