I may be significantly overstating the value of this post if you’ve been attracted simply by reading the title but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what “recovery” in a mental health sense really is and how on earth we “do” it.
Two things this week have brought the subject of recovery into prominence.
First, I received an email asking me to write answers to fifty questions that clients typically ask about all areas of mental health, from depression to anxiety, through procrastination, relationships, and most other things you can think of.
I worked out that it amounted to something like 15000 words of copy which is a lot.
I looked at my existing commitments and realised the folly of taking on such a gargantuan task. It would be foolish to spread myself so thin, even for a week.
I write back,
“Yes, that should be OK.”
That’s the second thing that made me think about recovery. What does it say about us when we keep doing the same things that we know we ought to get better at without ever seeming to?
The difficulty I have in saying “No” is something I’ve written about here before, I’ve discussed it in therapy and supervision and sometimes I think I’m on top of it, and then I realise that I’m not.
What then should I make of my attempt to be oracle-like in advising other people, through the medium of fifty questions, on ways in which they can deal with their many and various issues of mental health when I have a recurring problem of my own?
I used to ponder on the roots of my people-pleasing behaviours, established in a childhood where making sure my mother’s approval of me was always at an optimum level. I could never say “no” to her and it became so ingrained that breaking free as an adult was not so much difficult as impossible.
For a while, I thought that “recovery” meant saying “no” with impunity and not experiencing any pang of guilt or anxiety as a result.
I have learned though that recovery tends to mean something different altogether. That it is not defined by an absence of emotions that prompted the destructive behaviours in the first place, and it often requires constant practice and vigilance to maintain. Perfection is not an option. Mostly.
Recovery from addiction might be the exception, where perfect abstinence is required, although the presence of difficult emotions is often the same otherwise we wouldn’t have managed three years of podcasts on the subject.
Setting about my mammoth task I break down the writing into chunks and put them in my diary as I would an appointment.
I work quickly and accurately, am fastidious about word count and edit as I go to ensure my point is clear.
At times, it is like dragging my already heavy legs through wet mud as I encounter yet another question about “motivation” or “procrastination”.
“Just get on with it,” I want to write, but don’t and instead get up to make another coffee making myslef feel faintly nauseous rather than supercharged.
The washing machine beeps to signify it’s finished in the background, a sound that would as a rule drive me to distraction, but I press on, timing myself to precision.
By Friday morning I have completed 41 questions, far in excess of what I thought I could achieve.
I feel a sense of real accomplishment, elation almost. I know that work like this helps me to understand my own thoughts and to grow as a writer.
The imperative for structure and organisation feels like a triumph through which I have tamed, temporarily, my ADHD brain.
Recovery is not an absolute for most of us but rather a perpetual work in progress although it turns out that even when we falter we might experience unexpected gains elsewhere.