My Not-So-Easy Mental Health Recovery Journey

I’ve noticed that many of the stories I encounter about mental health tend to focus either on the darkest moments or on the triumphant ones – including the stories I’ve shared myself. In between those two opposites, however, there is a long road of treatment, recovery, and daily battles, as well as a lot of gray days that are neither too dark nor too triumphant.

Here is something I wished people knew about my mental health recovery journey so far…

If I say that I see a psychiatrist, take medication and have weekly therapy sessions, it does not mean that I’m always ‘well’ (much less ‘cured’).

I’ve had many people congratulating me for getting help and saying that they’re glad I am working with professionals to address my mental health conditions. But the truth is, doing these things doesn’t mean I’m always well. I still have bad (and even horrible) days, but treatment and recovery have helped me gain skills and tools to better deal with those days.

It may seem ‘easy’ to take medication and go to therapy. But what people who’ve never been on this journey may not know is that treatment for mental health conditions is very difficult, and it’s work — a lot of hard work.

It’s very ‘easy’ to take my three daily pills – one gulp of water and it’s done. But it’s not easy to deal with side effects, and medication changes, and how expensive they can get sometimes even with health insurance. And then there’s dealing with health insurance issues, and not being able to go out with colleagues after work because I have to stop by the pharmacy which is far away.

I have to keep tabs on my medications to make sure I never run out and organize them weekly into my medication container. I have to make sure I don’t forget to take them with me when needed and reach out to my psychiatrist when I need refills — all of which takes time and energy to do; and energy is not something I have much of when struggling with anxiety and depression.

I’ve changed medications several times and have experienced difficult side effects both starting and stopping medications: severe nausea, headaches, and increased anxiety that left me bed-bound for days.

I even had a pretty serious reaction to one of my medications that scared me – my provider couldn’t explain it. Because of how that experience destabilized me, there was even a moment when going into a psychiatric unit was a real possibility (which would have meant taking leave from my internship and master’s program).

Therapy has not been any easier. It’s expensive for me and a weekly commitment means having to say ‘no’ to more enjoyable activities. Therapy has been challenging and uncomfortable. It pushes me out of my comfort zone, which is hard to do even when my comfort zone has been harmful to me. It challenges my thoughts and behaviors. And in all therapy settings I’ve been in, I’ve always had some homework to do during the week (on top of all the work I have to do as a Ph.D. student).

I don’t regret getting help for my mental health, but I do wish someone had told me how long and difficult the journey of treatment and recovery could be.

Sometimes, I feel like quitting. I feel like never going to therapy again or canceling my next appointment with my psychiatrist, because the truth is, I’m tired and recovery is exhausting. I can’t make any plans or decisions without considering my treatment: how is it going to affect my therapy schedule? Will I have enough medication for this trip?

I will always encourage people to reach out for help if they are struggling with their mental health — it is important, and can be life-saving.

But I also believe it’s important that we start a conversation about what ‘getting help’ is actually like — and the truth is that it’s hardly ever easy.

It’s a sacrifice and for some, like me, it’s a life-long commitment. It’s challenging and uncomfortable. And through it all, we’re still experiencing our mental health conditions. It’s having a panic attack and going to therapy anyway. It’s going through a depressive episode and still getting out of bed for a psychiatric appointment.

Recovery for me has been still struggling but knowing I’m not struggling alone.

And though the journey is long and hard, treatment and recovery have given me hope and strength to carry on.

Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help immediately. In the United States, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TWT to 741741. For a list of international suicide hotlines, visit www.buddy-project.org/hotlines.

These Tools are Helping Me Handle Depression

Ok everyone, I have never ever said it publicly but here it is: I have depression.

I want to share a little bit of my story. I want to focus on the positive and contribute in my own little way to fighting stigma and promoting mental health awareness.

In recent months, I have tried every possible tool I could find to feel better. Counselling, medication, exercising, yoga, hillwalking, travelling, journaling, meditation and mindfulness, etc.… The good news is that some of it is working. Slowly, very slowly, but every step forward counts. Getting better is a journey.

First, you have to make the difficult first step: becoming conscious of how you are feeling, accepting it and making a decision to try to change it – to grow out of the pain and find balance again. After that you need many, many more little steps, time, trial and error, endurance and faith in yourself.

None of this is easy, I know. I am still trying and learning myself, but here are a few tools and tips I would like to share. Remember that depression is a very subjective experience, you need to find what works for you.

Commit to yourself. 

Choose to invest time, effort and maybe even money in your recovery. It will be worth it, I promise. Maybe instead of burying your pain in a pile of brand new clothes, use that money for a therapy session if you can? Make choices that will help you feel better inside.

Remember that you and only you can make the necessary internal journey to get better.

Not your medication, not your therapist, not your friends, YOU. I know you might feel totally unworthy, meaningless and discouraged, but remember you are not broken. Nothing in you wants to hurt you.

Be a friend to yourself.

Remember when your best friend last had a heartbreak and cried in front of you? Did you shout at her and tell her to be stronger? Did you blame her for being so miserable? No (at least I hope not!). Use that same kindness and compassion you can show others and show it to yourself.

Go online.

There are plenty of great professional or community groups that can support you out there, you are not alone. Fill your social media feeds with accounts that make you feel good.

Read books, listen to podcast or TED Talks, watch videos about mental health.

The more you understand about what’s happening to you, the less ‘unusual’ and alone you will feel.

Don’t keep pain to yourself.

One of the hardest thing for me was to open up and talk about how I was feeling. Informing a few trustworthy friends made things a tiny bit more bearable. Choose people that make you feel comfortable, people who can listen and respect you even when you cannot be your most ‘fun’ or ‘happy’ self.

You don’t have to tell them everything and you don’t have to talk about it all the time. But trust me, on a day when you feel like bursting into tears, it makes it so much better to feel safe and able to express your feeling instead of trying hard to hide them. There’s also the option of professional help, like a doctor or a therapist.

Try new things.

Surprise yourself and explore things you have never done before. It doesn’t have to be something big. Maybe you can choose an interesting documentary on Netflix instead of your favourite romantic movie? Maybe you can try some crafts? Dance alone, sing in the shower? Maybe it will make you feel a bit better for a few hours and create new interests and new curiosities in you? (Maybe it won’t, and that’s ok too.)

Make lists.

Lists are cool. They help clarify things a bit and are easy to read. For instance, write a list of things that help you when you are down. Break it down into different categories (e.g. Physical: keeping a healthy body, doing yoga…; Social: the friends you trust, online communities; Spiritual: your meditation and mindfulness practice; Material: your bed, essential oils, anti-depressant medication, etc.).

Next time your mind hurts, check your list and find your best helper in that situation. Maybe you need a warm shower, a good cry and your bed. Maybe you need to call a friend and get some fresh air. Maybe you need to arrange a new appointment with your therapist. A list can remind you that you have plenty of options to support you – just pick one that suits you best in that moment.

Be patient with yourself.

There will be times where you get angry and disappointed at yourself. Days where you feel like you are not progressing at all, where you are backsliding. You will wonder if you will always be depressed, if there is really a way out, if this is who you are forever. Maybe you will even start thinking that this life is not worth living and wish to stop everything for good. That’s ok. The pain can be truly unbearable and overwhelming, so it makes sense to think these things. But please, don’t give up on yourself. You are a unique and beautiful person, trust and be kind to yourself. You are so worth it.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, please reach out for help immediately. Suicide Stop has a list of suicide hotlines worldwide, which you can find here

Opinions and experiences published on girlsglobe.org are not medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek professional help from a doctor.