All Change, Please: Recovery (sort of) and Recovery Stories

Breaking with what seems to have become a tradition of NOT updating my blog, i thought today i might talk about recovery from mental illness.  Perhaps not everyone who does recover actually has a recovery story.  Maybe most people don’t, really.  It’s rarely that simple after all and, if you’re like me, it probably just isn’t an obvious or discrete period in your life.  It just… happens.

Today, i don’t feel like i’m an “ill person”.  In fact my Mum remarked the other day that she doesn’t see me as someone who’s ill, now; and to my initial surprise, i absolutely agreed with her.  I’m not sure i could accurately describe myself as “well” either, but somewhere over the past year, dog knows how or or why or when, i seem to have found myself on the scale of normality.

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Before you or anyone starts on with that “oh, but what IS normal?” bullshit, please save your breath to cool the porridge of your own uncomprehending thoughtlessness.  I am certainly not the only one who can very easily tell you what normal ISN’T: mental distress involves all manner of fun stuff, including (but not limited to) severe eating disorder behaviours; self-injury and self-harm; drinking yourself into a stupor of memory blanks; waking up in a police station in some far-flung part of town you’ve never been to before early on a Monday morning with no recollection of getting there; waking up to a messed-up kitchen covered in empty wrappers every fucking day; feeling completely worthless and hateful all the bastarding time; regularly stepping out into the road in the vague hope you might get hit by a car; shoplifting shit you don’t want or need at least a dozen times a day with no desire to do it and no idea why you’re doing it; feelings of complete lack of control and inability to trust yourself to do or not do ANYTHING; feeling so depressed you physically, bafflingly, can’t move; not being able to leave the house for days or weeks on end; wishing yourself dead but not having the energy or motivation to actually do anything about it and being really fucked off waking up in the morning because you haven’t died in your sleep — these are but a few examples.

Approximately a year ago all this, and worse, was me.  Today i am not like that at all.  Like i said, i don’t think i can actually call myself “well” either, but i DO think i am finally just like most people: a mundane life, full of petty grievances and irresolvable frustrations; i still get pointlessly angry over stupid, unimportant little things about which i can’t do anything; things are not amazing; i’m usually tired, cross and feel generally unwell in some non-specific way; every day is a struggle and i still have seriously shitty days when i binge eat, maybe make myself throw up, drink myself into a stupor or whatever; i still feel like i never have full control over my thoughts/actions and don’t feel able to trust myself; i still catch myself wanting to lose all the weight i’ve gained and i ALWAYS want a drink; i still have anxiety, which is sometimes incapacitating, but not always; etc etc etc.  I’m still lonely and sad and i still tend to isolate myself, because yeah, i’m still eye-rollingly socially awkward — things do not change overnight and these are habits/fears to be broken and gradually overcome, i suppose.  There’s a lot that’s still wrong, or not quite right, but it’s no longer constant, no longer all-day-every-day, no longer overwhelming and all-pervading.

Yeah, there’s still plenty of shit i don’t want, but all this is just called LIFE, innit?  It’s all right.  I don’t mind it really.  I enjoy my job in a FE college even though it’s only temporary and, although i don’t have much of a ‘life’ yet (after the turbulence of the last couple of decades, it’s time to rebuild it) i also don’t have much to worry about.  I’d imagine it’s approximately the same for most people who aren’t actually seriously mentally ill or in some other kind of real trouble, along a sliding scale that doesn’t include the extremes any more.

The other day i went out with someone new (a sort of date?  It was such a nice, ordinary thing to do on a day off work, i could hardly believe it was really happening.  It went all right, thanks.  No idea yet if we’ll see each other again, though it’s been a few days with no word so i suspect not.  But i digress) and my usual thinking for many years upon meeting someone new has been that, uh-oh, i’d better let them know about all this bonkers stuff as it’s only fair to let them know what a bloody nutter i am and what they’re potentially letting themselves in for.  Y’know, put them off ASAP, because it’s not like i’m likeable or worthwhile and they’ll realise this before long, so why prolong anything?  In fact i’m like that with people i already know — like i have a duty to update them or something, because when they say, “Hi, how are you?” that’s what they’re expecting.  Pity The Poor Mental.  Because what else have i got to talk about?

But actually, now, maybe that’s not what i’m all about.  There might be more to me than that!  Maybe i don’t have to justify or even explain myself to anyone and maybe i no longer have to tell new people either, because it’s kind of in the past and i don’t have an obligation to dredge that up now because… well, maybe it’s not really relevant.  Just maybe, when someone asks, i can just say, like everyone else does, “Fine thanks. You?” — and mean it, because that’s the truth today.  Now there’s a strange and unfamiliar concept to get my head around.

Because i am fine, thanks for asking.  I’m not awesome, i’m not deliriously happy; who the hell is?   For the record, treatment didn’t help me in the slightest.  All those so-called professionals and their patronising pity and/or their patient-blaming, all those friends/acquaintances telling me what a terrible/weak person i am, all that self-disgust and abject rage that i just can’t seem to control my own actions and my inner of cries of, “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, how hard can it be?”, and all the rest of it, all that stuff neither spurred me on nor did it break me.  I don’t love myself or my body or my life or whatever we Empowered Survivors are supposed to do.  I’ve long been utterly indifferent to myself and to my appearance, because i’m a fucking normal middle aged woman, not some fictitious, leaping image of youth trying to sell you tampons.  I do accept myself though, most of the time.  And as i said right at the beginning, i don’t have a recovery story to share with sufferers, much as i wish i had.  No, there was no miraculous emergence from my cocoon, no spreading of beautiful butterfly wings: my life has not transformed into something exemplary.  I’m merely fine, like everyone else.  I’m ordinary.  Which, in its own, really grey, very unexciting kind of way, is pretty extraordinary.  It’ll take some getting used to, but perhaps this is Early Recovery and the next chapter in my life — and actually, that IS awesome, if you think about it.

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