I am a big believer in the idea that writing can help with recovery from mental illness. I am a professional freelance writer now, but even before I made my living by writing, I used writing in a variety of ways to help with my recovery from mental illness.
Embracing Mental Health Recovery
Sometimes childhood trauma is big and obvious, but other times, it's more subtle and insidious. In my case, it took until I was well into my 20s to acknowledge that in many ways, my childhood was traumatic. For a long time, part of me knew that was the case, but I couldn't allow myself to believe it because it would mean everything in my life would change.
I've been in recovery from mental illness for several years now because recovery is a slow, and often lifelong, process. There are many aspects of recovery that I have a pretty good handle on at this point, like opening up in therapy and sharing my experiences with others to make all of us feel a little less alone, but one part that still throws me for a loop every time is the "random" breakdowns in mental health recovery.
One of the most important things I've learned throughout my recovery is that I'm not just recovering from depression and anxiety; I am recovering from negative core beliefs about myself. Now that I have my depression and anxiety managed through medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), it's time to start changing those negative core beliefs and healing from the damage they cause.
Growing up, maladaptive daydreaming was a huge part of my life. Of course, I didn't realize it was maladaptive until I went off to college and the daydreams just sort of stopped. I missed them a lot at first, and there are times even now, several years into my recovery from depression and anxiety, that I miss my daydreams.
Making therapy goals is an important part of recovering from mental illness and getting the most out of your therapy experience; but, for a long time, my goals were pretty simple. I just wanted to improve my functioning and reduce my mental illness symptoms. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I'm finally in a place where my functioning level works for my life, and my symptoms of anxiety and depression only pop up every now and again rather than all day, every day. This means now I need to set new therapy goals.
Therapy homework differs for each therapist and each client, and many therapists don't do therapy homework at all, which begs the question: does it actually help? I've had several different therapists over the years, and only one or two of them have ever given me therapy homework. Some of my friends in therapy have lots of homework, and I always wondered if my therapists were doing something wrong by not giving me things to do outside of sessions. Now that I've had one or two therapists who do give homework, I think I understand some of the benefits and problems with therapy homework.
A common bit of wisdom when it comes to mental illness recovery is that recovery isn't linear. You won't necessarily go from "sick" to "healthy" in a straight line. You will likely have setbacks, backslides, and slip-ups and your journey might look more like "sick," "sicker," "better??" "worse," "functional but still mentally ill." In my experience, this back and forth may continue for years. I can intellectually appreciate that recovery is not a linear process, but emotionally, it often feels like I'm failing.
Therapy is one of the best ways to actively make progress toward recovery from mental illness, but, unfortunately, therapy can be difficult to access when you can't afford it. Even with insurance, sessions can cost upwards of $100. Even if you only go to therapy every other week, that's still $200 per month, which is roughly the same cost as a car payment. Many of us need that money for our actual car payment, and so we end up missing out on therapy we really need.
Are you using old coping mechanisms that no longer serve you? Coping mechanisms are habits and behaviors that we use in order to cope with problems we can't necessarily solve. For instance, if you have to take a big test and it gives you tremendous anxiety, you can't just not take the test or simply stop being anxious. Instead, you need to cope with your anxiety to get through the experience. But what happens when the old coping mechanisms we use actually start causing problems instead of solving them?