Patterns of Recovery from Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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My mother survived two heart attacks but died twice before her death. That’s the way she saw it. Her heart stopped both times, but she fought her way back. The second heart-stopping attack occurred during an operation for a different problem. She was 94.

I only learned about this complication when I visited her the next day. She looked a bit worn down but beamed at me and announced that she had done it again. Even under anesthesia she had found the strength to fight her way back. She was radiant, triumphant.

The trouble was that her powerful drive to live was not matched by a drive to live happily. She had no path to wellbeing.

I often felt that way as I tried to make progress in recovery from depression. I made the fierce decision – not once but several times – to pull myself back from the brink and commit myself to living with every bit of energy I had. But then what? What’s the next step that helps me keep this going? I had no roadmap of my own, no sense of what recovery required or what I needed to do to sustain the drive that had kept me going through the worst moments.

Of course, there were things to do – get back into therapy, take these new medications, try meditation, eat this but not that. These were puzzle pieces handed to me with the assurance that each would help but without the larger picture of the complicated whole they fitted into. I waited for them to work. They didn’t.

This wasn’t what I’d had in mind when full of the hope that comes from renewing the basic commitment to life. I knew that recovery depended on my taking action, that I couldn’t sit back and wait to be cured by the latest treatment. And I knew very well that I’d have a hard time, that many periods of terrible depression would likely recur when I’d feel lost and hopeless. Especially at those times, I wanted to have a reference point, a sense of the overall arc of recovery to keep in mind. Read the rest»