Recovery Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date

By Melissa McLaughlinSeptember 7, 2020

Expectations can be suffocating.

For almost nine years now, I’ve struggled with a diagnosed mental illness. It started with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, then I was told I had Borderline Personality Disorder as well. A few years later, a different psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar, especially based off of the meds that were working for me at the time. All within that range of diagnosis, I’ve battled suicidal thoughts and impulses, self-harm, and taking medical leaves from college.

My journey with mental illness has been exhausting. Trying to find the right “medication cocktail,” so to speak; trying to find the right diagnosis; trying to find a balance between meds and therapy. Life changes I can make, thinking patterns to adjust, skills to use…

At times, I’ve found myself wanting to give up.

I’ve gone through periods where my mental illness seems to back off and lets me live my life. Times when I’ve been able to hold a job longer than a few weeks, times when I’ve felt happy or content for the majority of my days, and, inevitably, times when those around me think I’m “better” and their expectations of me rise higher and higher. With those expectations, suddenly people think I can and should be able to handle it all—to have not just a job, but a career, to “put my degree to use,” to have a family, to accomplish goals that they think should take priority in my life.

Those expectations, when I’m unable to reach them, make me feel like a failure. I don’t understand why my ever-present accomplishment, simply to stay safe and alive, isn’t enough for everyone else.

I’ve taken myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts six times over the last seven years. I consider those times successes in their own way because I did what I needed to do to keep myself safe. I’ve hit positive landmarks: I kept a job for nine months. I recently celebrated being five years free from self-harm. It’s been over a year since I was last hospitalized for my mental illness. I’ve made good friends and am trying to be more social.

And yet, occasionally, the suicidal thoughts and impulses return. I don’t want to die. I know I don’t. Yet sometimes impulses related to suicide jump to the forefront of my brain. Urges to self-harm resurface. In the midst of all this—of struggling and feeling like I’m drowning or stuck in moments where my brain lies to me and tells me suicide is the only way out—I realized something.

Suicidal thoughts and self-harm urges do not define me. The ups and downs of my recovery do not define me. The worry that I’m disappointing my family does not define me. Recovery isn’t always linear and it does not have an expiration date. My hard work, my creativity, my love of reading and art, my poetry: these things help make me who I am.

Even as I write this, I find it hard to list things that I love, things that make my life worth living. Yet I know that they are there. And despite the bone-deep exhaustion that permeates my being at times, I know there’s a light. I can and will keep going, keep trying, keep living.

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Comments (8)

  1. Natasha

    This is raw, real & in a nutshell a truer than true explination of your MH journey, one that relates to mine 💜💛💚

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  2. Rob

    This is so powerful. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  3. Ronnie

    Thank you for sharing your story. I could relate to it 100%. I too have bipolar disorder. I’ve taken medical leaves, tried to find the right medication, etc. I’ve dealt with suicidal ideation and the urge to self harm are things that are constant. I know recovery is possible though. Our mental disorders and urges don’t have to define us.

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  4. Stacey

    This is my story. Thank you.

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  5. Allie

    Thank you.💙
    Those expectations are tough. They cause unnecessary anxiety, as if you didn’t already have enough. People seem to want to see constant progress and at the rate of speed they feel is appropriate. It makes them feel good to think you’re moving forward. As if by asking, they contributed to your well-being and can be less concerned. It isn’t about them but they make it seem as if it is. It’s difficult to put your foot down and tell them ‘this is how this is going to go’. But sometimes it’s necessary.❤

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  6. Sierra Petty

    So very proud of you, sweetie gal. You got this 100%.

    Reply  |  
  7. Sierra

    A very dear friend of mine from my early teen years had the same name as you.. We chatted for hours after school over homemade popcorn. I’ve tried finding her online a few times over the years / are you who I’m hoping?!? If not, know that you share a name with another fighter, and soul to soul, I’m proud of you and your journey. Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve got this 100%.

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  8. Melissa McLaughlin

    Hey everyone who has commented so far, I don’t know how to reply to individual comments or how to reply using my info. Thank you so much for reading my story and responding. Your comments made my heart melt, and I’m so grateful I was able to reach out with my experiences. And to everyone who said thank you… you’re welcome. <3

    Reply  |  
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