Why Recovery Isn’t Always Straight-Forward

Mental health recovery can be likened to a yoyo, bouncing back and forth. Things do get better but it’s OK to be kind to yourself when this “better day” feels untouchable.

I’ve lived with mental health disorders ever since I gingerly treaded into teenage years.

This began when I stopped eating at the age of 14. I recovered, only for GSCE stress to trigger anxious and depressive thoughts, and I started to self-harm to cope. Now a University student, I’ve made some giant steps towards having a more stable state of mind.

Yet, this phrase- “recovery” – isn’t as black and white as I once assumed.

When a diagnosis for anorexia nervosa and appointments with a nutritionist made me determined to care for my body again, it felt like a switch had been clicked in my mind. I no longer shied away from or feared food; I revelled in the chance to indulge my year-long hunger. I put on weight as quickly as I realised how distant I felt from the damaging thoughts that made me starve and over-exercise my pre-adolescent body.

Recovery here was obvious, but to this day I still dislike the way I look. I still feel guilt when I eat so-called “bad” foods, or over indulge. I had a, thankfully brief, period of bulimia. But, these lapses in proper judgement and moments of weakness only remind me of the advances I made- and the strength it required.

Fearing for my fertility and physical health jolted me into leaving Anorexia behind. Then the moment I realised I had recovered was when I fully understood that no aesthetic appeal is worth risking your health.

Simply, during and even after recovery, those dangerous thoughts or behaviours that made me starve myself didn’t leave my conscious, but progress towards being healthy was made possible because I recognised them, and I didn’t entertain them any longer.

For my self-harm, the trigger was simply not wanting anybody else to notice the cuts. The moment of realising recovery came with a tattoo, drew over the faded scars. A lotus flower represents something beautiful blooming from muddy water, and it functions as a reminder not to harm my skin. Again, a particularly stressful event uncovers this compulsion to harm myself, manifested in other ways, after I thought I had regained control.

My relationship with depression and anxiety is much harder to decipher, perhaps because I still feel in the midst of these disorders. I manage a social, professional and personal life, but I’m plagued by defeating thoughts. Anxiety makes minor setbacks or small tasks morph in size.

Yet I take it slowly, remembering things I’ve learnt to make me feel better.

None of this reverberation between recovery and disorder makes me lose hope, or sight of my goals to have a happier mind. The relief and pride that comes with defeating a mental health disorder is motivation enough.

Each experience I’ve mentioned was different- but they taught me a simple fact. Recovery is dictionary defined as “a return to a normal state of health, mind or strength” or “regaining control”. But- ‘normal’ is subjective, and control can sometimes falter in the face of a bad day, or a massive life event.

This doesn’t matter. What matters is keeping the desire to reach that “better day” in any way you can, for as long as you can.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk

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