Recovery is not about being without any issues. It is about being better at handling said issues.– Matt Haig
Where I am today is unrecognisable to where I was eight years ago. I thought what my body was experiencing was like a broken leg – that it would heal itself and I’d be back to normal in no time.
Where I am today is more hopeful and stable than where I was four years ago. I’ve come to terms with the fact my conditions may be permanent and dug myself out of a deep depression enough that it doesn’t consume me now.
Where I am today is vibrant and connected to so much around me, while still experiencing a lot of symptoms, than where I was six months ago. Life opened up with opportunities that are inclusive for my level of capability.
Where I am today is a little better, a little worse, than where I was a month ago.
So many times I am asked ‘are you recovering or getting better?’ and I never know how to answer this question. The most appropriate response would be ‘in comparison to what? Yesterday? A year ago? A decade ago?’’
As I am ever the optimist and realist, I usually answer ‘Yes, I am getting better, but also there are some things that aren’t changing’. It is getting better because I am getting up each day regardless of what I may face, I am learning about myself, and I am managing it.
Living with chronic conditions is a bit like a daily rollercoaster of symptoms and most of the time without any cause and effect. It might be that there is always a level of discomfort or pain, somedays it is manageable and doesn’t intrude, and other days it stops you in your tracks. There is no cycle for when these changes might occur and it is always a surprise as to what is dished up each day (not always a pleasant surprise either).
Getting better doesn’t always mean that the symptoms have disappeared. It can mean that you are familiar with it and managing it in a better way.
When we think of people with alcohol addiction and the twelve step program, their recovery is a day by day process to manage their condition. Their recovery goal isn’t to take them back to a stage in their life where they could drink alcohol without having an issue with it. The recovery process is to identify what their issues and triggers are, how to avoid them and keep them safe from relapse.
Once you have a chronic condition, usually the only option is to manage it from then on. When you are constantly getting asked ‘when is it going to disappear and you’ll be back to normal?’ it feels like a personal failure. There is an incredible amount of effort that goes into eating the right foods, taking your medications, having good routines for sleep and movement, and trying all the available treatments and therapies.
The frustrating part of having chronic medical conditions is that you can do everything ‘right’ and do everything you are told to do by the medical professionals, yet it still doesn’t guarantee that you will be free from your symptoms or pain. The word recovery then becomes synonymous with management – how I manage my condition, how I manage my response to my unpredictable condition, I move through the acceptance process, how I take care of my mental health while all this is going on. What we learn about ourselves is not wasted, it actually becomes part of our recovery.
The stigma around recovery and the common definition that it is ‘a return to a normal state of health’, is not appropriate for everyone. Recovery also means ‘the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost’. We may go to all the lengths to get our health back but it still may not be returned. We need to reconsider what recovery looks like in society and remember this when asking if somebody is recovering or getting better.
If you are reading this and you know what it is like to be frustrated by doing everything and still not seeing results from all the effort, know this:
You are doing your best and all that you can to help the situation, but measuring success by recovery isn’t giving you enough credit for all the effort you put in. I see what you do, I know what the behind the scenes of chronic conditions looks like and I applaud you for getting up each day and continuing to try. It is hard. It is so trying. It always feels like it’s the second last straw right before the straw that breaks the camel’s back – holding on and fed up and exhausted. This is true resilience and I see it.
‘Illness is not a personality flaw. Wellness is not a character strength.’– Matt Haig
Take good care, Readers. I’ll keep the light on.
If you or someone you know is affected and needs support, please contact the following organisations:
Beyond Blue – Beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline – https://www.lifeline.org.au/
SANE Australia – Sane.org
Black Dog Institute – https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
RUOK? – Ruok.org.au
Headspace – Headspace.org.au
Kids Helpline – https://kidshelpline.com.au/
MensLine Australia – https://mensline.org.au/
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