When you think about mental health recovery, what definition comes to mind? For example, if you were in recovery, how might your life feel different? How would you cope with stress or behave in your relationships?
Recovery can be a broad and abstract concept. People use the word all the time, particularly when discussing mental health treatment. But it's often spoken about vaguely and without actual parameters. Therefore, you may feel confused about what you should expect in your mental health treatment.
Understanding and defining recovery can help you measure your progress, recognize setbacks, and stay on track. Let's dive in deeper.
Recovery Is Often Subjective
Can someone 100% recover from a mental health condition? Maybe, or maybe not. If you aren't sure, you aren't alone in your ambivalence. Even mental health professionals disagree vehemently on the topic of recovery models.
For example, some people believe in the notion of a full recovery. A full recovery entails disengaging completely from any symptoms associated with a particular condition.
Let's say someone is fully recovered from an eating disorder. By this working definition, they no longer use any maladaptive habits with food, exercise, or body image. Some professionals also believe that a full recovery represents the lack of any thoughts or urges. in other words, the recovered person is completely removed from any hint of their past condition.
Active recovery, on the other hand, refers to a continuous process of trying to heal and grow. Using that same line of thinking, someone in active recovery might experience setbacks during their journey.
For example, the person in active recovery from an eating disorder might still struggle with harmful thought patterns. During stressful times, they may lapse into old habits. These behaviors can occur on a vast spectrum. However, the individual, in a sense, knows they always need to be diligent and aware of their triggers.
Recovery Consists of a Thousand Small Steps
People sometimes fear recovery because they only consider the finished result. They imagine all the changes they need to make, and taking such steps seems downright overwhelming.
But change is about what happens at the end of the journey. Recovery often represents lifelong work. You are always on a journey of self-improvement and introspection; as you grow, you ideally continue to strengthen the best version of yourself.
It's important to measure all the milestones along the way. Using a new coping skill. Asking for support. Trying something that's definitively out of your comfort zone. These steps may seem small, but they are profound. The more you can embrace conquering every challenge- no matter how slight- the more confident you will feel in your recovery.
Recovery Is Rarely an All-or-Nothing
Even though some professionals believe in a full mental health recovery, most people don't pair recovery with perfectionism. Instead, it's far more fluid and nuanced.
Life always comes with challenges. Ideally, we recognize and cope with these triggers productively. But nobody is entirely immune to the impact of stress.
As you navigate recovery, it's important to maintain realistic expectations. For instance, if you struggle with depression, it probably isn't feasible to assume you'll never feel sad again. Instead, it's probably better toplanr how you will cope when you feel sad.
Realistic expectations allow you to be rational with your progress. They also give you space to practice self-compassion if things don't go according to plan.
Recovery Can Evolve Over Time
People often find that their mental health changes as they grow and mature. Their symptoms at, say, seventee, can be dramatically different than at fifty.
With that, recovery needs to reflect these ongoing changes. Life transitions, like starting a new job, getting married, or having a baby can all impact your mental health. Furthermore, medical or hormonal changes also tend to affect mood.
Therefore, treatment needs to be flexible. And remember that worked for you many years ago may not have the same effect today. As your needs evolve, your recovery will, too.
Recovery Needs to Work For You
If you're actively working on your mental health right now, take a moment and ask yourself this: how are things working? What positive changes have you noticed? Likewise, what improvements would you still like to make?
Recovery is such an individual and unique process. At the end of the day, a sustainable recovery feels doable and worth it. You want to do the work because you know it benefits your growth. And even if you start slipping, you can find support and strength to get back on the right track.
So, if it isn't working, it's time to think about what needs to change. Should you work with a different therapist? Reconsider medication? Evaluate your current lifestyle habits?
Recovery Doesn’t Exist on a Defined Timeline
Everyone is different, and no two recoveries follow the same trajectory. Your progress is yours alone, and the best person to measure against is yourself.
Some people, for example, attend one treatment program and stay sober for the rest of their lives. Others may spend several years in and out of treatment before they find their way. One path is not better than the other. Moreover, one person isn't "better" or "stronger" than anyone else.
Unfortunately, many people struggle with this comparison game. As a result, they're likely to feel insecure and even more discouraged with their efforts. They might also assume that something is inherently wrong with them.
If you feel concerned about your progress, talk about it with a trusted professional. Rather than criticize or shame yourself, you two can strategize about what steps to take moving forward.
Getting Started On Your Mental Health Recovery
If your condition impacts your quality of life, it may be time to try something different. You deserve happiness and personal fulfillment. You also deserve to feel supported while facing your adversities.