The Road to Recovery

I got to thinking about recovery the other day.

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I went out for a walk down to the river. I was having a good day, physically and mentally; I could step across the rocky shore with surety, I knew the exact amount of ‘flick’ to put on the slate shards to send them skipping merrily across the water, I leap onto the small rock in the path and know, not just in my head but in my muscles and bones too, that I would land and balance on it. For once I was unconcerned about the other people, and even if they were concerned about me, I knew how I would reply to whatever they asked me. Things came easily.

Not every day is like this.

One gets use to watching one’s step when it’s the norm to trip over a totally flat surface and then walk into a table you were deliberately trying to avoid. One gets used to watching one’s mouth when around strangers in case the words come out in a garbled mess. Some days are better than others. That day was a good day. Today, not so much. My fingers feel heavy and stiff and my words are sticking somewhat on the way out.

I redefine my normal every single day.

It’s exactly the same with depression.

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The recent sad news of the death of Chester Bennington got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend of mine about four years ago about the cyclical nature of our depression; some days we’re up and good, some days we can feel ourselves falling and sometimes we sink so low we wonder if we’ll ever see the light of day again. I was a few months out of therapy at that point but still having a lot of very Bad days, while he was still very much in its grip (a grip he wouldn’t break for a good few more years). I remember him saying that he didn’t think we ever really recovered from something like this – we either dealt with it or we didn’t, but it would keep coming back.

I poo-pooed it somewhat at the time, because I wanted to be depression free, but when you think about stories like Chester’s or Robin Williams’, even the nature of my own ‘sticky patches,’ when I feel like I’m moving through treacle and which can last for weeks, made me think he may have had a point.

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The rate of relapse after completing CBT for depression can be up to 50%, which is a frighteningly high number. This doesn’t mean it’s an ineffective therapy, but I think there’s a view out there that therapy is a cure. It’s not; I see it as more of a toolkit.

Thing is, I think the people who develop these therapies may hold the same view.  For example, the end goal of CBT is to teach a person new ways of thinking so they no longer perceive themselves as useless or ‘bad’ or whatever else. The way each individual therapy does this changes according to whatever root philosophy it adheres to, but the ultimate goal, in the end, doesn’t differ significantly; change cognitions, avoid relapse. However, a toolkit isn’t a cure; it’s more of a functioning aid, like using transferable skills in several different jobs.

It applies across the spectrum of mental illnesses as well; ex-drug and alcohol addicts are always ‘recovering’ addicts; medically, they are never ‘recovered,’ which can be severely problematic in getting on with their lives. Having that label means there will be a lack of trust that follows them forever. It also implies that addiction never fades, that such personality traits are set in stone.

There’s no recovering from dyspraxia and autism, and anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves (seriously, every time I hear about ‘finding a cure’ for these things I want to punch somebody). But I wasn’t born with depression the same way I was born autistic-dyspraxic. Personality is always mutable; I’m not the same person I was five years ago, the same way she wasn’t the person I was five years before that. So doesn’t that mean that people can recover in the same way?

Anecdotally, it would seem not. Something I recall reading about Robin Williams went something along the lines of, “Well, he was in therapy for years, he was in his sixties, why did he kill himself?” The response was, “Being in therapy for years is how you get into your sixties with something like this.” My own low moments, they cyclical nature and the way the Bad days just keep coming back…

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It depends on how stable you see personality traits. I think it also rolls back to how society sees mental illnesses and addictions, and whatever else as well. After all, we as humans take our cues from the world around us, and if the world around us thinks there’s always going to be something wrong with us because we have a mental illness, how how are we supposed to recover fully?

Chew on that.

Stay awesome, everyone.

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Both photographs were taken by me, please ask before reusing.

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