I have been seeing practitioners for my mental health since I was 13 years old – which means I have been working to support both my mental health and, ultimately, my physical health for over 50 years. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have always fought for my own well-being by doing whatever it took to find the right treatments, routines and support that worked for me.
In honor of National Recovery Month, I would like to share my own perspective and understanding of what recovery entails because so many in our community will lose hope that they can navigate past the challenges they encounter – both mentally and physically – but I am living proof that you can lead a fulfilling, joyful life while in recovery.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s very sobering to know that recovery will last a lifetime for many physical and mental health conditions, and it can feel overwhelming. However, I can confidently say that you can learn to navigate the scars and pain you may carry with time, support, and treatment.
One key piece of wisdom I have learned is that events or changes that result in sadness or depression – such as a new diagnosis from a doctor – are often in response to a feeling of loss. For example, I was told at age 23 that if I continued jogging on concrete, I wouldn’t be able to walk by the time I was 40. It was a huge blow that I had to remove activities in my life that had brought me joy – running, line dancing and basketball – and I grieved that loss. Ultimately, it took me 2-3 years to fully accept this change. And at the age of 42 (23 years ago) I was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that suggested a 90% likelihood that I would pass on within a year. Similarly, it took me time to accept a permanent heart disease but, with determination to find the right treatment, I am still here and happier than I might have been otherwise because I have learned to value each day.
Mental health and mental illnesses are very much the same in this respect. When you receive a diagnosis of a mental illness, you may feel that you have lost something – which could be as simple as the loss of living your life without needing mental health treatment – but it’s important that you identify what you are grieving about so that you can address and get the support you need to treat it.
When I received the diagnosis for my knees, I stopped running and switched to biking; I stopped line dancing and began ballroom dancing; I stopped playing full-court basketball games in exchange for games like HORSE. Likewise, when I received the diagnosis for my mental illness, I worked with a range of different therapists, counselors and doctors to find the right treatments to support my mental health and I ultimately found support groups and medication that allowed me to live my life to the fullest.
I show these parallels between mental and physical health because many find the prospect of managing a mental illness for the rest of their lives more daunting than a physical ailment, such as diabetes or a heart condition. Ultimately, one’s well-being is dependent on both one’s physical and mental health and taking care of your whole self is an ongoing effort.
I find that it’s worth it. I have been taking different medications for years to keep my heart and my mind healthy, and I will likely continue using these treatments for the rest of my life. I am at peace with that because these treatments allow me to continue spending time with my wonderful family and do the activities that make me happy.
As such, I encourage you to fight for your own health and recovery, as hard as that may be. You are ultimately the only person who can say what treatments best serve you – so use all the tools and resources at your disposal to take care of yourself so you can lead the fulfilling life you want and deserve.