This Is What Recovering From Mental Illness Really Means

This isn’t a happily-ever-after article. But it is real and honest, and not without hope.

Recovering from mental illness isn’t a lot of things.

It isn’t a linear process, nor is it easy or fair.

It isn’t about reaching a destination of full-time happiness. It isn’t about feeling invincible or being impermeable.

It isn’t an endless run of good days either. Often, it isn’t about having a good day at all – it’s about feeding yourself well, wearing comfortable clothes, and not giving up just yet.

These lonely nights and even lonelier days happen when the world is up but you’re not really ‘here.’ It isn’t about forcing any emotion or willing yourself to return home.

Sometimes it’s feeling like there’s no way out, despite how hard you’re trying to push through the murkiness. Sometimes, it’s looking forward to the hours, growing in number, that you can be unconscious. It’s hoping you’ll wake up tomorrow and feel differently. It’s being gutted when you don’t.

It is, however, about celebrating when these difficult times are few and far between. It’s celebrating wins, no matter how small.

It’s also appreciating that your mind makes you empathetic, kind, and patient, even though deep down you’d trade all those things to just feel a bit of peace.

It’s wanting to trade this brilliant mind of yours for one that doesn’t actively work against you. Failing this, it’s wishing you could remove it from your skull and give it a thorough clean.

Recovery is an inconsistent and isolating experience. Every now and then, it’s being convinced that there isn’t a single soul on this earth who understands. It’s disappointment because you didn’t think it would be like this.

It’s relating to every heavy metal ‘fuck the world’ song. It’s relating to the gut-wrenchingly beautiful power ballads of Cher, Celine, Shania, and Mariah. It’s also relating to cheesy ‘90s pop and easy listening tunes that remind you of better times – that there will be better times ahead.

It’s dying your hair and moving to a new city. It’s searching for quick fixes that will make you feel brand new and solve everything, even for a little while. It’s choosing vices that make life bearable.

It’s dealing with the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s feeling like you yourself are built of a house of cards – flimsy, unpredictable, and entirely collapsible.

It’s hearing repeatedly that ‘everyone has their stuff,’ but quietly knowing that your ‘stuff’ isn’t quite the same. It’s knowing that while you can’t quantify anyone else’s pain, especially from wounds you cannot see, that severe mental illness is a special kind of torture.

It’s having your heart broken – not by a person, but by this situation.

It’s shattering like glass and discovering the pieces in unexpected places at unexpected times. It’s worrying you’ll never feel whole again. It’s worrying you were never whole to begin with.

It’s failing two courses in one college semester after being an academic overachiever for consecutive years. It’s letting these things go – things that are important to others but can’t be to you, at least not right now. It’s watching on helplessly as maintaining a top GPA tumbles down your list of priorities, not because you want it to but because your brain isn’t giving you a choice. It’s putting your dreams on hold time and time again. These aren’t necessarily even big dreams of yours – just little things that don’t come very easily.

Some weeks, it’s eating nothing but cookie dough and pizza.

It’s feeling like your head is on fire and finding new ways to douse the flames. It’s fearing these flames will reignite somewhere down the track, often without warning or obvious reason.

It’s biting your tongue when ignorant, arrogant people tell you how to tie your laces, despite never having stood in your shoes. It’s making them uncomfortable with your gallows humor.

So too is it feeling like a shitty friend. It’s knowing you should be there, need to be there, but can’t. It’s feeling everything all at once and sometimes feeling nothing at all.

It’s feeling there’s not a single combination of words in the English language that will make any of it okay – not imagined by your psychologist or mum or partner… no one. It’s knowing there isn’t a single combination of words that will ever do justice to what your mind does to you, either.

It’s weeping silently in scummy public toilets because you don’t want any of these people to have front row seats to this version of you.

It’s being grateful for support but every so often feeling like it’s not enough. It’s grieving lost time and experiences you didn’t get to live fully. It’s grieving who you could be, should be. It’s stopping to smell the roses but sometimes feeling like no sweet perfume or amount of sunshine will ever make the pain worth it.

It’s about being realistic and, when able, cautiously optimistic.

It’s giving new meaning to the phrase ‘you do you.’ It’s cancelling plans. It’s lying to loved ones because you fear the truth is just too much, too awful to say aloud. It’s fearing those you keep close will bristle or throw their hands up and admit defeat when they hear you speak. It’s shutting down and sometimes shutting off.

It’s also giving special meaning to the word ‘resilience’ – it’s knowing it takes incredible bravery to stomach your thoughts and weather thunderstorms so brutal and unapologetic in nature. It’s wishing you didn’t have to be this strong all the time.

It’s feeling powerful. Sometimes, it’s feeling powerless. It’s letting go of parts of your identity to make room for new parts – parts that are perhaps less shiny but definitely more genuine and therefore valuable.

It’s accepting that relapse is possible.

And it’s learning to turn the volume down. It’s learning to be relentless instead of fearless, so that even when you’re afraid, you keep going. It’s continuing to fight when you’d convinced yourself there were no more beasts to battle, when you thought the war was over.

Recovering from mental illness is many things.

Most importantly, though, it’s being down but not out. It’s knowing that waving the white flag will put a stop to it all – the bad, the tiny glimpses of good, as well as the potential for something really great. Some days, it’s not wanting to die but just wanting this life as you know it in these moments to end.

Recovery is best done loudly so that we can keep others from dying quietly.

The 8 Most Helpful Things I’ve Learned In Therapy Thus Far

1. The hardest part is taking the initiative to go to therapy.

I was weighing going to therapy and talking myself out of it. I felt that at times, I would be doing myself a solid by going to therapy – which I was – and other times felt that I was not good enough or that I couldn’t do therapy. The important thing to realize in my journey of whether to go to therapy is that once I was ready, I knew I was ready. You can’t go to therapy unless you’re ready.

At the time, I was comfortable with weighing whether I wanted to go to therapy or not. The real change slowly started when I finally took the leap.

2. Past traumas shaped me but do not define me.

In therapy, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself. Mannerisms, triggers, and habits could all be a product of past traumas.

The important thing to remember is that past traumas — especially things completely out of your control — do not define who you are. What defines you is who you choose to become.

3. It just helps to have someone thinking logically when I’m thinking emotionally.

I’m an emotionally-driven person and I’ve always been that way. So when something happens, good or bad, I react more with emotion than I do logic. With therapy, I’ve been able to talk through things with my therapist, who not only offers advice for those situations, but also helps me see the logic side of the situation.

4. Self-awareness is key. The conscious thoughts can overpower the negative thoughts.

This kind of piggy-backs off of my last point about being emotional versus logical, but it’s quite valid in me managing my mental health. Through therapy, I learned how to be more self-aware of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Because I became self-aware, I was able to notice what was causing my triggers and work from there on how to stop them from happening or diminish the symptoms of my issue. Creating conscious thoughts about your mental health — especially in a time of mental health crisis — is no easy task and requires you to actively learn how to do so so you can better understand what causes triggers for your mental health issues.

5. Being able to talk about “that” freed me.

Until therapy, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to talk about the thing that’s been a weight on my shoulders for years. I feel like there’s one story everyone has that they need to get off of their chest, but they just don’t know how. That was the case with me. I knew there was something that was bugging me for years until I finally had the chance to talk about it and why it made me feel the way it did. I’m gonna tell you now, it felt soooooo good being able to release that weight off of my shoulders. Since I discussed that with my therapist, I’ve literally felt somewhat empowered and free.

6. I wasn’t totally open at first, but that’s okay.

Confidentiality laws, opening up to a stranger, and other housekeeping rules your therapist will tell you is enough to be overwhelming in concern to what you feel safe talking about. Know that you are safe and your therapist is there to help you in the best way possible. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing everything that is on your mind. It’s okay if you don’t explain everything just yet.

7. Sometimes it just helps to talk about something that may seem insignificant.

If you’re having an off week because you forgot your keys but you were already out the door or your two dogs work together to wake you up at five in the morning, then you know sometimes some things may just set you off. If you feel like there’s an issue with why something — even small — might be setting you off, it’s okay and actually great to discuss it with your therapist. Something that you might downplay as not that bad might actually be something worth talking about, and it’s better to talk about something small and insignificant than to keep it bottled in.

8. On the contrary, it feels great to discuss when things are going well in your life.

One thing I didn’t really realize about therapy is that it’s not always about discussing heavy, negative situations. You can talk about when things go well in your life, too. It’s supportive and invigorating to let your therapist know what’s going on in your life, good and bad.

I wrote this article not only to share with others what good therapy can do, but also to remind myself how far I’ve come in my mental health journey even in the times it may be difficult. I was super nervous to take the leap at first, and I even thought that my therapist would downplay my issues. That was not the case. My therapist listened each and every time and provided the most helpful tips and tools to help me continue to be mentally healthy. If you’re on the fence about going to therapy yourself, I highly suggest you take the leap like I did.

8 Rituals That Will Keep Your Day Bright And Healthy

It’s not easy balancing your career, your relationship, and your social life. You rarely get the time to sit back and relax. Although you deserve to take a break and take care of yourself, it’s not always possible. However, supporting your energy and your immune system doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes, the smallest, quickest rituals can change your life in significant ways. There are plenty of ways you can keep your day bright and healthy without completely changing your current lifestyle. Here are a few small, easy to learn ways to improve your health: 

  1. Drink more water throughout the day.  The easiest way to increase your immune health and your energy is to increase your water intake. Drinking two liters of water a day is going to activate your metabolism, which will give you more energy. Not only will water re-energize you, but it will help you develop clearer skin, maintain your blood pressure, and aid in your digestion. These are great reasons to start carrying around a cute, portable water bottle so you can re hydrate on the go.
  2.  Add more citrus, yogurt, and vegetables to your diet. Your diet has a strong impact on your physical and emotional health. You will support your immune system if you stick to a healthy diet. Eating too much junk food can slow digestion and drain energy. Although there’s nothing wrong with snacking once in a while, you should try to add more citrus, yogurt, and vegetables to your diet. These foods will improve your health and energy, so make sure you always have something healthy waiting in your fridge.
  3. Take the right vitamins and dietary supplements. Vitamin C is crucial to keeping your immune system running smoothly.* Luckily, all you have to do to increase your vitamin C is take the right vitamins. For example, Nature’s Way Sambucus Gummies® contain 100% of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C. They also contain elderberry extract, with naturally-occurring anthocyanins which provide antioxidant support, and zinc, which helps immune function.* These ingredients form a triple-action immune blend to keep your body happy and healthy.* Chewing two of these delicious gummies per day will help support immune function.* It’s a quick, effortless way to take care of yourself every single day.  
  4. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. You need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to stay healthy and energized. If you’re unable to get enough sleep throughout the night, there’s nothing wrong with taking a power nap in the middle of the day, either. However, you should only sleep for about fifteen to twenty minutes if you want to reset your system and increase your energy. Keep in mind, power naps are even better for you than drinking coffee. Although caffeine boosts energy, it can cause you to become restless and make mistakes. Meanwhile, power naps actually boost motor performance and memory.
  5.  Fit exercise into your daily routine. Your body will be able to function better if you remain active. It’s okay if you don’t have the time to hit the gym seven days per week. Simply walking for thirty to sixty minutes a day can help maintain the immune system. Exercising will also get your heart rate up, which will increase your energy levels. If you manage to fit exercise into your daily routine, then soon, you will end up with much more stamina.  
  6.  Minimize stress and alcohol consumption. Stress can impact the immune system. It can make your body more vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to reduce your stressors and alcohol consumption. You can do this by engaging in hobbies that excite you, setting aside more time to rest, or signing up for therapy to learn new coping mechanisms. It’s also helpful to take a dietary supplement like Nature’s Way CalmAid®, which contains lavender oil to reduce feelings of tension and stress.* It’s non-drowsy and non-habit forming, which makes it perfect for everyday stress relief.* Remember, if you put more effort into taking care of both your mind and body, the hard work will pay off. 
  7. Use essential oils with calming properties. Different essential oils will aid in different areas. For instance, the aroma of lavender oil has calming properties. It can improve sleep, which can help with energy levels. Small amounts of essential oils can do your body good, so it’s worth looking into them.
  8. Meditate every single morning. Guided meditation will help you reduce negative emotions, build skills to manage your stress, and gain new perspectives on uncomfortable situations. If you meditate every single morning, it will lower your heart rate and your blood pressure while making it easier for you to sleep. The more relaxed you are, the more energy you will have throughout the day. Although meditation might seem like a small step to improve your mood, it can help in a huge way. It can keep your day bright and healthy.