Welcome to day 2 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. When you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, you often wonder how you’re going to get your life back. Ideally, you’d be cured of your mental health condition, but this is not always possible. When you have a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, this is often going to be lifelong. Therefore, the goal does not become cure, but living a meaningful life in spite of your mental illness. It is here that recovery comes into play.
The mental health recovery movement may be seen as an offshoot from the psychiatric survivor movement from the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, people who couldn’t be cured of their mental illness within a short while, were institutionalized on long-term units essentially for life. The worst part was that they lost all control over their lives. They couldn’t even decide what they were having for breakfast, let alone how they wanted to live their lives. Many were heavily medicated without their informed consent.
In the 1970s, psychiatric patients and activists started to protest the forced institutionalization of mentally ill people. My mother was one of those activists. Part of this protest was asking who is normal. People would wear mirror buttons with this text on them.
The truth is, everyone experiences mental setbacks in their lives. The recovery movement assumes that even people with severe mental illness can and should have control over their own lives. Recovery includes being an active participant in your treatment and the director of your own life.
In 2010, I participated in a recovery group at my former institution. One of the main positives of this recovery group was that it deliberately consisted of institutionalized people. This sent the message that, even as a long-term psychiatric inpatient, you can and should have control over your life. We discussed such topics as sources of support, pitfalls in our recovery and getting our lives back on track. Most people participating in the group, even those who did not originally intend on taking leaps in their treatment, were improving their lives at the end of the course.
I want to clarify here that the goal of recovery is self-direction, not necessarily self-reliance. I for one was planning on transferring to a workhome, which is essentially a permanent institution placement. I didn’t end up going there, but still five years later reside on a long-trem treatment unit. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take steps towards recovery. I took more responsibility for my own life and took steps towards being an active participant in my treatment. For example, I searched for a therapist who would treat my complex trauma once I’d transfer to the workhome. As I said, it didn’t work out, but the recovery course taught me that I could and should take my life and treatment in my own hands.