In response to a recent post, Clinically Clueless commented that, for her, recovery was a process, not a destination. She needed to keep aware of it, like those recovering from addiction, in order to catch the signs of relapse. I’ve thought of recovery in a similar way, certainly not a state you arrive at and then take for granted. These days I consider it more like a set of skills that I have to keep practicing. I need them almost every day.
But I’ve also been unwilling to think of myself as always in recovery, as I wrote in this post last year. I want the different way of living that should come next, one with the vital energy that depression drains away so completely. Sure, symptoms linger on, and that’s why the skills to deal with them are so important.
In the past year, I came to believe that I had recovered, that I was “there.” It took quite a while before I felt OK with saying this out loud or writing it down in this blog. There had been so many false “recoveries” that I couldn’t quite believe I had changed so deeply. But it gradually dawned on me that my way of living each day had a new energy about it. I knew what I wanted to do and could get it done. I laughed about mistakes that I used to take as disasters. I started reconnecting with my family and friends, instead of lurking about in shadowy absence all the time. (However – tons of work to do in restoring relationships – much more about that coming up in another post.)
Most of all, as I wrote here at a critical moment, my belief about myself had changed. I no longer assumed I was all wrong as a person, a fraud, worthless – that endlessly replayed recording. There wasn’t any recording. I didn’t start thinking how fine and OK I was. I was simply feeling, thinking, behaving differently, without that constant bleak drag of heavy chains.
It’s true I’m not done with the symptoms, but I do feel done with the beliefs of depression. Without the power of those negative beliefs behind them, the symptoms are more like old habits. After decades of doing things their way, I have to remain aware when I find myself repeating one of those patterns.
For example, I still have a habit of reminding myself of every mistake and failure I’ve ever made. I can’t pretend I won’t keep thinking that way for a while longer – it’s a hard habit to break. However, running myself down for thinking negatively and trying to avoid those thoughts doesn’t work. Instead, I observe them and remind myself, that whatever actually happened back then, it’s over and done with. I can’t undo it now. The obsessive quality of those memories is gone because I don’t take them as confirmation of what a fool or idiot I am – as I used to do. I don’t believe that anymore.
In this sense of the need to change old habits, recovery is a process that keeps on – and on. I’m very much in the midst of it. But it’s also true that I’m living in a different place from the depressive home I used to live in. I guess I could say that recovery is both a process and a destination – but not the final one. It’s another step toward getting reconnected with people, restoring a sense of purpose, letting myself be surprised.
At that point, the mindset switches from getting over depression to sustaining wellness in all its richness. That’s where insightful guides like Evan become especially helpful. After perfecting the art of ill-being for so many years, I’m working on the skills of well-being for a change. And I have a long way to go. Feeling better is great
It’s a lot more challenging than depression because depression gives you all the answers to every experience in life. Of course, all the answers are pretty much the same – whatever it is, I’m no good at it and never will be. That explains everything – so, if you accept that answer, you can just sit back and watch the life seep away. Being present for my life definitely beats being absent, but after decades of doing things the depressed way, this doesn’t happen all at once.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on a series of ebooks about recovery. My hope is to outline what I’ve learned – and am still learning by trial and error – by drawing out those practical skills that have helped me get through this long effort to get back into life. This step-by-step experience is the theme of the new site I’m developing: Recovery from Depression.
Perhaps that’s not quite the right name, though. It might be better to call it something that gets at reconnecting with life – the third phase that takes you beyond recovery. Any ideas? How do you think about recovery?