Successful Relapse

It isn’t enough to just have a mental illness in your life. There is so much to balance: learning coping skills, managing medications, managing medication side effects, identifying triggers so you’re prepared for them when they hit, advocating for yourself because there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t understand mental illness at all, etc. The list goes on and on. If you’re lucky, you have most of this under control. You might also have a solid support base you can turn to for help.

So what do you do when you thought you were solid on the road to recovery, but you start to feel yourself slipping off of it? What happens when you do everything you know has helped before, but doing those things no longer works? What if all your coping skills don’t feel like they are enough? Do you start feeling like everything you did for your recovery was for nothing? STOP! It happens to everyone, no matter how stable they think they are. It is the nature of mental illness.

But, there is good news. It’s something I keep close to me as I do with any coping skill. It’s a term called “successful relapse.” Most people know of it as a term applied to individuals recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. It can apply to any kind of illness where a long term recovery process is involved. It means when you have a relapse, all is not lost. You come back, shake it off, and find your center again. You may need to lean on your coping skills a bit more than usual, but you will come back from it. The biggest key is to not judge yourself negatively for the relapse, but positively for the comeback. You’ve been through the cycle before, so you know that everything will be fine.

Let me give you an example. My major diagnosis is bipolar disorder. I tend to have mixed episodes, and am a rapid cycler. It’s a peach. I worked hard to learn my triggers and spent a lot of time learning a wide range of coping skills that work for me. Between family, personal issues, housing, financial issues, volunteer work, and so on I’ve got a full plate. If I allow a relapse to happen, I feel that I would not be the good example that I have been for so many people. I would let everyone down. Does that mean I won’t relapse? Not at all. In fact, I’m fighting one now.

There are five coping skills that have always been my constant companions.

1. Talk to Dad…a lot.
2. Spend time with the kids. (Lots of Wii or World of Warcraft)
3. Go to my day rehabilitation program, so I don’t isolate
4. Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)
5. This list isn’t exhaustive…

Most of my coping skills center around people. It keeps me drawn out and forces me to interact when I just want to crawl into a ball. Eventually it works. I also have a strong support network. If I didn’t have people willing to draw me out and make me talk to them, I’d be a puddle of goo. It might take a week. It might take a couple of weeks, but I do eventually come back.

A successful relapse: that’s something to be proud of.

I’m not saying it works this way for everyone. Each person has to find what works for them, but I do strongly recommend preparing for something like this to happen. Remember the phrase “successful relapse.” You’ve got to love do-overs.

Read more from Jae here.  

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