Mental health recovery is daunting. You’ve lived for a significant amount of time with your mental illness, so the concept of moving forward and making decisions without it is scary. But unfortunately your misconceptions about mental health recovery may be holding you back and preventing you from living the life you deserve. Here are some of the biggest myths about mental health recovery, and why you shouldn’t let these ideas hold you back!
Myths About Mental Health Recovery
“Recovery is an end goal”
Some people get the idea that recovery is an end result where your mental illness is cured forever. This is not only an unrealistic expectation of yourself, but incredibly daunting when beginning the recovery process. Because that’s what it is: a process.
Don’t expect to wake up one day and be “recovered”. Instead, each day you will make decisions that allow you to function at a higher level and live a happier life.
Consider an alcoholic in remission – each time they are faced with alcohol they make the decision whether to consume it or not, and this is their recovery process.
There will never be a time where they don’t have to make this decision, and the same goes for your recovery process (whatever form that decision takes in your own life.)
“Recovery will make me boring”
It’s easy to allow a mental disorder to become a part of your identity, particularly if you have a personality disorder, such as BPD. Before you know it, you are your mental illness, and you don’t know who you are without it.
This is completely normal, and nothing to be ashamed of, but it is unhealthy nonetheless.
You are so much more than your mental illness. And once you start making decisions as you rather than it, your beautiful personality will start to shine through and people will connect with this.
“I have failed at recovery if I relapse”
A common myth about mental health recovery is that you have failed at recovery if you relapse.
No! This couldn’t be more wrong.
Remember, recovery is a process, not an end goal. It is not linear.
Aiming to have no relapses is great, but don’t be disheartened if it happens. Instead, challenge yourself to go longer periods without relapse (sorta like a PB).
You might notice that you’ve managed a whole month, when previously your PB was a week. That’s great! But don’t be disheartened if you then only manage a day – it’s part of the ebb and flow.
For instance, my “PB” is a year without self harm. I notice that I tend to relapse about once a year, but as somebody who used to self harm on a daily basis this is amazing! It would be pointless to let this dishearten me when I have come so far.
Any improvement is incredible, no matter how small it may seem.
“There is no point in recovery if I’ll never be ‘recovered'”
You might say “what’s the point” if recovery isn’t an end goal. Why bother if I’m bound to relapse? Well, because you’ll have a more fulfilling life if you try.
I consider myself to be in active recovery. There are days that I feel like life isn’t worth living and like recovery is pointless but this is bullshit.
Imagine you have a whole month total in the year where you feel like life is worth living, or a day, or even an hour. During that time you feel happy, excited, grounded, safe, worthy, loved – is that not worth it? To feel all those positive emotions that you never thought yourself capable of?
It is so worth it, I promise. Remind yourself that you are capable of feeling these things the next time you feel not so good. And that it would be impossible to experience such positive feelings without the negative too!
You will one day experience joy that matches the pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
“I don’t deserve recovery”
Not so much a myth about mental health recovery, but more of a self-limiting belief. But I thought it was important to mention this one anyway!
Your mental illness has convinced you that you are not worthy of anything; you don’t deserve happiness, stability or anything positive in your life. Well, your mental illness is a liar.
You’ve spent so long as a slave to your disorder that you deserve nothing less than to experience what life can be like without it. To put it politely, fuck your self-limiting beliefs.
Everybody deserves happiness. Don’t let anything, or anyone, convince you otherwise.
“Recovery is impossible”
We’re not going to sugarcoat it – recovery is hard. But not recovering is also hard, if not harder.
Remember how draining those days of sadness and anger and pain are. You’ll see less and less of those. And the work you put in to recovery now will bring more and more days that require less emotional effort from you in the future.
It’s an investment in your happiness. It’s hard. It’s tiring. Sometimes it feels impossible, but it’s not. And I’m going to say it again – it is worth it.
If recovery was impossible, nobody would bother. But there are tons of people, who were once consumed by a mental illness, who are making positive decisions for their recovery every day and thriving as a result. You can be one of them.
“I won’t get the care I need if I recover”
Another common fear of mental health recovery is losing the care that you receive as a result of your mental illness.
This is especially true for BPD as fear of abandonment is such a core symptom, so certain problematic behaviors can develop as a way to prevent this abandonment. Obviously then, if you stop engaging in these behaviors you may fear that people will leave you and no longer see a need to care for you and protect you.
This is a really difficult belief to challenge and may indeed be what is holding you back from recovery right now.
All I can say to this is that the people you truly need in your life will stay and desire nothing more than to see you happy. You will see this in time as you work on improving your sense of self-worth and form true friendships and relationships as a result.
Engaging in problematic behaviors through fear of abandonment is maladaptive for your recovery and will contribute to negative symptoms such as anxiety, paranoia, depression and suicidal ideation.
In this case I would consult with a professional to help you through the recovery process and challenge any beliefs about abandonment you have so you can feel secure in your relationships and like you have the support you need and deserve.
“I should never have negative thoughts/feelings in recovery”
In my opinion, this is one of the most harmful myths about mental health recovery – the belief that you should be “positive vibes only” all the time.
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Recovery doesn’t make you perfect – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s not human nature to be positive all the time, and it’s not sustainable either. Denying yourself a feeling will only come back to bite you later down the line. I’m damn sure of it.
Pretending not to experience any negativity is not recovery. Recovery is allowing yourself to feel, good and bad. But at the same time not getting so attached to a feeling and letting it consume you.
You will absolutely have negative thoughts when you’re in recovery and that’s okay – it means you’re human. Acknowledge them and allow them to flow through you, taking each new moment as it comes.
The beauty of recovery is that you will get less and less negative thoughts as you work on yourself. You will be able to see them for what they are – thoughts. You will be able to move forward when they come and get less trapped in the downward spirals that they can cause.
“My mental illness is not valid if I’m in recovery”
Recovery can be scary because when things don’t go to plan or you relapse, you may fear you don’t have an explanation for your feelings or behaviour. Why would you act like that if you’re recovered, right?
Wrong wrong wrong.
Explain to your loved ones that recovery is a process, and while things may not be as bad as they were before, there may still be moments when you return to negative patterns and behaviours. Remember, your mental illness isn’t going to just disappear overnight (ah, the dream).
Get to know the nature of your mental illness and your triggers and patterns, so that if/when things go wrong you can explain to those close to you why you think this has happened and they can understand you better.
If they aren’t compassionate after this then remember this is on them, not you.
“I cannot recover because my mental illness cannot be cured”
Unfortunately some attitudes towards mental illness from other people (including medical professionals) stink. This only contributes to harmful myths about mental health. Many disorders such as personality disorders and addiction have a huge stigma surrounding them and sufferers are often painted as “incurable”.
While it may be true that certain disorders are difficult to manage, this does not mean that you can’t recover. It will require effort from you every day to make healthy decisions, but you can achieve a good (or amazing!) quality of life if you stick at it.
We don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but does this stop people from trying options to improve their quality of life with the illness, or send it into remission? No.
You shouldn’t give up just because some psychiatrist or doctor told you your condition is untreatable.
Don’t believe the myths about mental health recovery
Conclusion? Don’t let any of these beliefs hold you back from living your best life, because they simply aren’t true. These common misconceptions are the result of our fear of change; but change is positive and necessary.
Recovery is a process, and a difficult one at that. But it is worth it. Repeat after me: it is worth it.
Do you feel like you’ve been believing any of these myths about mental health recovery? Let me know in the comments!