Recovery: The Definition

I think recovery means different things to different people but something I felt compelled to write about was the idealistic view of recovery. I’m not sure where it came from but there tends to be this idea of recovery floating around that is unrealistic. I find that especially in the eating disorder world recovery is viewed as the sufferer returning to who they were before the eating disorder. As though the sufferer would wake up one morning and none of it would’ve ever happened.

Recovery from a mental health problem is similar to recovery from a physical health problem. If someone breaks their leg then that fracture will have always happened, the patient may get pain in that leg and perhaps in later life arthritis will develop. The patient has worn the cast and gone through treatment but that bone will always have broken. If someone has cancer and they go through chemotherapy and have the tumor removed and thankfully get given the all clear then they are in remission. They still had cancer, they still had to go through the physical and emotional hell that they went through and the patient will probably always have the fear in the back of their mind that the cancer could come back. They are not the same person. This is the same with mental health problems. A patient with bipolar may be stable but they probably have the fear in the back of their mind that they could have another manic episode. I’ve heard the questions and comments such as, “Are you back to normal then?” as though recovery blanks out everything that happened during times of illness.

My illness will have always happened to me. I am better in some ways but I am still really unwell. My illness has changed me because being sectioned for two months, spending a night in a cell and battling anorexia and bulimia for a very long time does change a person. I am not actively suicidal at the moment but I still have to look away when I see a train approaching the platform because I don’t trust myself not to jump in front of it. Whenever I hear a police officer’s beeping walkie-talkie it reminds me of being in a mental health crisis. These memories will always be a part of my life.

I don’t think recovery is about having a perfect, idealistic life where you smile and laugh and the sun shines and mental illness doesn’t exist. I think recovery is about stability and managing symptoms. It’s about living and feeling joy and excitement but also feeling sadness and sorrow when bad things happen because life is always going to throw sad things at us simply because nothing is permanent. Recovery is about living life the way YOU want to rather than your illness dictating to you constantly. Recovery is about looking after yourself and managing distress rather than hurting yourself. Recovery is about managing and not about having a perfect life.

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