woman using imacPROSUMER

How to Define Recovery A Radical Idea

Recovery cannot and must not be defined as occurring only when a person returns to having a normal life. The definition of normal: of or having ordinary or average intelligence; conforming to a standard or type; free of mental defect.

I have given a talk saying that everyone’s recovery is as individual as their thumbprint. Recovery comes to each of us in different guises. Bake a cake. Sing in a choir. Ride a Skateboard. It’s all great is what I said.

Who wants to be average? Not I. It’s okay if you want to have an ordinary life. I’ve come to accept that everything I do is so unusual (cue the lyrics to the Cure song “Why Can’t I Be You”). I’m constitutionally unable to conform nor do I want to.

I haven’t met a box that I liked being put into. Not when I was 22 and told recovery wasn’t possible. Not today when I’m going to publish a first-of-its-kind career book for individuals living with mental illnesses.

Here’s the thing: having a normal life shouldn’t be the barometer of how well a person is doing in recovery.

I have worked with a rude and hostile male coworker who didn’t have a diagnosis. He is proof that having a job doesn’t make you any better than a person collecting a government disability check.

Within three years of being diagnosed with schizophrenia I had a full-time job as an administrative assistant. For the first 9 years I worked in corporate and law firm offices. It appeared that I had recovered because I had a normal life.

Only I wasn’t thriving and was ill-equipped to succeed in those ill-fitting jobs. I consider myself to have recovered fully when I started my job as a professional librarian when I was 35. Finding the job I love enabled me to recover. It wasn’t the other way around. I hadn’t found this job after I recovered. Getting this ideal job was the gateway to my true recovery.

That was when I started my pro bono Advocate work. Promoting my vision of recovery despite detractors (even mental health staff) parroting that no one could recover at all. Their view of how to define recovery has always been limiting and restrictive.

Of course a lot of people who don’t get the right treatment might not recover. They might be severely ill. They have Advocates on their side. We need Advocates on the side of people who can and want to better themselves.

The average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t get their behavior scrutinized like us peers do. A normal person can work as a cashier in Rite Aid. The minutes a person with a mental illness works in Rite Aid they’re looked down on.

This prevailing discrimination sets peers up to fail. It can be hard not to internalize shame and guilt and not to feel “less than” when others have given up on your prospects.

Not everyone can or should get a Masters’ degree like I have. Whatever you want to do is perfectly fine for you. The fact is you deserve to try to achieve a goal. “The only real failure is the failure to try.” When you give something your best shot there can be no shame if it doesn’t work out.

In the end the choice is yours. You don’t have to set the bar high. You just must set it—because no one else will.

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