It is wishful to assume that the process of coping with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction takes place at a steady incline; that one counseling session, a single dose of medication, or familiarizing oneself with a breathing exercise will propel you forward at a constant rate. Unfortunately—more often than not—that is a naive assumption.
It is rarely that easy.
It is rarely that simple.
It is rarely that seamless.
The rate at which life comes at us is inconsistent, unexpected, and sometimes messy. Recovery and healing from mental illness unfolds similarly.
A rollercoaster of sorts, recovery includes inclines and declines that come and go, and transition at unanticipated moments. It can manifest in the form of returning to therapy after having been out of counseling for several years. It can translate to maintaining sobriety, but having to restart when the world knocks you off balance. It can exhaust the coping skills you’ve developed, forcing you to reinforce the foundation you thought was impenetrable.
Through my own experiences and working with others, I’ve learned that recovery is about becoming better equipped to deal with setbacks. Rather than hoping to experience an absence of difficulties on the road to recovery, it is important that we do not see missteps as definitive mistakes. Needing to start over, hit the pause button, or rewind is not going to derail all of your efforts to get better.
When a trigger presents itself, throwing a wrench in our progress, we grow discouraged and frustrated. The hurdle can even surprise those around us who have seen the lengths at which we’ve gone to get better. It’s never easy to feel ourselves regress, nor to witness a loved one’s concern that we might be reverting back to old ways.
But that’s the complex nature of mental health at work. It’s confusing and exhausting. It takes time. It takes effort. And it can, and may very well, require a reboot.
So while we can’t expect it to be steady and linear, recovery from mental illness is undeniably possible. No matter the number of times we take one step back, there are always steps forward awaiting to be taken.