Those of us who've been there, and, indeed are still there, have our own coping strategies. But Letitia's fascinating insight into her own recovery processes makes fascinating reading.
When I first heard my support worker Alice* use the term ‘recovery’, I remember we were sitting outside a cafe and I thought ‘I don’t think she really understands how this all works.’
Not because I didn’t trust or respect her but because it sounded alien to me.
I had never come across that word before in regards to mental health. Like many people, I had assumed that recovery wasn’t possible for a psychiatric disorder, that it wasn’t a reality unless there was a 100% cure.
When I came under the care of Second Step, a southwest mental health charity, I was twenty seven and life was difficult.
Letitia Prescott, with Hector
At the time, I struggled to keep up with washing, cleaning, eating/sleeping properly, turning up for appointments, bills, having healthy relationships/boundaries and ultimately keeping myself safe. During my late teens, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder (rapid cycling with psychosis) and OCD. It’s hard to explain how bad things were but my twenties were blighted and getting over each episode was like a house of cards.
In subsequent meetings with Alice, the word recovery came up again so I just went along with it. She was genuinely interested in what kind of future I wanted and the things I wanted to enjoy. Maybe I wasn’t doomed after all? So I began by taking the tiniest practical steps like making my bed every morning ‘Even if I feel horrific, I’m making it!’ It was strange but it felt good.
Alice asked for my opinion about everything we discussed. She encouraged me to manage my health in a way that made me feel that I had options, and that I had a real say in how to prevent and overcome future episodes. If I could have some quality of life despite the symptoms, then maybe I wouldn’t have to keep running in treacle in a quest to fight the diagnosis.
One thing that helped me considerably was the Recovery Star (see picture), from Mental Health Partnerships http://mentalhealthpartnerships.com/.
There’s something empowering about being the one to decide the number on the scale. To reflect on the different ‘outcome areas’ allowed me to write down achievable goals that fed my motivation.
I would then compare the stars as the months went by. Unsurprisingly, there were days where I would just slump with my head on the table and not be in the mood for it. And that was okay too.
Of course, coming out of my comfort zone wasn’t always easy, in fact there were often heart palpitations and beads of sweat and setbacks, but my mindset had shifted. I wanted to care about my wellbeing and have regular sleep, meals and exercise. And I didn’t just talk about it with Alice, I actually did it. Once upon a time, those things would barely have got a look in. I was too busy either hiding in bed with a bombardment of intrusive thoughts or riding a wave of chaos and crashing onto a desert island.
That original tiny step of making my bed every day set the cogs in motion and would later lead me to give up caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes – each step would encourage the next and I took them at a pace that I could cope with. Sometimes, I wondered if I could sustain them long term but I kept going because I didn’t want to not keep going. It’s now been years since I had a cup of coffee, a drink or a smoke, and it’s a choice that I protect for my sake and that of my loved ones.
There were times when people made comments that suggested they didn’t have faith in me giving up or that they didn't think it was possible to have fun without a drink. Everyone is different but I know that quitting has made life safer and less stressful whilst giving me the freedom and clarity to manage my symptoms. I’m glad I decided to be stubborn and go against the grain because the house of cards now has a cemented base.
In the last few years, person-centred counselling and support groups have also played a big part in helping me move forward. Looking inwards was challenging but it pushed me to be more caring and reliable with my loved ones. Taking responsibility isn’t about beating yourself up – ultimately I didn’t set out to do any of the behaviours that were brought on by a manic state. But what I try to do these days is look back and think ‘What can I put in place now so that the next ride is a bit more comfortable for myself, and those around me?’
Two years after my first meeting with Alice, Second Step asked me to help facilitate recovery sessions in my hometown. It was amazing to be teaching people all about the recovery approach. The irony was that I was very unwell during those sessions but me turning up and participating is what recovery is all about!
The wonderful thing is that these wellness tools, however big or small, all contribute to having a more independent and fulfilling experience.
An episode could come along next week, next month or I may even be experiencing one right now but the important thing for me is that the word ‘recovery’ is there at the back of my mind. The shock of realising that I’m in decline again will always make my heart race but I feel more confident because I’ve learned positive ways to cope. I’ve also come to recognise that there are many other effective tools that I can learn in the future, and that gives me a great sense of hope.
Alice* not her real name