Touching my own experience, I saw in it each of the four recovery tasks listed in the previous post.
Recovery task 1: “The first task of recovery is developing a positive identity outside of being a person with a mental illness.” The person identifies elements that are vitally important to him or her, which will differ in significance from what another person identifies. “…only the individual can decide what constitutes a personally valued identity for them. “
I was lucky. In the midst of serious depression, I was married, a mother, and pregnant with our second child. . I did not lose those identities completely, but they were shaky. The years passed and I started my recovery journey: about 10 years later, the roles of wife and partner, mother to a child and mother to a teenager crystallized and doubt had been replaced often with enjoyment and wonder.
Recovery task 2: “The second recovery task involves developing a personally satisfactory meaning to frame the experience which professionals would understand as mental illness. This involves making sense of the experience, putting it in a box, and framing it as part of the person, but not as the whole person.”
The frame in which I understand my mental illness experience keeps evolving as the mental illness does not cease. But as the illness fades and my recovery grows, the frame gets more refined with the passing years.
I realize that again, I was lucky. I was married to Jim and he knew mental illness to be a no-fault biopsychosocial medical illness. So did I: I had inherited the tendency to depression, but was able to frame this as bad luck, not personal or family fault. Also, I lived near Madison, WI which had good services and I could afford good medical care. Again, I was fortunate.
I also had training in a health care field. I was a registered dietitian, (and still am) and proud that I was on the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 16 years (as a clinical instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences). So I was comfortable in various in and out-patient settings. I also knew appropriate levels of anatomy and physiology – and even biochemistry-lite. So I could follow the medical model of mental illness.
So I framed my experience of mental illness as an illness and as time went by, I was more and more able to put the illness in a box and frame it as only part of me but Not ME.
Recovery task 3: “Self-managing the mental illness.” Mental illness becomes ONE of life’s challenges. As people develop personal responsibility, self- management skills develop. This doesn’t mean managing the mental illness completely on one’s own but rather, knowing when to seek help and support.
I was desperate to “get better”. I cooperated in every way I could, even in the long decade of my body failing to respond to any of many anti-depressants. I never skipped a medication or an appointment. I ate well and got enough exercise at that time of my life.
As I began to recover in the 1990’s I took an even more active role in managing my illness. I learned cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and carried out the exercises on paper, as assigned and in session with a psychology doctoral student. It helped me greatly, the CBT, so that I keep it up today as needed. Nothing has been as effective as CBT for minimizing negative thinking.
Now I’ve taken further steps to guard my health. In January of 2014 I hired a personal trainer(!), adding hour-long work-outs six days every week, three of them with my trainer.
Recovery task 4: “Developing valued social roles.” The key word here is valued. Valued by the individual with mental illness and by the greater social circle/setting/society. The person undergoing recovery, in this last task, must find a niche for himself or herself in their community. It could be a position/role modified from previous times or a new experience altogether . The role may or may not have anything to do with mental illness.
A huge change in my life occurred when I began to volunteer in a big way in the mental health organization NAMI, at the local and state level. You can read about my development in the About Me section of this website.
With this change I gained a tremendous amount of confidence and poise. I also had conviction in the value of what I was doing (teaching and, later, directing the Family to Family Education Program for NAMI WI). I felt education to be a liberating factor in living with mental illness in myself and in the family. I was fortunate in that the work fit me like a glove; teaching small groups of college age adults in the application of didactic material to the clinical setting gave me experience for teaching small groups of adults. My history as an adult child of someone with a mental illness and my own history of depression and after 2002, bipolar II illness, helped me understand families and persons with mental illness and all the dilemmas and controversies that entails.
So I definitely found a position in the community where I was valued and I felt valued. I carried out my responsibilities with confidence and skill and compassion. I blossomed. I had developed something essential for self-management: a sense of personal agency .… I was the author of my own work.