Often, healing isn’t a linear process, and this is perhaps especially true around mental health. It can be unsettling, to hit something that feels like a relapse. It can be hard to tell, when you’re in the middle of a process, whether you’re still overall heading the right way, or have taken a turn for the worse.
It helps a lot having professional insight for this sort of thing. That’s not available to many of us struggling with long term mental health challenges. Figuring out what anything means can therefore be an uncomfortably solitary activity.
It’s certainly true that with bodily healing, things can feel a lot worse before they start to feel better. Building strength, surfacing from sickness and healing wounds can all involve periods of time when things feel worse than they did at the beginning. I know to watch for this with flu – the point at which I usually feel most awful is the point at which I’m starting to get better.
I find it helps on the mental health front not to assume that any given setback is a sign of disaster. Although of course anxiety makes that a challenging thing to hang on to! However, I’ve been around the various stunts my brain can pull a number of times now, and that helps. Sometimes breakdowns and breakthroughs are impossible to tell apart when I’m in the middle of them. And nose-dives aren’t forever. Even the really awful ones, and the ones that have been slow declines over extended periods of time. I’m still here, and some kind of getting up again has thus far always been possible.
Not everything can be recovered from. This is as true of long term physical illness as it is of mental health problems. Not everyone gets better, many things cannot be fixed. Our very able-oriented society can be rather too focused on the idea of healing as a journey to full recovery and this isn’t always helpful. It can be more useful to think of healing as being about as much wellness as you can achieve. You can be working on healing while in practice simply managing not to get any worse. You can heal, and relapse, and heal and relapse over and over.
It’s always good to seek the best outcomes you can – but what that even means is really individual. A person doesn’t have to expect to be completely fixed for it to be worth them seeking healing. Whatever recovery can be managed is worth having, even if it’s only temporary.
It’s also good to consider our expectations around other people’s health, and to make sure that the assumption of total recovery as end goal isn’t informing what we do. A person can waste a lot of time and energy chasing total recovery when that effort would have been better invested in management and making the best of things.