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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word recover.  We talk about recovery in terms of physical illness and injury; you can recover from cancer, a broken arm, a sunburn.  These all have fixed endpoints, clear indicators of when healing has occurred.

Then there is recovery in the sense that you regain something that you’ve lost, like recovering a document after your computer crashes.  This, too, is specific, tangible.

With mental illness, though, recovery seems murky, nebulous.  I keep hoping there is some plateau I will reach when everything will even out and things will feel firm and easy.  The more I search for that, however, the less I believe that it exists.

I’ve changed behaviors related to my illness, certainly, and I’ve not been in the hospital in months.  These are markers, I guess, of being in a different space.  But emotionally, I still feel the tremors of despair and sadness and anxiety.  Perhaps this is what recovering is? Responding to the big, painful feelings in a different way? Not being rid of them, but accepting that they will always be present, learning to allow room for them rather than running?

It’s not what I had initially hoped for.  When I made the choice, about a year ago, to shift my focus to living, I did it with the mindset that I might, someday, feel differently.  More and more, though, I believe that my life will always be a series of earthquakes, that seismic emotions will constantly brew under the surface.  I think I’ve just gotten better at functioning with them present-and am still constantly working at improving even more.

I’m not writing this to convey hopelessness, and it might be true for some people with mental illness that they reach a place which is entirely new, a state of “being recovered”.  But for me, this is a chronic part of my life, and though not who I am, very much connected to it.  And sometimes I wonder that, once you have almost died, once you have gone to such extremes, once you have felt dehumanized by a system and lost completely, if you ever totally come back.

It may just be where my head is at right now; exhausted, scared about the future, overwhelmed by a crush of different feelings.  I think there is a little sense of peace, though, in acknowledging that things might always be rocky for me.  In that imperfection there is space to stretch and grow, to make mistakes and learn from them, even if at times it’s painful and slow.

Recovered means I’m stagnant, a marble statue representing health and wholeness in a Psychiatric textbook.  Recovery means I get to keep living every day in my humanness, moving forwards and backwards as I try to figure out who I am, what I want, and how I can embrace my sensitivity and intensity.  It is living with the emotional earthquakes, not shutting down or self-destructing because of them-and maybe even, sometimes, causing the rest of the world to tremble too…for it’s the ground shifting beneath us that makes us stop to re-evaluate, try something new-pushes us to soar.