On Mental Illness: There are No Shortcuts to Recovery. (Part 2 of 2)

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday April 19, 2011 - 09:23:00 AM

Now that I have put forth a working definition of recovery, you might ask; “but how does a mentally ill person achieve all of that?” One method of “getting there” is to refrain from being excessively combative. If you fight those who are trying to help you too much, it is a lot harder to get results. If you are a person with a lot of “fight” in you, like I have been, you should try to redirect this instinct toward something positive. 

While I have been in my share of conflicts with the authorities of the mental health system, I have at least tried to do my fighting according to the rules that have been set down. That means that if you are angry, you express it verbally. If there is someone with whom you just don’t get along, you just walk away. You do not seek revenge, and you avoid doing something that will harm someone, including yourself. If you maintain these sorts of ethics, then people can deal with you. If others can deal with you, it enhances your chances of long-term survival. If you can stay around enough years without being permanently incarcerated and without having too many full-scale relapses of your illness, you can outlast some of the worst parts of the condition, you can outlast some of your “enemies,” and you have the time necessary to learn more life skills. 

One definition of insanity is that you keep doing the same thing and expect different results. If there is a situation in life that didn’t work out for you, it is good to give a lot of thought to it, and to understand what mistakes were made. While this may seem cliche, it is a very useful truism, and can be used often as a rule of thumb. 

Recovery for a mentally ill person entails work. It is work to have a regimen of taking medications every day. It is hard work to participate in psychotherapy. It takes effort to show up for those appointments every week. It requires effort to educate oneself. It takes work to try employment, even if the job doesn’t work out. It takes effort to remove oneself from a destructive relationship. It takes effort to say no to narcotics. It takes effort to defy someone who has a destructive plan. It takes work to refuse to participate in violence. 

It takes effort (if a person with mental illness is a cigarette smoker) to refrain from smoking in a situation where it is against the rules. (A bus driver recently warned a friend of mine that there was a fine of several hundred dollars for smoking at the bus terminal in Martinez.) 

A recovered mentally ill person will usually have some semblance of healthy eating habits, exercise and self-care, like showering and brushing teeth. Some of us are deficient in these areas. However, a person in recovery has more of a likelihood of doing this work to take care of oneself. 

A person in recovery will tend to have some type of job or volunteer work, most of the time, or they may possibly be in school to learn a new trade. Sitting at home, drinking coffee or beer all-day and hanging out with other mentally ill people doesn’t really qualify. 

Part of recovery includes not being terrified of some level of discomfort. If uncomfortable feelings must be avoided at all costs, an individual can not acknowledge an uncomfortable truth, can not deal with an uncomfortable situation, and can not resolve any problems in his or her existence. 

If a person with a mental illness wants this “recovery,” he or she must be prepared to work at it. However, the alternative is to remain an improperly developed person, to keep going to institutions, and possibly to die at a premature age.