From: Mark Jacobson
Certified peer support specialist
Recovery from mental illness includes not only getting better, but achieving a full and satisfying life. Many people affirm that their journey to recovery has not been a straight, steady road. Rather, there are ups and downs, new discoveries and setbacks. Over time, it is possible to look back and see, despite the halting process and discouragements, how far we have really come. Each time we reach such a milestone, we see that we have recovered a piece of our lives and draw new strength from it. The journey to recovery takes time, but positive change can happen all along the way.
Stages of recovery
The first step in the journey to recovery begins with a decision that life must improve. Having a mental illness can affect our lives in many ways:
• Our normal activities suffer;
• Intimate relationships can be profoundly affected;
• Friendships may be lost; and
• We may lose employment and financial security.
The pain of mental illness, coupled with such losses, can be overwhelming. Yet at some point we find the determination to stop just surviving, and start gaining back our life, piece by piece. That is when recovery begins.
Early on in the recovery process, treatment may focus on finding the right diagnosis and relieving the most severe symptoms. It’s important to realize at this early stage that it is vital to find support from people who understand what you’re going through. Family, friends, and community organizations can all be of help.
As time passes, you may find yourself in another stage of recovery. Your condition is becoming more manageable. Many things can contribute to this improvement: an accurate diagnosis, effective medication, supportive talking therapy, and your own growing knowledge of your condition and how to live with it.
Once it was thought that this plateau of stability was as far as people with mental illness could go. Maintaining stability was the goal of treatment. But today we understand much more is possible. You can expect to return to an active life based on your desires, preferences and abilities.
Being told that you have a mental illness is not the end of the world. With help and support you can recover and achieve your life’s ambitions. Of course, you will face many challenges as you begin your treatment, but there is hope. Mental illnesses are manageable. And there are a number of things you can do for yourself after a diagnosis to cope with the news, and support your own recovery.
Our understanding of mental illness is much better today than it was in the past. We know there are different illnesses that require different approaches to treatment. New medications and new types of therapy improve the chances of successful treatment. And we have also learned a lot about how people recover and lead full lives.
It is important to realize that you are not alone. Mental illnesses are common, affecting one in five Americans. Many people with mental illnesses, including well-known celebrities, are leading very successful lives. You can gain hope by connecting with other people who share your condition. From them you will gain insight, experience acceptance, and get invaluable support.
Hope can come from our own inner desire to regain our health and live. It also can come from the assurances of people who care about us or from the examples of those who have lived through similar experiences. The more active we are in understanding our condition, taking responsibility for our own care, and reaching out for help, the more chances we have of making gains that give us greater reason to hope.
Hope has to be the foundation for recovery to occur.