Recovery. It’s a word I’ve used a lot in the past month. It’s an important word. It’s a word I know gives comfort to my ever-worrying parents, because they know that alongside generally being more open about everything now, my being able to say I’m in recovery signals a step in the right direction.
It felt like a weird word to use at first. I’m not a recovering alcoholic or a recovering drug addict, I’m a recovering….well what is the right word? Recovering depressive? Recovering PTSD-er? Anxiety-er definitely isn’t a word.
There are many things I wasn’t prepared for about this ‘recovery’ phase I’ve unexpectedly stumbled into. So I decided to make a list of the things I wish I’d known before I found my self in the weird limbo that is somewhere in between being completely in the depths of depression, and being recovered. Because I’ve realised that there’s a difference between ‘recovering’ and ‘recovered.’ I’m not at the latter yet.
1. You’ll be scared of relapsing.
There are days when I worry I’m slipping. I’ve written about this before. It’s scary to think that you might relapse, that you might stop being able to get out of bed. The days when you wake up and just don’t really fancy getting up before midday? That’s okay. Because you’re still ‘in recovery.’ It’s a long process. It’s not going to be fixed just like that. I’m not ‘recovered’ yet at all. I still have days when I don’t feel I can work and I don’t really want to do anything. Again, that’s okay. Because that’s not every day. Even if it’s only a couple of days at the most that you’re able to do something, where you feel positive about life in general…that’s great!! How many times in the last two years can I honestly say I’ve been excited about something, that I’ve looked forward to something, that going outside has just made me that little bit happier. The foggy side of your brain is still trying to hide those days, but you have to fight back. It’s tough, but it gets easier, all be it slower than you would like.
2. You’ll worry about what will happen if you stop taking your medication.
I’ve don’t think I’ve ever spoken about the medications that I take before. There are currently two, but I’ve lost count of the number of different medications I’ve taken over the years.
The first is Fluoxetine (aka Prozac). I’ve taken it since November and it’s the one that seems to have helped me start to feel better (because I hadn’t started taking the second when I began to recover). It’s the one that gave me painfully vivid nightmares – one of the lovely side effects.
The second is a little different. It’s called Quetiapine, and I’ve taken it since mid-January. It’s an antipsychotic drug that’s used to treat a few things, including depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder…that sounds quite scary and serious, doesn’t it? When I was prescribed it I had to have a psychiatrist approve me taking it…again, that sounds a tad serious doesn’t it? It’s really not though – I was given it to make me sleep, that’s all. According to Wikipedia this use is discouraged…I’m inclined to agree with my doctor and psychiatrists though, because every case is different. There’s no single treatment that will work for everyone, and this works for me. Quetiapine comes with very explicit instructions not to drink any alcohol what-so-ever, increases your appetite, makes you very drowsy and can’t be taken past 10pm or it has a knock-on effect the next day (hello Grandma Spoh – the misspelling is intentional and will amuse any of my old undergrad friends).
But I can’t help but worry about what will happen if and when I stop taking medication. I’m not actually that worried about my depression coming back, it’s the sleep that I’m most scared about. Sleep problems have been in my life far longer than depression. Apparently I had them when I was very young. The prospect of reverting back to my delirious, barely functioning self due to so little sleep is terrifying. Up until now I’ve managed to cope with it because of being a student and not having the traditional 9-5 day, and even then my academic life took a hit on many occasions. Even when you’re getting better, there’s the fear that when you stop doing the things that have helped you you’ll go back to where you started all over again.
3. You’ll still be finding ways to cope with day-to-day life.
Even when you’re recovering, you’ll still be finding new ways to help you cope with life in general. It can be annoying. You’re beginning to feel better, but even then the battle’s not over. I’ve learnt I need to plan things. Like, really really plan things. Not having structure is a bad thing for me at the moment. It lets me float into the realms of not doing work and feeling guilty about it, the feeling which I associate with depression. And then when that happens it feels like I’m losing, and it’s really upsetting to feel that way. But lists help. Even if it’s just writing down the little things I need to do. Take the other day, for example. I missed a lecture (and I felt immensely guilty). But when I got up I made a list. Not a list of the endless work that I need to get on top of (a list that would make me feel even worse than I already did); a list of the little things I need to do that would make me feel better. The things on my list ranged from getting up (yep, that was genuinely on the list), tidying, hoovering, collecting post, and eating (because I forget to do important things like set time aside to eat sometimes). Getting to cross having lunch off of my list makes me feel better about doing it, like it’s not the completely unimportant thing which I used to only do because it was a necessity. I might not have finished the list I made, but I came pretty close, and it helps to know that you’ve done at least some of the things that you needed to.
4. You might need more treatment.
The other day I finally made a phone call I’ve been putting off quite literally since November. Four different people have referred me to something called IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) and until the other day I had put off calling them. Still getting treatment when you’re beginning to feel better it weird – it feels like you’re going to turn up and then not be able to do anything because so many times when you go to talk to people about what’s been going on you have to keep rehashing all of the same things, and there comes a point where you’re a bit fed up of it. So I avoided it. Plus phone calls can quite often trigger my anxiety, so naturally I try to avoid it as much as possible. But I did it. And that’s good. I’ve also been referred to a psychiatrist. Again, that’s a bit scary because I have no idea what to expect from it, but I’m going to have to force myself to do it anyway.
5. There will still be moments when it comes back.
The other day, I had an anxiety attack. It was completely unexpected and I nearly burst into tears for a very illogical reason, which in turn led to a humungous headache the likes of which I haven’t had for quite some time. That was a particularly tough day, not made easier by the fact it was the day I’d struggled to get out of bed, missed lectures and barely done anything which felt productive.
The moments when the things that you thought were in the past, which come at you without any warning and are suddenly just there…they’re scary too, much like everything else when you’re trying to recover from a mental health issue. But, because you’re getting better, because you’re learning how to cope, you’ll get through it much better than you have done before. Hopefully.
And finally, and this is the really kicker that I think has far too great a potential to undermine any of the really positive steps you take towards getting better…
6. You’re going to compare yourself to ‘normality’.
The times when I feel like I’m failing the most are the times when I’m reminded that the way I function now, which allows me to lead an almost ‘normal’ (by my definition) life, those times when I’m reminded that actually I’m still having to do things that most other people don’t in order to function.
Sleep is, yet again, a prime example of this for me. For years I’ve tried different medications, homeopathic treatments, bought pretty much everything Boots stocks that claims to help sleep – none have worked. But now I can sleep, now I’m able to get up most mornings before 11am…but pretty much everyone else can already do that…for me it’s a massive win to be able to get up…but comparisons to normality stop me from being able to recognise that.
To function, I need far more sleep than the average person. To function on less…it makes me feel like I’m relapsing, it leads to that scary drowsy feeling that is hand-on-heart one of my biggest fears at the moment – it’s the feeling of depression that I was unable to shake for two years (if I were in Professor Lupin’s class at Hogwarts where he brings out a Boggart it would manifest into whatever way it can represent depression, which would probably mean it just turns into me). I constantly compare myself to ‘normal’ functioning, what ‘normal’ people can do, how ‘normal’ people can hold their attention in a lecture for hours, can answer questions on the spot without drawing a massive blank, can work for hours on end and actually learn something…how they can function ‘normally’. I’d give anything to be that way, I really would. But I’m not. And that’s hard. Because I spend so much of my time comparing my ability to function with ‘normal’ people, I’ve completely lose sight of what I can do now.
There are things that I should be proud of, that should be gold stars by comparison to what I’ve been like over the past two years, but which I don’t feel good about because of my comparisons with ‘normal’ people:
I can sleep. More than I used to. That’s really good. [But you still need more sleep than normal people so it can feel like you’re still a failure].
I can get up in the morning. The actual morning. The AM. Pre-lunchtime. [So does everyone else…so why be proud of that?].
I’ve gone to more lectures this term than the last. [Woop-de-doo, you’re still missing some though aren’t you, lets focus on that rather than the things you have been able to go to, let alone the walking in 5 minutes late which you were never able to do before because again, hey there massive anxiety issue].
Plus I’ve finally been able to make it to the morning lecture I have on a Saturday and will be staying until 5pm (it’s taken weeks to be able to do this). [Again, woop-de-doo, you’re in a room filled with people who’ve managed to do all of the 10am-5pm Saturdays so far, do you want a pat on the back or something?].
I eat meals willingly, normally three times a day, and I actually manage to eat when I’m getting hungry now rather than feeling like it’s going to make me sick. […..really, you’re proud of that?].
There have been days when I’ve tried to work. Succeeded? No. But I tried. [Seriously? You didn’t succeed in doing what every other student in the UK does day in, day out and you’re trying to think that’s a good thing?].
I’ve tried to meet new people and do things that I enjoy and attempted to not completely put myself down for doing this rather than academic work. [Whatever, meeting people and doing fun things is what most people want to do, what does it matter that you never used to be able to do that because of you’re anxiety getting in the way].
I’ve asked for help even when I didn’t want to. [So?].
I talk about things(!) and blog about them too (and some people have been nice enough to say that they think my writing’s quite good). [Yeeeeah, so do countless other people, and would somebody really say they don’t like what you write to your face?]
You see I’ve been trying really hard to recover, harder than I think even I realised until I started to write this. Because, in the spirit of honestly, writing about my comparisons of myself with ‘normality’ has made me cry. Not curled-up-in-a-ball-uncontrollably-sobbing crying, but it’s made me have the sad-occasional-tear-rolling-down-my-cheek crying. Because the hardest thing about recovery is that you have to try and take even the tiniest of things as a win, the things that were a massive struggle before but which are slowly getting easier bit by bit. But because of the voice in your head that puts so much doubt into everything you do, you think that it’s not good enough, because even when you’re trying to get better, you’re still not ‘normal’.
It took me three days to write this. It took so long because I didn’t really know how to end it without it sounding like I was having a really tough time and that I was getting worse, which I’m not – it’s just that there are the occasional moments when it can feel like I’m not getting anywhere. Today I spoke about my comparisons with someone, and what I realised was that as I adjust and as I get used to things, it is going to get better. Because it shouldn’t really matter what I think of of myself in comparison to other people, but that doesn’t stop me from doing those automatic comparisons my brain is programmed to do now. But as time goes by I’ll stop doing it. Apparently it’s one of those things which just sort of stops one day without you anticipating it. It just clicks. We don’t have to be like everybody else. We don’t have to be as happy as that person who never seems to have anything going wrong in their life. We don’t have to be 10/10 happy all the time. It’s you’re content with being 7/10, then good. Because by comparison to those days when you were maybe a 3/10 instead, 7/10’s pretty damn great.