What is Mental Health Recovery?
I used to think that mental health recovery was something of a pipe dream, having seen:
- my mother dying twenty years too soon[i] after 35 years of mind-numbing, heavy-duty, major tranquillisers to control her diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.
- my grandmother succumbing slowly to the irreversible and progressive neurodegenerative disorder that is Alzheimer’s disease.
- far too many of my friends fizzling out due to a lack of care, in or outside of the community.
Then they came for me – or at least for my diagnoses – and I felt Pastor Niemöller’s despair for myself.
Having hopped from one inappropriate solution to another since 1974, recovery started to become a tangible possibility or me in 2009 when I engaged with Trauma-focused Therapy at Survivors UK[ii] and registered with South West London Recovery College[iii].
Through this twin-pronged approach, I learned that recovery is rebuilding a meaningful, satisfying, and purposeful life. The three vital ingredients are Hope, Control, and Opportunity.
Hope: that the situation will improve, that all things – no matter how daunting – shall pass, that one will learn from experience or even inspire hope in others.
Control: that it is possible to have some control over your life, which is especially important when power or decision-making seems out of your hands
Opportunity: remember that your diagnosis and experiences are not your only definitions and limitations of your situation, options, or even self. This should not limit your potential, but rather help you find, make, and even take opportunities that might have seem beyond your reach.
Recovery involves discovering a new sense of self; growing within and beyond what has happened to you. Finding meaning, and purpose, from one’s experiences is the least that we owe ourselves as human beings. This learning helps transform unavoidable suffering from the meaningless to the meaningful, as well as guiding us away from avoidable suffering.
Within 6 months, I had been offered, accepted, and taken up the role of Peer Trainer. Since then, I have developed and delivered courses, using empathy, understanding, and self-awareness, to help others make sense of their lives, to take back control, and to pursue their dreams and ambitions. Although I’m now working in the mainstream, teaching English in Malta, I’m trying to set up a Recovery College out here, so I can use my lived experience and knowledge to the benefit of others.
Here’s a helpful crib sheet- What Recovery is. What Recovery is not that I made and used in my official job interview.
Recovery is “…the lived or real life experience of people as they accept and overcome the challenge of the disability. They experience themselves as recovering a new sense of self and of purpose within and beyond the limits of the disability.” (Deegan, 1988)
Recovery is “a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even within the limitations caused by illness. …A deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and roles recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.” (Anthony, 1993)
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.
So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!
I have seen the meaning of my life in helping others to see in their lives a meaning.” (Viktor E. Frankl)