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Relapsing: Surrendering Privileges

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The best part of recovery is gaining access to new responsibilities, materials, information, and all the good things that come with stable living. Since relapse is an inevitable part of recovery, I plan to explore the loss of material, access, and resources attributed to relapsing and mental status degradation. 

There are many possible ‘loses’ associated with cognitive status freefall. This blog explores the financial and material issues and issues rooted in access to resources or information. Using my own lived experience as an example, it should become clear to the reader that the biggest loser in a person’s life relapsing is hygiene. 

Mental hygiene is the ability to clean up after oneself and keep clean and general sanitary conditions in or around your living space. I also mean odor, grooming, and self-care. Every aspect of hygiene impacts mental status, free fall, or even a slow relapse. In the end, and even over time, hygiene can be affected. Many mental health symptoms impact people’s ability to care for themself. Mental health relapse can easily disrupt someone’s hygiene and capacity to keep clean. Hygiene is an excellent indicator of a shift in mental status. 

Sometimes poor hygiene is the result of neglecting to clean or not being aware of dirt disorganization in the home, or it may go even more profound. Many people who relapse stop working and can’t pay their rent. Many carrying diagnoses lose their homes during relapse from symptoms. Sadly I have witnessed police storming doorways with shields to access a home fortified for the “end” to avoid eviction. 

Barricading yourself in the home or something even worse is never the answer. It may even further your risk of relapsing more acutely if you go against police orders or personnel. It will only exaggerate your problems and complicate your relapse even more deeply.

Transportation is usually another likely candidate to suffer during relapse. Not having money for gas or tickets makes maintaining a vehicle very complex during relapse. I found this to be true when I was relapsing. I even lost ‘lost’ cars relapsing to locate the vehicles years later. The engine seized from nonuse.  

Many folks lose access to information. The Internet and paying cell phone bills and connectivity costs money and depend mainly on a regular income. These nonmaterial ports to the world through data streaming and wifi are the gateways to important information. With vital information, intermittent loss of these ports can make a recovery possible and possible to attain.

My recommendations on how to avoid to limit the damage of relapse:

  • Get a library card and get to know your free wifi hot spots if you can’t afford internet.
  • Purchase a phone card or obtain a way to make telephone calls if you dont have access to your cell phone (to contact doctors and therapists, you need access to a phone)
  • Get to know where local soup kitchens and food pantries are.
  • Have all contact information for friends/family/providers and vital information written down on paper.
  • Familiarize yourself with bus routes to and from major hospital networks and providers associated with your ongoing treatment.

Do you live in a group home or apartment treatment facility? If so, relapse usually brings more concrete freedoms stripped away. Sometimes relapsing means changes in curfew or even may trigger reduced independence in the community when the doors to your residence are usually open for residents to come and go freely. Relapse can mean many things—adding a new medication or a change in dosage. Loss can also mean losing housing or moving into a residence with more supervision and restrictions on your freedoms. In any event, be mindful of the losses for the bigger picture. Ultimately, your pathway back to health and wellness.

Loss can also mean losing contact with friends. No one likes a ‘fair weather friend’ who is only around during good times. But, as people become increasingly symptomatic, it becomes more challenging to connect with others in our lives in a meaningful way. Think about the most manic or depressed times in your life. Were you actively making and keeping friends and building a network of contacts? Probably not. You were most likely actively trying to survive in the world on your own, given the tall stack of challenges ahead.

The worst privilege to lose during relapse is the freedom to live healthily to the fullest. Healthy living comes with it life circumstances that support wellness and mental hygiene. There is no question that when we lose healthy living practices, we lose the freedom to be good to our bodies and minds and treat ourselves kindly and with respect at all times. Relapsing means surrendering some of these healthy moments for symptomatic periods of distress. It is more difficult to live peaceably with the world and adjust to our situations accordingly.

About the Author

J. Peters

Max Guttman is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice in New York City. 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 about 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 a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients.’

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