“The question is not how to get cured, but how to live.”
― Joseph Conrad
I “got better” about three years ago from anxiety and depression and ended my time with my therapist and psychiatrist. At the time, I knew I had gotten all I needed and was feeling completely better. I also have always been a big self-learner, so had just about every book I needed for coping. In addition, I had changed my life 180 degrees and was now exercising, using many mindful techniques like Yoga, Journaling, and Meditation, and changing my diet to eat whole foods as much as possible.
I still read and keep up with the newest trends in self-help in the world of stress, anxiety, and depression. I also became a certified life coach to be able to both help myself and others move forward after “getting better”.
Maybe you’re wondering why I continue to say “getting better” in quotes? It harkens me back to my last meeting with my psychiatrist. As we were closing the final meeting, at least for a while, he told me something about saying you are all better. It was a cautious warning that he just wanted me to remember as I continued my recovery journey. He had overseen an alcohol and drug recovery area of a hospital for thirteen years. He shared with me that the only people he would see as repeat patients were the ones that thought they were completely cured and stopped going to AA meetings, recovery meetings, or practicing journaling and remembering their story of recovery. It really hit me hard at the time.
I guess it was at this moment when I was saying I was recovered that the term I was thinking about was one I would have to rethink. My psychiatrist finished his conversation with me with one last piece of advice. Well, really two. The first is that recovery is always a work in progress, a practice that we should never think of as a 100% cure. It’s best, he said, to always allow for the fact that, if you have had these mental illnesses once, there is a proclivity to have them happen again. The second concept he wanted to share was that the important thing for me now was to continue to use mindful and reminder techniques to recall it happened and not be afraid to admit it is happening again.
I could have seen this as a negative item, but I decided to embrace what he was saying to me. After two years of recovery, I had many coping tools in my toolbox to deal with anxiety and depression. But I would have to remember these tools and use them constantly to stay ahead of a recurrence. So, I went to work on the next phase of recovery. I kept up journaling, mindfulness activities such as Yoga and Meditation, talk therapy and eating right. I was feeling great and there were now very few low days, as I like to call them.
But recently, due to some life changes, I found myself heading toward that low feeling that was familiar some years ago. I debated at what point I was in. No, I was controlling my anxiety through mindfulness. It was the increasing sadness and loneliness that were coming back and I could sense that old feeling again. I questioned if I still had the tools in my toolbox that I learned from a few years ago. I decided to give it a try.
I started by working to remember what I went through last time. I had my journals and my books and went back to them again. I didn’t want to look at it as stepping back, but just the natural ups and downs of my life. Life is not a straight line and the bad feelings now, I remembered, would lift. My first goal was to go back to my four life rules that I had developed and believed in for mental and even physical health reason.
- Practice Mindfulness Activities. For me, it includes Yoga, Meditation, and daily positive journaling. But it also includes walking in nature, listening to my favorite music, and writing.
- Remember that life is a balance of equally good and bad. There will always be periods of time when life will give you lemons, but it won’t last forever. It is temporary and eventually, the good parts will come back. Allow for these times of life and when the good comes back, don’t push it away as a lucky or temporary time. Both good and bad times are fleeting. I call the equality of them CONTENTMENT. That’s what I always hope for.
- Keep up with my exercise. Keep going and doing exercise to release endorphins to the brain. There’s a sign outside my gym that says, “remember that getting here is half the battle”. It always makes me realize I am not alone. There are many of us struggling and I am only one of the many.
- Don’t start eating bad food for comfort. This, I have found, is one of the hardest on me and on many others, I work with. Food has a comfort aspect to many and when we don’t eat the good foods, the bad foods have equally as bad gut chemicals that continue to keep our downside. I have just found to not rely on food as a crutch.
In addition, I don’t bottle these low points inside and let them fester and grow. I tell my wife, my best friends, and those I trust. I know I can get the sympathy, if not the empathy, I need to move forward. I don’t see this as a setback anymore. I just see it as the natural ups and downs of my life. I know that at any given time, things could fall, and I’ll have to deal with it as I am now. I do believe I have those tools, but I don’t let them fall away and I talk and share. It is so important. I also don’t deny myself that I might need professional help again. It could happen. If it does, I am not going to obsess about it as I did before. It is just a product of who I am and the life I have now. A life that I live with contentment and weather the good and bad times equally to allow myself the balance I need each day.