If you have read as many recovery stories as I have, you begin to notice a pattern:
1. Someone struggles with mental illness, sometimes for many years.
2. They reach breaking point.
3. Something happens, and things begin to get better.
Sometimes the thing that happens is something amazing, or extreme. But very often, it’s just a small thing, the significance of which would be lost on almost anyone else. People talk of kind words, small gestures, noticing things/people who were there all along, moments of clarity.
For these people, things don’t suddenly and miraculously get better. But gradually, with work, the person manages to claw their way out of the hole. They may not always feel fantastic, but they hold on to the knowledge that that they will never fall as far down as they have before.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and I’ve realised that I’ve been waiting for that ‘something’ to happen to me. And that I project my own longing for that feeling onto my experiences. So, something bright and good happens, and I think ‘That’s it, nothing will ever be as bad as it has been, and I will get better.’. Instead of enjoying the moment for what it is, welcome respite from dark thoughts, I put pressure on it to be a turning point.
Unfortunately, for me, that feeling always fades. Sometimes I manage to keep hold of it for a few days, and I really start to think, maybe I can do this. But then when it fades, all I’m left with is disappointment, on top of the low that I find myself in the middle of.
And that makes me feel guilty – I must not be trying hard enough; other people can take these moments and hold them tight. They may feel bad in the future, but they don’t slip back to their worst. Slowly but surely, they recover. They don’t go back to how things were before they became ill, but they find a new way of being, often borne from that hope that stays with them. I’m really happy for these people (and obviously a bit jealous!). After struggling so much, it must feel so good to have that near constant hope.
But what about me and the many other people for whom hope is fleeting and unreliable? I’m realising that it is important to take heart from good times, but not to assume that they’re going to save you. Because, in all likelihood, they won’t. That’s not to say that there is no hope – far from it. But just because you aren’t blessed with that moment of clarity, doesn’t mean things won’t get better. If we stop waiting for a turning point maybe we can make some real, and lasting, progress. We can save ourselves.