Hello and welcome back to this column!
I hope that you left the prologue with hope, a better understanding of parts of my story and insight into what we will continue to cover in the chapters moving forwards.
If you missed it, I described myself and who I am, what and where I’ve struggled in the past and what my vision is for Recovery Home.
Before we get into building the house itself we have to establish the foundations–what is the definition of recovery, mental health, person-first language and how is art therapy going to guide us throughout this journey. In the next chapter I will likely spend some time sharing cognitive distortions and emotion myths and how I’ve challenged and reframed them in my own journey, inviting you to do the same.
So, let’s begin!
In general, if we guide ourselves by the solidified definition of the word “recovery”, as highlighted by a quick Google search, we are faced with this depiction:
“A return to a normal state of health, mind or strength” and
“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”
Both of these definitions highlight an important and critical point of view: living with mental health conditions is not a choice, but recovery is.
It takes a lot of time, effort, advocacy, support and resiliency to reach a stable point and stay there by maintaining and sustaining it. Recovery is like winning over a kingdom the first time and sustaining it from enemies over and over again since it’s a continual process.
In regards to mental health conditions, I, personally, don’t view reaching stability as a “cure.” I know and I’ve accepted that I cannot predict the future and my life will change and new stressors or life altering events could come into existence and might set me back harder than ever before. I may need to be hospitalized again in the future. And, you know what? That’s okay. Recovery isn’t a linear process. It’s made up of lapses and relapses.
I recall, years ago, watching a YouTube video where a mental health channel described the difference–which I since can no longer find, sadly. Essentially, a lapse is where a person regresses with a behavior, let’s say self-harm, and chooses to return to healthier coping strategies thereafter by re-entering recovery. A relapse is when a person regresses with a behavior, says “Fuck it” and continues the unhealthy behavior moving forwards.
In this way, it may make more sense to you that recovery is an ongoing process not a destination. Recovery is choosing healthier options as much as possible when the situation presents itself. But it’s not one upward trajectory. It’s multiple hills and valleys, achievable and comes with awesome days, okay days and shitty days. It’s all of this and much more.
Additionally, everyone has a slightly different working definition of recovery.
Something I forget as I’ve been using the word since about 2015 is that when most people hear the word “recovery” they think most of recovery from substance use disorders rather than purely mental health conditions (and I suppose we could argue that there’s often co-occurring disorders).
But I don’t see it as strictly for one thing or another.
Personally, I view and define recovery as containing more light than darkness. It’s a place of using continual Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills, other therapy based skills, riding and noticing the wave of urges, staying positive and optimistic, being kind and compassionate to myself and those around me and choosing to spread hope and the very same light and encouragement (and art!) that I’ve received back to others.
I think the concept of helping people is a universally shared common goal of humanity and it’s absolutely okay to acknowledge that and hone its craft. Even so, we have to remind ourselves that before we can help someone else, we have to help ourselves. Think of the oxygen masks on airplanes–we have to put on our own before we can properly help anyone else.
Overall, that’s how I view recovery. Especially the art piece, but we’ll return to that later on.
Now, it’s time to define “mental health.”
If you don’t already know, there can be overlap of symptoms across multiple mental health conditions including commonalities to those living without a condition. Diagnosis, ultimately, is used for insurance paperwork and to best determine a course of treatment. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) is largely categorical (at least, from what I remember learning about it five years ago!) in approach and so people like me don’t often fit so squarely into each box. That’s why I say I live with borderline traits, not “full” BPD. It’s because I meet four of the symptoms rather than five or more of the nine. But it’s a technicality and I have to remember to treat diagnoses not as labels or identity quirks. This comes a lot with time and acceptance.
People can relate to ideas of an illness (empathy) without living with a diagnosable mental health condition. The difference in those diagnosed from those having typical human experiences (for instance someone can experience test anxiety without having an anxiety disorder) is that the disorder causes dysfunction to the individual by impacting work, schooling or daily functioning such as sleep, appetite, activities for daily living (ADLs); they present as a danger to themselves or others; their presentation is deviant from the individual’s particular community (so not everyone is like that) and the disorder causes the individual significant distress.
These clues are classified as the “Four D’s”.
I, personally, find that I agree to and appreciate the idea that diagnosis acts on a spectrum. At one point of the spectrum, years ago, I identified as living with the OCD and at another point of time, years later, I felt I had moved away from that and more towards BPD. Of course, it’s equally possible to have multiple spectrums of diagnosis and that I can be in the same spot co-morbidly. I just don’t often think of it like this.
Basically, diagnosis isn’t perfect.
We are all human and it’s so crucial to not identify as our disorders because when they change–if they do–and we define ourselves only as our condition, then the world will fall out from under us and who knows where we’ll be then.
Speaking of identity, I think it’s important to highlight language and mental health. I haven’t done my own research into this category per se but through my experiences I’ve learned what I’m about to share.
Identity is a big part of my struggle. You may have noticed that I don’t use the term “mental illness.” I find that terminology to be stigmatizing and not the right fit for me. I’m slowly and gradually getting used to others having different perspectives and opinions to the terms that I use and it may not necessarily mean someone is “right” or “wrong.” Often it’s merely a reflection of where they’re at or their own life experiences. In 2016 I used the term “mental health issues.” Nowadays, I’ve moved towards using “mental health conditions.”
I don’t consider myself “sick” or even others “sick” unless we’re talking about Michael Landsberg, a popular Canadian behind the brand #SickNotWeak. By that, I can get behind the use of the “sick” because he’s replacing that with the judgment of “weak.”
Additionally, I used to say “my OCD”, “my depression” for ages. In 2015, it was pointed out to me in group therapy that I was identifying as the conditions like as if you would open up a textbook and find under OCD, my name. I was told to write down “my OCD” in my black composition notebook and cross out “my” and write, instead, “the”.
It was honestly a massive difference and change for me. Sometimes I slip up now and then, however I’ve really taken it on for myself and use this reframe every day.
I also prefer, within the last two or three years, to say “I live with X” or “I struggle with Y” rather than the classic “I am OCD.”
No, you’re you. You happen to live with a mental health condition.
Other words I try to avoid (yet still struggle with) include “but”– when we say “XYZ but…” we’re saying to forget everything mentioned before the “but” and only focus on what came after; “just”, “only” and “that bad”.
A good substitute for “but” is “and” or “yet.” “Yet” skims by close to “but” but…. Or just ending the sentence helps too.
The biggest help from my day program was re-defining my identity. I learned how to garner positive attention for who I am and less of what the conditions I live with say. That was really awesome work. You may have noticed it in my prologue. I’m proud of me.
Let’s get back to “mental health.”
We all have mental health. The wellness in our brain is so important. There is a mind-body connection and each one can impact the other. The brain gets “sick” too.
It may come as no surprise then that I view “mental health” (as a conditions type thing) to be the presence of more darkness than light.
To me, “mental health” is what happened.
“Recovery” is what I’m going to do about it.
“Mental health” is struggling; “recovery” is thriving.
“Recovery” is how I’m going to cope with it; “mental health” is I can’t cope with it.
(As an aside, I hate the general use of the word “crazy.” And, especially when used to deflate those with mental health struggles. Every group of things for humans has their own inflammatory words and I feel “crazy” is the one for mental health. Also, related–“committed suicide” is touchy because suicide, in the USA at least, is a public health issue not a crime. Okay, my language bit is almost over, I swear!)
The last official thing I will cover in this chapter is “art therapy.”
The way I view the term is that it’s about self-expression and creating from a mindfulness perspective, so I don’t judge the work as “good” or “bad”, it merely is. So, for me, the act of creating is for me and not anyone else. It expresses myself, who I am (unless it’s not–there are exceptions, like smut fan fiction) and what I’m thinking or feeling. Art, in general, is a term often argued about–what it is and what it is not.
In the end, do we ever reach a concrete agreement?
So, when I ask or share my own tangled depictions of Recovery Home, I’m asking you, Reader, to create from an art therapy perspective.
I don’t abide by the laws of three-dimensions or shadows. I like colorful stuff or even coloring itself.
I like creativity because a lot of the time I can let my mind wander wherever it will go and that’s the background noise I get. Or I listen to a creepypasta or a long, thirty minute video while I’m in the zone.
For writing, it’s a little different–I listen to the same song on loop or a small variety. I think word by word, often mouthing them as I go. I really interact within my little bubble and it’s pure mindfulness, present moment stuff and enjoyable. It keeps me in the zone, even if partially out of the moment because my brain is kind of somewhere else. At least, that’s what I think.
You made it to the end.
Phew! That was a lot.
Well, look forward to next time’s article: Chapter 2 tentatively about my versions of reframed cognitive distortions and emotion myths–hooray.
And for today: sit back, breathe, and start thinking about your Recovery Home. What might it look like? What supports live nearby? What color is it? I’ll see you next time.
Thank you for reading!!
PS Song: “Mama Always Told Me” by Tyler Ward.
“Hi, my name is Raquel Lyons, and I’m a twenty-six year old college graduate having completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. I love creating artwork in various juggling fashions, including: photography, creative writing (particularly Loki centered Avengers fan fiction), graphic design, filming, beaded bracelets, water coloring, painting, drawing, coloring and scrapbooking. You can find me over at my main blog under the name “RecoverytoWellness.” I hope you enjoy my articles from a lived experience perspective from mental health conditions and recovery focused work and feel free to leave me a comment anywhere on social media, I’d love to chat with you! Stay safe!! xxx”