Can We Recover from Mental Illness?

There is much debate over the causes of mental illness, but equally so when looking at whether it is something that is curable. Science says that it is not curable. However, we can, supposedly, recover from mental health illness, something which cannot be denied since it is the individuals experience that defines this. (Cure = eradication of disease or medical condition. Recovery = regaining health/wellness after sickness).

All mental illness is unique, we should never force it into one box. Every condition, and every person’s experience of it is different, and I apologise in advance if my post offends or marginalises anybody’s mental health condition. My intention is always to support those who suffer with mental health illness, and that is why I am a speaker/writer with a passion to remove the stigma that surrounds it. Whether recovery and/or cure is possible, surely, it’s something people who suffer the pain of mental health illness would like to believe is possible, isn’t it?

My experience

I have suffered episodes of ‘stand-alone’ psychosis. A very serious condition where my brain has totally shut down and gone very wrong indeed. I am mid 50s, and this has happened five times in my life – each time for three to four weeks (or until the anti-psychotics have kicked in).

The last time this happened (in 2019), it ended with the trauma of me falling from a roof and breaking my back with a life changing injury.  This was crunch time for me, and it was the catalyst to finally embracing and accepting what psychosis is, and why it happened to me.

Journey to wellness

I believe we cannot begin a journey to true wellness, until we fully accept our mental health condition; something that is very hard to do. So, for example, if you are in a depression, and take medication to relieve the symptoms, and then stop the medication without addressing the root of the problem, it will no doubt, reoccur.  The meds are somewhat like a sticking plaster and the journey to understanding and become aware of the depression can be easily ignored – until it rears its ugly head again.

Awareness

In my experience, the breakthrough of seeing my mental health condition and accepting it, was the first step to a true healing journey. In other words, awareness was key. I had never truly stopped to look at it before; I denied its existence and palmed it off as many other things. The following analogy sprang to mind whilst writing this…

You cannot drain the swamp whilst you are in it fighting the crocodiles, but once pulled out, you have a choice whether to walk away, or stay and drain the swamp. It’s far easier to walk away, something I did for many years without even realising.

Or

Imagine, being born with a tight pair of shoes on, and not being aware that they are hurting you or damaging your feet. With time and understanding, you learn that it is safe to remove the shoes and once you do, your mind is blown by a totally new experience which brings bliss and comfort. It may take many sessions of putting the shoes back on and off again before you realise that you are better off walking barefoot! 

Once I faced the demon of psychosis, and became less scared of people knowing about it, I began to talk about it openly and freely. This seemed to start ridding the dangers of it happening again or at the very least, taught me how to safeguard my wellbeing.

My awareness and further understanding of the condition has made a great deal of difference. I have been clear of having an episode (without taking any meds) for three years now. Would I say I’m cured? I cannot answer that until I reach the end of my life and know whether it happens again or not!

Having the state of mind where I believe I have fully recovered though, is far better than ignoring the illness altogether, or believing it is going to happen again. I have been told that what I suffered is known as ‘stress’ induced psychosis. Having gone through the most emotionally stressful year of my life last year after my father died, with very stressful family problems – I survived!  With careful monitoring and a new ability to take better care of myself, no psychosis occurred.  In fact, I realise that by removing the aforesaid ‘stressors’ in my life, I have furthered my path of healing.

You could argue that something traumatic or shocking happening in my life could trigger another episode in the future – it is something I cannot rule out. But isn’t it better to think of myself as fully recovered rather than a sitting duck waiting for another occurrence to take place? It is not failing should another episode of psychosis or any other type of mental health illness occur, but I believe we should aspire to the best possible outcome. 

False Hope

I was given an informational leaflet with details of a SCI (spinal cord injury) charity whilst I was in hospital in 2019. The photos of all the SCI victims were all in wheelchairs and I was furious that there were no pictures of people walking or standing.

I knew from my research that not all spinal cord injuries resulted in use of a wheelchair.  My mind was convinced that I would walk again (despite being paralysed at the time), and I was searching for something/someone to aspire to.

I have since spoken to the charity and asked why they don’t have any pictures on the leaflet of ‘walkers’ and their response was, “we don’t like to give false hope.”  This is ridiculous, isn’t it? Whilst I know there are more people who end up in wheelchairs than not, why omit the fact that some do regain walking ability again? It’s not a fair and accurate picture if you only show the worst outcome.

The same applies with mental health illness (in my opinion). We are not supposed to talk about the possibility of recovery thus giving ‘false hope’ to those who struggle with chronic mental health conditions. It gives the message that mental health illness is brought on by themselves and if they change their thought patterns, they can cure their own mental health problems. Rubbish. Whilst there are many conditions that are incurable (I believe) such as schizophrenia, and personality disorders, we can take some control I believe and lessen symptoms – if not recover – from our mental health difficulties.

It’s okay to not be okay…. But it’s also okay to be okay again!!

It is a known fact that the quality of our thoughts has a direct impact on our feelings and emotions.  But yes, it takes a great deal of effort and internal change to learn how to change those thought processes, especially if they have been programmed since childhood. But, with awareness, I believe huge progress can be made.

 

Aspire to be your best

When I want to do well at something, be it writing a book, starting up a business, or improving myself in some way, I look to those who have had experience or are better at it than me. It gives me something to strive towards. Surely with a mental health condition, it is better to look at somebody who has suffered it, and read how they have managed to come out of the other side successfully? It gives hope, and direction. Similarly, cancer success stories of those with positive mental attitudes having a higher rate of survival, encourages us to feel empowered and perhaps do the same in that situation.

Example of positive outcome…

When I look back at my early adulthood (probably up to the age of 40), I suffered many bouts of depression. I was lost in a world of pain, struggles, divorce, and family dramas where I never felt accepted for who I was. Mental health illness was a taboo subject, and I was greatly misunderstood by many. I was also deep in the swamp.

After moving away, I learnt that by discovering who we are in this world, and learning to love ourselves where others don’t, it creates a stepping stone towards mental wellness. There can be years of healing that need to take place, possibly with the help of counselling and going back to childhood to de-programme your thought patterns and negative beliefs about yourself.

Since exiting that swamp and draining its sludgy waters, I have only suffered a few occasions of situational depression, including this past year since losing my dad. This is very different to living with clinical depression.

 

Change

The second step after mastering ‘awareness’ is ‘desire to change’. In the same way people sometimes don’t want to let go of their grief, because it gives them some comfort to keep their loved ones at the forefront, we can also resist changing our behaviour or thought processes because it seems insurmountable, too difficult to conquer. We teach ourselves that it is more comfortable to remain in pain and sometimes even mental illness; it becomes our safe place.

 

I remember when my husband said to me in hospital, ‘Nikki something needs to change this time,’ meaning my episode of psychosis. Initially, I was dumbfounded, thinking, what can I possibly change? It’s not my fault the damn psychosis has hit me again out of the blue.  

 

But thankfully something did change.

 

Disclosure

Something changed as I wrote my memoir and revealed the details of my psychotic episode. I embraced and learnt more about the condition, and began to feel the shame, fear and secretiveness of twenty odd years disappear.  More importantly, rather than feeling a victim of the psychosis, I found a way to become proactive and take control of it and my future. 

Disclosure is key to tackling a mental health condition.

Prevention

It makes sense that should I ever be under an extreme amount of stress, to take precautionary measures and alert people to keep an eye out for me. Something I had never taken steps to do before. It wasn’t easy, to phone the Dr’s and explain that I was feeling slightly anxious, and would they have some pills on standby and check in on me. Nor did it feel natural to alert friends and mental health services to keep an eye out for me and ask my husband to be extra vigilant, watching for any signs of acting out of character.  It may not have been needed, but it was empowering to know that I took steps to safeguard myself.

 

They say prevention is better than cure. But I wonder if enough studies have taken place to monitor whether anybody has successfully prevented their mental health illness returning up until their death? If so, would you not say that they ‘cured’ themselves? Tell me what you think?

Summary

We never know day to day what lies around the next corner, nor do we know whether a physical or mental illness may strike. But if you choose to live in the moment, and embrace life today, I believe that mental wellness is highly achievable by those with mental health problems. 

 

Whilst I am probably at much higher risk of having another bout of mental health illness than some, for now, I like to think of myself as ‘recovered’ from psychotic episodes. I don’t believe I will experience another episode (this lifetime), and my feet are very comfortable.  I am extremely happy walking barefoot in the park.

 

2 Comments

  1. Chelle on August 1, 2022 at 8:38 am

    Fascinating read Nikki. I believe that those who have a mental illness, have it for life. And you go through different episodes of when you are coping and things are going at a steady pace, to when something changes, that we don’t have control of. And depending on what that something is, takes you down on a path, which may look/feel familiar, and again if it is, you have some kind of control over it, but if it isn’t, it can throw your mind into complete turmoil, where you are lost, helpless, fearful, exhausted etc, which is where you need the support of those around you, to help you lay your foundations down again, until you feel able to cope once again, and feel safe x

    • Nikki Rodwell on August 1, 2022 at 10:06 am

      Hi Michelle, thank you so much for responding! Yes, I see your point of view totally. I think at difficult times we all need that support around us, whether we have a mental health condition or not. I do think however, with practice we can perhaps become more resilient to conditions like depression. But may maybe like cancer, it just lies dormant… in remission? The mind is such a complex organ, I think psychiatrists and scientists will never fully understand it!

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