The Messy Business of Healing

I turned 26 on September 13th. Twenty-six is a relatively insignificant birthday to the general population: no exciting new ability to buy something you couldn’t before or rent a car. But to me, reaching 26 is a big deal because I didn’t anticipate I’d live past 22, let alone be pushing forward four years later. If my first suicide attempt had been successful, I would have missed:

  • Fulfilling a childhood dream of living in the mountains.
  • Receiving my master’s degree with honors in a field I’m passionate about. 
  • Adopting my kitty, Milo, and watching him grow up. 
  • Finding my dream job helping other folks use their voice to improve patient outcomes. 
  • Seeing some of my best friends get married and have kids. 

I’m sure that you’ve heard similar stories in the past few years. With the rise of social media, it has become more common to hear folks discussing their own journeys with mental illness and other traditionally “taboo” topics. 

However, something that isn’t talked about enough is the lack of linearity when it comes to healing. 

Maybe it’s because it’s easier to hear stories that are tied up in neat little ribbons. “I had a trauma, I went through healing, and now I’m better!” I wanted that happy ending desperately. When I first began seeking mental health treatment, I imagined what it would be. I pictured my life after medications and therapy, taking on every day with a smile on my face and excellent coping skills. 

In May of 2021, I wrote a neat little blog post about my mental health journey after I finished an intensive outpatient therapy program. I thought I’d found my happy ending. Medications were working, and therapy was great. I felt like a million bucks.

As the year droned on, my mental health slowly started to deteriorate again. My coping skills began to make less and less of a difference in practice. I felt all of the side effects of my medications with very little to no symptom reduction. I watched the stability I’d longed for my entire life start slipping away, and I thought I’d done something terribly wrong somehow.

I rang in 2022 with a new diagnosis: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A new diagnosis brought a new medication, new coping methods to explore, and a different lens to view the way my mind works. For a while, things felt better. But that dark cloud I’d been feeling continued to linger over me. Something still wasn’t right. 

After a few more months of feeling uneasy, both my care team and I concluded that the antidepressants I’d been on for the last two years were no longer working for me. Nothing could have prepared me for the process that is switching psychiatric medications. Even after carefully weaning myself off of my initial medications per my doctor’s instructions, I spent several days in withdrawal. The first few weeks of the medication switch were filled with nausea, headaches, mood swings, and general discomfort. 

Life proceeded to kick me while I was down, throwing a near-attempt to commit suicide, a serious health scare, a broken down car, and significant financial issues my way in the course of fewer than three months. And now I find myself, sitting in the aftermath as we move into autumn, asking myself: “If I’m finding myself in the same place as where I started, have I made any progress at all?”

The answer is a resounding YES. 

My healing process has been a lot like summiting a mountain. Holy hell, it has been hard most of the way! Sometimes it feels like I’m crawling on my hands and knees with nothing but rocks to look at. It’s easy to focus on what’s in front of me, not paying attention to the surroundings. But when I pause and turn around, I can see beauty all around me. The views aren’t just incredible from the top. Each step, no matter how small, carries me closer to my destination. Sometimes, those steps head downhill, and that’s okay! 

Struggling to wade through your own healing journey? Here are three tangible things that have helped me along the way:

  1. Lean on your support system! 

Whether it’s your family, partner, therapist, or even your furbaby, make sure to keep your loved ones updated on your mental health. Trust me; I know this isn’t easy. 

One of the most difficult things for me is sharing my true thoughts and feelings with others. But in order to truly acknowledge that there are highs and lows in this journey, it’s been most helpful to admit to others that things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows.  For me, it started with my therapist. She was an unbiased party to listen to all of my problems and validate my feelings.

  1. Keep up with your coping skills, even when they seem like they aren’t helping. 

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you’d like to do when you’re feeling depressed is put effort into taking care of yourself. The idea of even taking a shower sometimes feels like a giant hurdle on my worst days. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that taking care of yourself is one of the only ways to ensure that you’ll feel better in the long run. 

Set aside at least an hour of your day to take advantage of whatever self-care helps you feel more like you. This is just as much a reminder for me as it is for you. Sometimes this hour for me is going to the gym. Other times, it’s as simple as showering and throwing away the trash I’ve allowed to pile up in my room. 

  1. Remind yourself where you started. 

I know how easy it is to feel like you’ve made no progress at all on your rough days. But taking the time to remind yourself how much work you’ve done on yourself is the best way to remember that you’ve made progress. 

An easy way to do this is to keep a journal of your mental health over time. It’s never too late to start! And I know what you’re thinking (because I thought it, too): “How on Earth do you think I’m going to keep track of a journal when I have no energy to do anything?” A journal doesn’t have to be pen and paper. I use the Notes app on my phone to keep track of noteworthy moments. I’ve heard of others who use a running Google document or write notes that they keep in a jar for reference. 

I hope that you’re able to utilize these three little tips to help you keep on keeping on wherever you’re at. But at the end of the day, what matters is that you’re doing your best to make sure that you’re putting one foot in front of the other. And trust me, the view from up here, wherever you are, is 100% worth it. 

Rachel is a Senior Research Coordinator here with Gryt Health. You can read more about her life and experience as well as connect with her preferred social media profiles here.

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