Is it possible to Recover and get back to Normal from a Mental Illness?

Life would never be the same again, but whose life is after struggling with an illness. Perhaps we have to redefine recovery and discover that there is no one ‘You-er than you’.

Nathan had plans of becoming a doctor. But his parents separated when he was aged 15 and his world was suddenly thrown into chaos. The stress fractured the thin layer of wellness and he began to hear voices and became paranoid. He began the journey of recovery, but what is recovery?

Girl, Interrupted

Sometimes just a couple of words can capture a great idea.

In 1999 the movie ‘Girl, Interrupted’ was released. It tells the story of 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), her stay at a mental institution and her interactions with other patients, particularly Lisa (Angelina Jolie).

The movie was ok, the title was brilliant.

She was a girl first of all. Let’s honor her humanity as being one of us, and her life had been interrupted upon by a mental illness. It changed the trajectory of her life.

Many things can alter and interrupt our lives.

At any one time, there are 1 in 5 people who will be facing the interruption of a mental illness. So odds are pretty high that at some stage you will be that person interrupted and someone you know will be interrupted.

What does it mean to ‘Recover’?

As I write this I am struggling with a very sore throat. I know that given time and some medicine I will recover, be healed and cured. It will no longer be a  condition that affects my life.

Mental health recovery is different.

We are not cured of mental illness but there is a healing and a recovery.

Recovery, in the context of a mental illness, is the process you take to find wellness and stability. It’s a journey of discovery where you are invited to learn the new and unlearn the old.

What is ‘Normal’?

When we say that we want to get back to normal we are talking about going back to the ways things were. When my throat heals I will be able to return to the normal diet and eating habits I have.

It’s not like that with a Mental Illness.

Instead, a mental illness interrupts the very fabric of your life. The norms or the expectations of what you were able to do may have been thrown out and maybe that’s a good thing. If it was normal for you to work a 70 hr week then perhaps the burnout is an invitation to create a new healthier set of ‘norms’.

Recovery is saying ‘Happy Birthday to me’

“Today you are you!
That is truer than true!
There is no one alive…
…who is you-er than you!
Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am!
That’s a great thing to be!
If I say so myself,
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!”
Dr Seuss

All of us are in recovery with the first fissure in our wellness being when we left the Garden of Edens perfection. But now there is divine invitation to discover the ‘You’ that is both as quirky and as whole as a  Dr. Seuss poem.

Please don’t try to become normal in whatever terms you might self-reference that to be. We have enough people who have decided their normal is to be ‘a clam or a ham or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!’

God knows that there is no one ‘You-er than you’ and we are all waiting for the  ‘You-er than you’ to accept themselves and to bring out the birthday gift that they are for all of us to enjoy.

Quotes to consider

  • Self-acceptance always precedes genuine self-surrender and self-transformation. David G. Benner
  • Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. Carl Bard
  • What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Questions to answer

  1. How does an attitude of wanting to ‘get back to normal’ hinder the process of recovery?
  2. What does the word ‘recovery’ mean to you? Could there be other words that describe the healing journey? If so, what are they?
  3. How do we discover the ‘You-er than you’?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Paul Brennan

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