Before I get to my actual point, a little background:
I was diagnosed with mental illness years ago. With hindsight, symptoms of mental illness were there from a young age, but many kids go through similar things and grow out of them. I first saw Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) aged about 11 or 12, and from then on I have been ‘in the system.’ I had counselling as a teen, and was referred to a psychiatrist in my late teens once I was too old to continue to be monitored by CAMHS.
Psychiatrists in the UK diagnosed me with depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. They started me on medication in the form of antidepressants and beta blockers, along with a brief spell on anti-psychotics. Through my late teens and early twenties I got worse. I was being treated, taking my meds, seeing a psychiatrist and being monitored by my GP, I also saw a private therapist when my anxiety got worse & whacked on a side dish of social anxiety too.
I took the help that was offered, I asked over and over for extra help and support. I tried.
I moved to France and began different medications, a bipolar diagnosis was thrown around. I tried ergotherapy, I did a lot of work on self-improvement, learned about self-care, and saw a therapist. I tried harder.
You could argue that I have improved; I no longer self-harm and my social anxiety is gone, my unstable/intense interpersonal relationships are not an issue, and my self-damaging impulsivity around spending, sex and alchohol are less of an issue. But you could also argue that I am no longer in a position for those latter two things to be an issue anyway; I don’t have any regular interpersonal relationships in person outside of my parents, and I have no money or cards to use to spend, and am never in a position to engage in risky sex.
That, of course, doesn’t take away from my improvements in stopping self-harming and dealing with my social anxiety, but they were, in my opinion, later additions to my main mental illness diagnoses, they were never the big issue in themselves.
Mental illness and the expectation of recovery
So now we come to my point; the expectation around mental illness always seems to be recovery. People still tell me regularly that I will get better, that I just need the right treatment, or to try harder. The focus appears to be on eliminating symptoms and living a ‘normal’ life.
Many people who develop mental illness will recover, and that’s great. I’m glad that there are people getting good treatment and recovering completely. I sincerely hope the number of people who do completely recover continues to increase. But what about the people who don’t?
There are people who have fought for many years to get better, people who have tried a wide variety of therapies and medications, and they are still struggling. Maybe they’re some degree better than they were, maybe they’re the same or worse, but they’re still struggling, they’re still not living a ‘normal’ life. So why are these people silenced or ignored?
From a personal point of view, the narrative that I must get better has reached the point of being damaging. At this point in my illness it feels like an attack and an insult; “you are not trying hard enough to get better, and you are not a valid or worthy human while you are ill.”
Why is it not OK to admit that some people won’t get better? And if there is reason to believe that someone will live with mental illness for life, why not change the aims of their treatment and support to focus on management of symptoms, and readjustment of expectations? That is something that I think would help me now; support to accept that this is it, this is how it will be forever, and help to discover what I can do with my life and how I can best manage my illness. I am exhausted and overwhelmed with hopelessness from years of trying to be something I will never be: ‘normal.’ Striving for normality, for a socially acceptable life, has led me to suicidal ideation and a complete loss of hope. Maybe now is the time to stop silencing the chronically mentally ill for fear that their reality will steal hope from those who would otherwise recover, and instead accept that we are all valid, and important, and worthy.
I live with mental illness, and my life is not worth less than yours, even if I never recover.