In most contexts recovery means getting better. If I have flu and I recover, I no longer have flu. If I break my leg I can have it set and recover. My leg is no longer broken. With mental health, though, I’m asked to believe that I’m in recovery whether I’m well or not. Recovery has nothing to do with the end of symptoms in this context.
Of course, many people do recover their mental health. Their experience, while bringing changes to their lives, can recede into the past. Their need for help ends and they get on with their lives. They have recovered, truly. But what about the rest of us?
Talking to me about my recovery makes me disillusioned and desperate. Each time my mental health deteriorates it feels like a step backwards and away from hope. Whenever I can’t do something “normal” I’m failing because it doesn’t look like recovery to me.
And it’s easy for those who plan and commission mental health support to question any kind of ongoing need if the whole lot of us are recovering, regardless of how we are.
I believe that the key to surviving poor mental health is hope. Not some unrealistic daydream but an anchor that steadies us in the storm. If the recovery myth diminishes hope, we must find a different approach.
Real hope depends on us accepting how things truly are. This is not to say that change is impossible; indeed change is only possible if we start where we are. Only if I accept that I’m not on the point of recovery can I discover how to live a fulfilling life anyway.
With acceptance an interesting thing happens. I begin to live with my condition rather than fighting it. I become more peaceful and less run down as the internal battles cease.
Acceptance of the unrecovered life gives shape to my choices. My mental health condition limits me, and I need to grieve for the things I can’t do, and let them go. Energy spent in trying to work beyond my limits is wasted energy. Letting those dreams go is not admitting defeat. It frees me to say yes to other things.
The unrecovered life also helps us to learn and give. If our eyes are set only on recovery we miss the journey. We know so much about ourselves and each other because of our experiences. The recovery myth stops us being present to the treasures of insight, compassion and mutual support.
So please, recover if you can. But if you’re not recovering, don’t sell yourself a second best life by living for what’s not there for you. Instead take a look at the treasure you already hold in your hand.