The Upward Spiral!

recovery isn’t linear. i remember my case manager saying this to me when i was first discharged from the hospital. it doesn’t go in a straight line. and the bigger the problem, the more serious the illness, the more complex the recovery.

at the time i didn’t really understand what she meant. my outlook on getting sick was that you got better pretty quickly. the worst illness i had experienced before my breakdown was strep throat. i got antibiotics and within two weeks i felt normal again. identify the problem, find the solution and recover. so linear. i didn’t have any real experience with recovering from a serious illness.

i equate my experience with mental illness to a natural disaster that devastated my life. the buildup took years and years. i carried decades of not being ready to look my dad’s suicide in the face. i was detached from the effects of that trauma in my life. i wasn’t in denial – i truly didn’t see it. didn’t want to see it, wasn’t ready to see it, was terrified to see it. i think of all of those days and weeks and months and years that i carried the pain without talking about it, without even seeing it. add in the depression and anxiety that i didn’t want to have and didn’t know how to cope with – it was a recipe for personal crisis. it’s no wonder that i still struggle with feelings of fear and inadequacy.

and yet i find myself feeling deeply frustrated and almost desperate that after all of the work i have done i am still dealing with the same core issues. it feels like i have tried my hardest and yet i am still that broken little girl who is never good enough. i thought my recovery would be more complete, that i somehow would be farther along on my healing journey.

but recovery isn’t linear. the more serious the illness, the more complex the recovery.

my case manager compared recovery to a spiral rather than a straight line. i think she knew that i was in it for the long haul – that given all of the pent-up trauma and mental illness i needed a new visual. a way to re-frame this most difficult process. at the time i didn’t get that either, and for me the word “spiral” had a very downward connotation. two steps forward, one step back. never making real progress.

but the further i travel along my road of recovery i can see what she meant. it’s a forward and backward and then forward again movement. when i take a step outside of myself i can see that it’s not just two steps forward, one step back. the step back is usually followed by many more steps forward. i have to, have to, have to look at what has changed. because it’s real.

the past few weeks my anxiety has flared up. i’m over thinking, over doing – i think of it as fast forward amy. racing from one thing to the next, always feeling behind and overwhelmed. no matter how many wonderful, thoughtful, brilliant things i may do. lots of sweating, shallow breathing and that awful supercharged feeling inside. the farther along i get in my recovery the more frustrated i feel when the depression, anxiety or ptsd jumps out at me, reminding me that they are still there. shouldn’t i be past this by now?

it’s so critical for me to hit the pause button on my thinking here. because it is so not the same as it was a year, or two years, or five years ago. i am handling my symptoms infinitely better. and because of the work i have done my symptoms are nowhere near as strong or overwhelming. instead of hiding it away i told my family and my boss that i was struggling. instead of powering through a particularly difficult day i went home sick – since anxiety is a legit illness and is 100% deserving of a sick day. and although i had some painful moments i would still say that i had a pretty good week. even though it’s hard to change my thought process and anxious behavior at least i can see it for what it is. no longer in the dark, no longer struggling with an unnamed problem. at least i know – and knowing is half the battle, right?

recovery is a journey, which inherently needs to include breaks. time to rest, time to breathe, time to reset. i am giving myself a break – a break from trying so that i can just be. that’s something else i have learned – that sometimes in recovery i can just float. i can be carried by the positive momentum of all i have done. i can come back into the present moment, finding comfort and peace in my present surroundings. in my hot cup of coffee, my dog sleeping next to me, in the sunlight streaming through my window. even in moments of anxiety i can see the beauty all around.

i think i’m starting to get it. i am on the upward spiral. forward, backward, rest, forward forward forward.



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