Recovery isn't linear
20-something miseries, mental health

Mental Health Monday: Recovery Isn’t Linear

Okay, here’s a sad truth: when you decide you’re ready to start recovering from your mental illness, it isn’t going to get better right away. And even when things do start to get better, it isn’t permanent. Recovery isn’t linear, no matter how much we want it to be.

Intellectually, I knew this when I started recovering from my own issues. In theory, I understood that I would likely go back and forth between getting better and worse before things really got better. But I still believed in that time when I would eventually “really” get better. I still believed that my general trend would be toward being healthier.

How I assumed recovery would look

But the longer and longer I went without getting “truly” better, the more my belief in it started to fade. It felt like I was trapped in my old patterns, like there was no hope for recovery at all. I fell into black and white thinking. If I wasn’t consistently getting closer to being better, then I wasn’t getting closer to being better at all. I got really hopeless really fast. I just thought recovery wasn’t possible for me. Something must be fundamentally wrong with me, something no amount of therapy or medication could fix.

How my progress actually looked

I think it would be hard for anyone to look at that second graph and think “Yeah, she’s totally getting better!” There’s no general upward trend. But here’s the thing: there is change. Yeah, it’s not always for the better, but you know what untreated mental illness looks like? A linear line downward.

What I had trouble seeing back when I was actually living through this is that my life wasn’t continuing to spiral completely out of control, and this was a sign that things really were getting better in some way. And the more I shamed myself for not progressing the “right” way, the more I actually held myself back from improving even more.

Nowadays, my line definitely tilts upwards more and more, but when I have really bad brain days, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve completely thrown off the curve and ruined all my progress. Like it doesn’t count anymore because I’m so much lower on the graph for the time being. But I learned all kinds of skills to get me to my high points on the graph, and those skills don’t disappear just because I fail to use them sometimes. My inner work on my personality doesn’t vanish when my old patterns re-emerge. Those things just mean I’m human. Not bad, not broken, not irreparable, not unforgivable. Just human.

Interested in reading more on the non-linear nature of recovery? Check out my latest HealthyPlace post: Why It’s So Hard to Accept That Recovery Isn’t Linear.

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