You Gotta Do the Work

If you’re familiar at all with this blog or with me as a person, then you know two things about me: one, I have struggled with mental health issues since at least 2008, and two, I am passionate about recovery from those issues. Not just my issues; everybody’s issues. All the issues.

Here’s the deal. Mental illness is ultimately the same as a physical illness. Whether acute or chronic, all illnesses can be treated and, if not outright cured, then managed, so that the person with the illness can live a healthy life. An odd thing I’ve noticed about the discussion about mental illness, however, is we talk about it and treat it as if it’s the end, as if having depression or bipolar or whatever else means that you will never again have a healthy life.

As if having a mental illness suddenly means you are excused from taking care of yourself. Or making good choices. Or taking responsibility for your actions and their consequences, good or bad.

All of this is bullshit.

I have a mental illness. I have a psychiatric doctor’s diagnosis of depression and anxiety. Even if I didn’t have that official diagnosis, I would still have depression, and I’d probably be able to self-diagnose it. But here are two things that a mental illness diagnosis does not do:

  1. It does not mean that I am weak, fragile, incapable of taking care of myself, or excluded from being happy and living my best life.
  2. It does not mean that I have no control over my actions, that I am absolved from the consequences of my choices, or that I am a victim of my circumstances.

In the first paragraph, I said I am passionate about recovery from mental illness. Now’s the point where I qualify that and say that I am passionate about active recovery. Let’s get some definitions in here. What do I mean when I say “active recovery from mental illness”?

Recovery: Moving from a place of being controlled and defined by your illness to a place where you choose to make healthy decisions to improve your life. Whether mental illness or substance abuse, the concept of recovery involves taking charge of your life and choosing to improve and grow. Which brings us to…

Active: YOU GOTTA DO THE WORK. To recover from any illness, you can’t just sit back and hope it goes away. People suffering from cancer go to their doctor appointments and receive medicine and intensive treatments. People suffering from mental illness are supposed to do the same. While rest is important in any healing period, active recovery is not passive in that it doesn’t hope someone else does the hard stuff for you.

Active recovery from mental illness doesn’t mean you go to a therapist once every couple months and expect to see results in one session.

It doesn’t mean you have a bad day, a lousy depression spiral, and throw up your hands in defeat.

It doesn’t mean you shrug and say “That’s just who I am.”

It doesn’t mean you never trip up or have bad days or get hung up on something you used to get hung up on, but it does mean you try.

It means you put in the sweat equity in your own health and wellbeing.

You do not foist it onto someone else.

You do not force your friends/support network to serve as your therapist, your crisis counselor, or your suicide hotline when there are professionals available, ready to help you.

You have to get to a place where you are tired of falling back into old patterns and habits and you are ready to get better.

You. Do. The. Work.

Y’all, active recovery is hard. It’s work. And there are so many days when I wonder if it’s worth it. I mean, hey, every counseling session is $65. Maybe I should save that money and just cancel this week. Nope. No. Absolutely not. I put in the work, I do the hard things and have the difficult conversations, I struggle against my own brain at times, because I know that I have more to give to the world than my bad days and my spirals.

“But I don’t have anything to offer the world,” you say. To which I say, you’re wrong.

If you have a friend, you can offer your love and support. If you have a pet, same deal. If you have a favorite houseplant, same deal. Each of us has the capacity to contribute to the world, even if it’s something as small and seemingly insignificant as feeding a pet goldfish every day.

Live for your goldfish. Get better for your goldfish.

Put in the work to get to recovery.

I will always be in recovery. For the rest of my life, which I hope is long and sweet, I will be working on myself. When I finish this round of therapy, I do not expect it to be the last time I ever see a counselor. I don’t anticipate never taking medication again, but I hope I don’t. But even though recovery is difficult and takes so much time and energy, I will not stop.

God did not make me to get lost in my struggles. I have learned so much about grace and suffering through this. I have also learned that, by his grace, I can get better.

Depression is not who I am. I am not excused from the consequences of my actions, any of my actions. I still have a responsibility, both to myself and to God, to make good choices and to put in the work of active recovery. I mean, I don’t want to be miserable for the rest of my life. Why would I let the shadow monster have that kind of power over me?

You gotta do the work. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Per aspera ad astra,

Stephanie