Defining Recovery on a Personal Level

December 5, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

It would be lovely if the diagnosis of mental illness came with a prescription for recovery that was given to all of us. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder? take this pill, you will be fine. You will be recovered! That would be nice, perfect, what a fantastic dream! Then you wake up. You take your medication. That's the reality.

Recovery is different for all of this: treatment is never the same. Some of us, once diagnosed and treated, experience no symptoms of all. On the flip side, some of us struggle on a day to day basis.

depression_remission_100x130_178647_178649How Does 'Recovery' Relate to Chronic Mental Illness?

Before I started writing this blog I asked myself this. Recovery, in the traditional sense, implies being cured. You cannot cure chronic mental illness. Recovering from mental illness is the pursuit to acquire stability. The steps taken to find and maintain it. It is like a second job and one we must work to excel at. Recovery is what we all want. Desperately.

Recovery is Different for all of us

An example: lithium is often (although this is changing) considered the standard treatment for bipolar disorder. It is often the first drug those diagnosed are given. It is rare that the first drug, or combination of medications, will work. You are lucky if they do. I spent years finding the right combination and still need to tweak them a couple of times a year.

Recovery, in my life, has involved years of switching from medication to medication; often, they work for a period time and then stop working. I consider myself lucky in that I now remain relatively stable. Life moves as smoothly as it can. But there is no guarantee it will always be this way. That is reality of chronic mental illness. And it's better to live in the moment with an eye on the future.

Recovery from Addiction, Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders

In this blog I often refer to mental illness using bipolar disorder as an example. I gave this some thought. This blog is not entitled Recovering from Bipolar Disorder. We have a fantastic blogger, Natasha Tracy, who focuses on this. Recovering from mental illness involves so much more. I think it's important to touch on other mental illnesses equally. While I have written about this in a couple posts, I would like, in future blogs, to discuss more about these issues.

I struggled with cocaine and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and anxiety. And just like bipolar disorder there is no easy cure. Addiction, and eating disorders, in particular, cannot be remedied solely with medication. While medications can help, there is no pill for addiction. There is no pill that can make someone afflicted with an eating disorder suddenly view food in a healthy way.

The process to recovery involves self-care, counselling and a desire to get better. I hit rock bottom many times before I could pick myself up. It took years to combat bulimia and anorexia. It was a mess; a tangle of emotions and pain and a feeling that I would never escape. But, somehow, I did. And so can you.

My point: my journey to recovery is as different as yours is. The diagnosis of mental illness, this involving not just bipolar disorder, share commonalities, but our path to stability is as different as summer becoming winter.

Define your Journey to Wellness

banner2Traditionally, recovery involves medication, therapy, support and self-care. Yes, this is accurate. But it involves so much more and this is based on you as a person. Just as a certain medication does not work for all of us, the definition of recovery is equally different.

You might define recovery as a state you are working to find. Others might define it as a state they work to maintain. Often, it's both of these definitions that we focus on. The road to recovery is personal. It spurs different emotions in all of us and we all take different steps, small and large, to discover it.

Define recovery in your own way. Working to understand what recovery means in your life is as important as the steps we all take to achieve stability.

What does recovery mean to you?

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APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, December 5). Defining Recovery on a Personal Level, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 23 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 12 2011 at 5:02 am

What fantastic feedback! Thank you so much! I applaud your work; I am finishing up my social work degree and plan to go in the same direction.

Barry Lessin
December, 11 2011 at 4:13 am

Hi Natalie--
I just discovered your blog and am so glad to find such a good resource! I'm an addiction psychologist working with co-occurring disorders in teens and young adults and looking to implement more harm reduction approaches in my work: working with the person where they're currently at, acknowledging the process/stages of change, removing stigma of the word "addict", defining recovery based on individual needs, taking small positive steps whatever they may be, etc.
Your focus on the integrity of the individual, acknowledging self care, the process of change, and HOPE is all good stuff! Keep up the good work!

Destroyed by ECT
December, 7 2011 at 1:11 am

I had a very stressful situation where I lost a letter of recommendation to a doctoral program, a professor accused me of plagiarism even though I provided the articles I got the information from ( I was hiding nothing) the stress was so huge I quit my job in a lab and after I did I received a very demoralizing anonymous letter where I was put down and how they were enjoying the fact I had left the department............... Here I am today.
My depression was bad then but now I have reasons to be more depressed. I have lost most of my memories [due to the ongoing ECT), my skills, years of education gone, speech recognition gone, unable to understand a conversation because I can't remember what was said two sentences ago. Unable to process the information correctly, unable to recall name for things, unable to drive, no spatial ability, unable to make decisions, barely able to do any task.... The thoughts torment me every minute. How can I be a mother? how can I help her?
I am a total mess....I didn't need ECT. I needed therapy to help me cope with my stressors. I needed someone to understand my stressors, immigration from different country, English learned as an adult. I did not need my brain fried this way. No prospects of a better life.
where do I go from here?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 8 2011 at 3:38 am

Dear, Dary:
You wrote such a heartfelt comment. I could certainly relate to your pain even though your situation is entirely unique. As we all are. I edited it for length but kept as much as I could (you expressed so much and I am so grateful to have been able to read it). It is a difficult post to reply to because your circumstances are, as I said, unique.
I have experienced situations in my working life in which my experience and education were put aside as my illness took hold on my life. It's a horrible feeling. We work so hard to obtain degrees and to have them affected by this illness is painful. But remember that that part of you still exists. Sometimes, it takes time, in my case, years, to find it again. Focus on this pursuit. It can make life worth living when you feel really down.
The brain recovers. I spent years doing drugs excessively, to the point of overdose, and drinking until my skin had a yellow color to it...I thought I would never write again. I was certain I would die. Slowly, my mind woke up as I stopped using and got ahold of my illness. I have never been more grateful after years of hopelessness. You have many contributing factors that are huge stressors and stresses can make things worse. But this does not mean life is not possible. Please try to remember this on your journey to health.
As you mention, therapy is very important. I wish I could give you an easy answer but I cannot. I can just tell you to hang in there because life will slowly become yours again.
I have no experience with ECT because they were reluctant to use it on a twelve-year-old, when I was diagnosed, but Natasha Tracy our bipolar blogger talks about this. Please visit her site on entitled "Breaking Bipolar" on our blog page, and work to stay well. You deserve it and it will happen.

Dr Musli Ferati
December, 6 2011 at 6:07 am

Even the main approaching in psychiatric practice remains the individual one, there are some criteria to define the process of recovery from mental illness. These parameters serve mostly to therapist as guidelines in the appropriate and professional management of any mental disorder. Without these instructions medical practice as well as psychiatric working would like as mess job of soothsayer. Indeed, mental health service isn't so luxurious activity, against some misunderstanding that are jet embed on psychiatry and psychiatric patients, such are these pejorative idioms: there isn't anything serious, it is only a week will, it would get better by itself etc... . My chief intention is to access the necessity of psychiatric treatment and management of mental illnesses and nothing more.

The Bipolar Project
December, 5 2011 at 7:07 pm

I love your statement: define recovery in your own way. That is so true. It is different for each and every one of us, dependent upon not only what illness(es) we suffer from, but also what we value in life.
For me, recovery is about being stable enough to do what I value, and to do it exceptionally well. I value my career (among many other things like my health and family). Recovery for me is being stable enough to pursue my career in clinical psychology. If things took a turn for the worse, then I may have to readjust my expectations and my definition of what recovery means to me.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 6 2011 at 5:10 am

Hi, TBP:
First, thank you for the positive feedback! And I feel much the same: writing is what I do well, I recognize this, and so put a lot of my energy, life, into it. I am also finishign up a degree in social work and having goals like these, completing them, makes the illness positive in many ways.

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