Chronic Illness & Recovery: Setting the Pace for Sustainable Healing

Chronic Illness & Recovery: Setting the Pace for Sustainable Healing

For people with a chronic illness and long-standing mental health diagnosis, finding the right pace for recovery and healing can be difficult and even misleading at times during the life of a disorder.

Acute disorders provide people with space and room to misapply energy without jeopardizing success in recovery. Stated, the active symptoms are more short-term, and the breadth of dysfunction typically less pervasive.

When people have a severe chronic mental health diagnosis, a misstep in applying energy and symptom management can leave a person vulnerable and open to breakthrough symptoms. Even worse, other unwelcome symptoms can emerge and reactivate. Moving forward, mismanaging opportunities to recovery is like shooting yourself in the foot.  

When a lot is going wrong, there is no reason not to take every possible solution coming your way to ameliorate your condition. I highly recommend taking every chance to heal to expect good rejuvenating outcomes.

From the very moment I began my battle with schizophrenia, I learned that positive outcomes for people in recovery required a degree of self-awareness of their symptoms. Only after insight is cultivated, will our own illnesses’ chronicity will a path forward be revealed. Therefore, careful notetaking and self-knowledge are a must if you are hoping for a less disordered future. As a clinician, I believe having ownership of my disorder also means applying the science available to measure my symptoms from baseline to a hopefully dormant or managed state to track progress.

This level of sophistication in measuring progress or the lack thereof requires completing ongoing activities, ADL’s or some indicator which can be translated into a scalable event. When a person goes to work every day or has steady collateral contacts, the diagnosed person will have a barometer to measure goal completion in cases like this. 

Isolation and other impairments make ADL’s lousy markers. In cases like this, the introduction of a would need a third-party observer like a case manager, therapist, or any collateral would help fight against relapse.

Third parties behave as another set of eyes that can observe a person’s functioning when they do not participate in the usual demands of the day.

Therefore, lasting recovery in the wake of chronic illness requires a depth of insight that only allies with a vested interest in my recovery can produce when a person doesn’t work or isolates. Given the turnover of caseworkers, friends and family are the real point people and allies in healing. Moving into each new phase of recovery will necessitate drawing from supports and partnering with them for seasonal, round-the-clock, and year-long support required when someone has a chronic severe diagnosis. There will be times when symptoms become active & there will be times when a person is vulnerable.

Only natural supports and the organic point person can help the person with a chronic illness achieve a sustainable healing and recovery pace. Artificial and hired workers are assigned to people with a chronic disease. Hired workers may be slightly more out-of-touch with the organic needs of someone who continues to struggle and will continue to battle their disease long after a case manager gets re-assigned or leaves their agency and his or her clients journey in recovery. Family, friends, and natural point people are connected and real allies to chronic disorder people. Conscripted hessian case managers will leave when the insurance has a problem, or the money runs dry. 

These people are not to be depended upon when thinking of recovery as a sustainable path to healing. Next to insight, sustainable healing requires the challenging of previous assumptions. There are skills to be learned for every phase of recovery. Plan to use every device in your arsenal for healing. Never discount the importance of further adapting old skills to target new problems.

Assume nothing will work to manage new or existing symptoms in your recovery until every avenue is explored and each solution is put to the test. Challenging assumptions every day, everywhere, with applied scientific reasoning, may mean the difference between symptoms becoming active again or breakthrough symptoms demoralizing the progress of someone with a chronic mental health diagnosis. 

Given the mood instability and collateral chaos I experienced for so many years, I learned to appreciate the safety of a static, unchanging healthy mental status. While we all live with residual symptoms, either active or in remission, acknowledging the dangers that lurk behind every turn in your recovery will prepare you for the pitfalls of someone who still hasn’t accepted the chronicity of their disorder. A giant first step is admitting that self-control, behavioral and otherwise, means seeking and accepting help.

Since no one can ask for help and seek it out all the time, organic connectors in care, like family, are available when artificial supports are not working. 

Recovery is a stance. 

There is no moment when a person magically becomes ‘undiagnosed’ or even un-symptomatic. In the end, how we recast struggle win our life is the key to lasting health and wellness.

J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."
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