Recovery is a word that is widely used amongst mental health professionals and those who are mentally unwell. It is often seen us the goal which anyone who is unwell should hold. It is the process which they say we are in once we start to seek treatment.
On the surface, this seems fine. Of course we want to be ‘normal’ and lead functioning lives. When I initially began fighting against my eating disorder, the word recovery was my focus. I longed for a day when I would be free from the constant stream of thoughts surrounding calories, weight, food. I felt that I would one day be able to say that I had recovered from my eating disorder.
However, 4 years on and I still cannot claim to be recovered in that sense. My health and mind are not at a normal state. I continue to think about food the second I wake up, I still count calories and weigh myself every day. In many ways, I think that I will always be this way. I accept this. I accept that sometimes a full recovery is unrealistic, especially in terms of mental health.
I think the focus on recovery can be detrimental. It leaves people unaware of the achievements they have made simply because they cannot state that they have recovered completely. Yes, my eating disorder is still very much a part of me. But, I am physically healthy, I eat something every day, I no longer abuse laxatives. While I am not recovered, and maybe never will be, I am living and functioning anyway.
Personally, I believe that the goal of treatment should primarily be about learning to live with your mental illness. Of course, full recovery would be amazing and is possible for some people. This may not be a possibility for everyone. Schizophrenia, for example, is often a life long illness. Rather than focusing on getting rid of this illness, surely it makes more sense to learn how to live the best life possible with it.
This would be a more beneficial goal in terms of relapsing too. Instead of relapsing and thinking that you had ruined your chance of recovery, the important thing would be carrying on because you can still live with a mental illness. For me, whenever I had a day without eating I felt like I had gone 10 steps back away from recovery. But understanding that it is perfectly normal for people to be busy and skip meals reminds me that very few people have a completely healthy relationship with food. Most people I know have reported skipping meals because they’ve been busy or eating loads of food because they felt sad. So if I do things like this, I cannot consider myself recovered because they are disordered eating behaviours yet any ‘normal’ person can do this and it is considered to be okay. This seems unfair and confusing!
It seems to me that whoever started putting the spotlight on recovery failed to understand that some people do not wish to get rid of their illness. Many people find certain aspects of their illness comforting. As someone with a BPD diagnosis, there are tonnes of things I hate about my illness. However, I actually like how passionate and intense it causes me to be. I might have a constant fear of abandonment but that causes me to be kind and fiercely loyal to all of my friends. That is not something I wish to change. I would simply like to learn how to manage the intensity of things. In this case, my focus is not on recovery but on learning to function in society despite being mentally unwell.
Recovery appears to be a way to rid the world of as much mental illness as possible. What I mean by this is that recovery looks at people returning to a ‘normal’ mental state. But, who gets to say what is normal? Who gets to say that recovery means a mind that is mostly free of worry and experiences emotions within a certain range? Just because someone’s mind does not work in the same way as someone else’s does not mean that they are required to change it.
There are people who can function in society with a mental illness. There are people who do everyday tasks and hold down a job and would be considered mentally ill. It is not for anyone else to decide that they should be getting treatment so they can be mentally well. If that person is content in managing their symptoms then they should have the option to do this.
Recovery, in the mental health field, often requires people to set life goals. This can be so difficult for people with mental illnesses, particularly those who remain suicidal. Of course, some people find setting goals very useful and they can be. But thinking of what you want to achieve when all you want to do is die is not easy. In some cases, surely the only goal is to keep going and it should be accepted that for some people, this is their only goal if they have any.
Essentially, the issues surrounding mental health focus too much on ‘curing’ people’s minds and making them like everyone else. It could potentially work better for a lot of people to look at providing tools to manage their mind as it is. Maybe you use the word ‘recovery’ to mean living the best life possible. Maybe it is just the wrong word to use in relation to mental health. My main issue with it is that it suggests that one cannot be living a satisfactory life if they are mentally unwell and not following societal norms.