Ruminations on recovery
I understand and accept that we each understand the world using the concepts/lexicon most easily accessible to us—believe me, I’ve had it (read: my ass) handed to me over sharing what a reader believed was too much content supporting the medical model of mental illness—so please accept the following as my perspective about my own evolving experiences, and not a diatribe on how I think others should view the world.
I see the word “recovery” a lot these days. I know that twelve-step programs say that recovery is a lifelong process, but when I think about it, what I think of is a process of getting better, of healing, of putting aside what ails us. Completely and forever.
When I think of it in those terms, juxtaposed with the emotional anguish I feel regularly (even with very good treatment, which I’m damn lucky to have), it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like something I’ll ever achieve. I will struggle and I will suffer—no matter the course of treatment, no matter how well-loved and fulfilled I am in my life and work. I will struggle. I will always struggle. And the older I get, the more terrifying and exhausting that struggle feels. The more terrifying and exhausting the prospect of having to do it over and over again, like my brain’s own sick version of Groundhog Day, feels. But the older I get, the more tools I have in my toolbox, the more friends to support me, the better I get at asking for help.
One of my primary concerns in putting my story—and the stories of other attempt survivors—into the world is honesty: honesty about what it feels like to be suicidal; what that can do to a person and their family; how many of us continue to struggle (and how some feel completely healed); how we cope; how we’re productive members of a society that, for the most part, shuns us or would rather we didn’t speak about our ailing minds. In general, I’m not in the business of partial-truths, false hope, or sugar coating things (for better or for worse). I’ll leave that to the other guys. Personally, I find hope in honesty, not platitudes.
Then again—let me just hit this one home—my reality and my truth belong to me, and only me. I full-well understand that at least one of you may be reading this and shaking your head.
I’m noticing the media’s tendency of portraying the problem of suicide either through the lens of the “fully-recovered” or not at all. That feels deceitful to me. There are those of us out there who continue to fight every single day, and it’s those of us whose voices need to be heard, who need to speak louder—it’s those of us who need to be given a megaphone. Some of us are lucky enough to recover; many of us are not. This can be a lifelong struggle. We can’t be treated with an an 8 session band-aid and some meds to cure our woes. We can’t be ignored, either. Things need to change or people will continue to die (at a rate of over 100 per day).
Our words and our experiences and our stories are important. They will, if I have anything to do with it, inform a future where stigma around the topic is minimized (hopefully to a point where it’s nonexistent, but I don’t know if that’s too ambitious an end to see achieved in my lifetime). They will inform a future where necessary and appropriate treatment is easier to come by; where we have a voice in that treatment and aren’t locked away like animals in cages, our only comforts taken from us. They will inform a future where children are taught that this is a real, true concern—a matter of life or death—and they’re educated on how to recognize it and who to go to for help, and where teachers, medical professionals, and most of all, mental health professionals have mandated training. They will inform a future where rubbernecking and sensationalism aren’t the first reaction we have when someone we know or love dies—or even when a celebrity dies—but our immediate reactions are about helping, community-building, and coming together to find solutions.
Sometimes, in doing this work, I feel like a hack. There have been times when I’ve almost canceled interviews because my mind and heart were so sore that I didn’t think I could sit and absorb another’s pain that day, but I didn’t because I know how scary and nerve-wracking it is to pump yourself up to tell these stories to a stranger. There have been times I’ve wondered why I do it at all. If I still struggle, is it fair of me to try and be a beacon of light for anyone else?
There’s the rub: life is hard to live, the work is hard to do, and recovery doesn’t necessarily feel achievable to me, but the world is still beautiful (even when it’s ugly). I know that. I’ve seen that. It’s in the little things, and it’s absolutely in the brave people who share their stories and the brave, loving responses of those who read them. That’s what makes life worth living for me. Acknowledging it is a big part of what keeps me alive, even when I don’t want to be.
Maybe this is exactly what recovery is supposed to be and I’m just arguing semantics (as usual). What does recovery mean to you?
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