By Shawn Pfeuffer
1. Determining what stage of recovery you are in.
Many of those living with a mental health condition are in different stages of recovery. There are simply so many levels of recovery for every mental health condition out there. I live with bipolar, brief psychosis, and general anxiety disorder. My recovery is unique to my circumstances. A good analogy that encompasses what I’m trying to say is as follows:
Imagine everyone living with a mental health condition(s) is enrolled in a fictional university. At this university, there are different degrees and different levels of education. Your mental health condition is your degree and your experience is your level of education. Some are freshmen, some are master’s students, some are PhDs, and some are professors and directors.
So what are you? Are you a freshman? Maybe a sophomore? Or are you an expert in the field of your mental health condition? Defining where you think you are is the first step.
2. How to plan a successful recovery.
Just like you would for school, you prepare for the studies ahead. If you are a freshman (diagnosed within a year or less), there are some prerequisites you need to take in order to graduate. Some examples of prerequisites are 1) learning the basics of your mental health condition, 2) exploring related mental health topics that interest you, and 3) developing successful habits to ensure you pass your classes (e.g. showing up to class, doing your homework, and time management skills, etc.).
3. Overcoming Challenges.
Life is about overcoming challenges and how we choose to react to them. One of the key principles that we try to instill in our members is that no one else’s pain is more or less than your own. Whatever your most difficult challenge is, we respect it. Say one of your freshman classes is Acceptance 101. For some, this is a breeze, but for you, it may be your most difficult challenge.
The key to overcoming intense mental health challenges is how you think about your condition. If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you behave. We all want to behave the best way we possibly can. We want to be liked, we want to be accepted, and we want to be respected. Our behavior has a massive impact on those desires.
4. Progressing through the stages of your recovery.
Progress, no matter how small, is the engine that drives success. I started off with extremely small goals. Everything from getting out of bed, to doing laundry, to developing a steady routine that promoted productivity, healthy hygiene, and improving my quality of life. Just like working out, getting started is the most difficult part. Use as many support systems as you can. For example, hearing positive and motivating messages from your family and friends can be greatly beneficial. Also, having a professional reassure you that you are doing the right thing and taking the right steps can be extremely motivating. Every goal you achieve is a notch in your belt that no one can take away. Every goal is something you can reflect on when you need to.
5. Maintaining a positive recovery
It’s important to continue your education and progress through the imaginary university that was described in step 1. Keep studying, keep building your knowledge, keep broadening your horizons, and graduate with a well-rounded set of skills that will help you succeed in every aspect of life. Earn that degree in your mental health condition discipline. Graduate with others who are going through exactly what you’re going through. Learn how to become a leader and advocate for your class. Find a mentor who can help you along the way. And most importantly, stay positive and never give up hope. So many people have to repeat a year or two of school. No one will judge you if you falter. Just keep reaching out and be diligent. You can do this!
Living with a mental health condition can be the hardest challenge any of us will face in our lifetime. But, organizations like NAMI Keystone PA help us band together as a class and succeed in our recovery. Earn your “degree”, help others along the way, and succeed in your recovery!