When you carry a mental health diagnosis, you are in almost constant fear of relapsing. Whether you have a long-standing chronic condition or are suffering from a new diagnosis, the fear of symptoms re-activating, or worsening, is a real problem for us who suffer from mental illness. Most of us ask ourselves every day:
- Will I always be like this?.
- What if this happens again? or even.
- How do I know I am truly recovered?
These are all typical questions to ask ourselves, wonder about, and feel scared if our worst fears become a reality.
The truth is, though, we are in just about complete control over our mental health. Despite what some people believe, our mental health is in our own hands. I am saying that some environmental, biological, genetic, and parental contributing factors contribute to how we feel and what we think, but are these markers the only indicator that speaks to how we measure our health? The answer is probably not. These contributing factors are just that. So, if your life circumstances are minimal and you feel restricted in your capacity to maintain good mental health, think again.
For most people, the capacity for people to maintain their mental health, recognize new symptoms when they activate, and work on eliminating the impact of extraneous factors contributing to limited or poor mental health is truly in our hands. Self-determination, our drive, and the same mobility needed to work on ourselves, and harbor enough self-awareness to realize our strengths, as well as limitations, comes from within. Sure, some of us are put in impossible situations, born into poverty, victimized, abused, and maltreated. Still, even in these circumstances, some rediscover resilience and make it, despite the seemingly disparate nature of their problems.
Why do we fear relapsing so much if it is in our means to stay or get healthy? The answer is because people, regardless of the successes they experience and the positive aspects of displaying certain behaviors that serve us well, often lose sight of the bigger picture. For people in recovery, the road ahead can seem long, especially with more seemingly chronic diagnoses, and often, believe, they cannot persist over the long-haul or, in some cases, lifespan. For many of us, the rest of our lives, mostly young and even middle-aged people, can seem like a lot of work or too much effort to sustain long-term across the life span.
The fact of the matter is maintaining good health will only make a living more manageable in the long term. Creating and allowing for more solutions during difficult situations and make everything more manageable, aside from remembering this reasonable explanation for why people lose sight of their recovery plan. Remember, rationalizing or discontinuing behaviors promoting healthier decision-making is a step back from acceptable self-management practices. Instead, consistently engaging in everyday routines and self-care measures during the tenure of their illness. Due to several reasons. Sometimes we deem ourselves cured. We often encounter a seemingly impossible situation created by our negative behaviors due to playing out symptoms of a disorder.
Whatever the reason, there are many, almost infinite self-rationalizations we can manifest to discontinue our self-care practices. These are merely negative self-messages we create, which become cognitive distortions, seemingly real and authentic, but at the root of it, are untruths and outright lies our minds manifest. They are maladaptive, unhelpful, and sometimes frightening, and if we follow these negative thoughts to their horrific conclusion, they are disturbing to most of us experiencing them. Self CBT, disputing and challenging these rationalizations every day, and when they first occur, will go a long way in sustaining our positive behaviors and persisting towards our goals for ourselves and good mental health.
There is no question that these negative, maladaptive, and self-defeating behaviors can and need to be discontinued and stop us from doing what we all need to do for ourselves. Like most thoughts surrounding fear, paranoia, and anxious thinking, they all snowball, combine and multiply our worst thoughts. Following our self-care plan across the lifespan will mean living a life free of this fear or at least regulated as best as possible to reduce the likelihood and chances of paranoia and the fear we will one day relapse or become sick without warning. Thus, this concern of relapse is genuinely our own doing. Ultimately, when left to our own devices, we set its limits and create the solution for disarming its paralyzing force, making life seem like we are on a ride or a just passenger in our lives.
The truth is, we are driving our health forward at a rate and speed and course of our choosing. I recommend allying with your therapist, treatment team, and close peers with a vested interest in your mental health, establishing a deep trust with those who have close personal contact with you every day. In doing so, if these collaterals begin to detect an extreme and toxic abnormality in your health, you can feel safe in taking their advice and concern very seriously. Sure, no clinician or friend can get a perfect read on our health. But for those of us without a great deal of self-awareness or drive to look after ourselves, there are still options and strategies to stay healthy without relying entirely on our own devices. Indeed, not everyone cares enough about their health to self-monitor all the time.
In other cases, the day’s priority will capture our attention, e.g., paying the rent, housing, and employment. Disruptions to our mental health and even put our lives in jeopardy regardless of our diagnosis.Regardless, while taking your health and the quality of your mental status into your own hands is the best way to maintain good mental health and reduce the likelihood of relapse.
So, staying connected with collaterals in which you can delegate your health needs is a great plan “B”. When your self-care takes a back seat to the priorities of life, working towards good mental health might mean leaning on a friend or family memeber for help. A second more short-term plan can always be handing out responsibilities or delegating. Upon feeling too overwhelmed to get things done, before they mount and begin to complicate your life, ask family, friends, and those, you trust to help. For some of us, our disorder disrupts our capacity to stay connected to reality. Disruptions to the fact can take the form of elaborate delusions, which complicate our interpretive eye to know what is truly happening with our health.
In the end, anyway, you want to manage your mental health, do at least that much. Have a plan, and have another goal when the original road map to better health becomes unworkable. Ultimately, whether you have a chronic condition or an acute diagnosis, relapse is only to be feared when you aren’t doing what you need to do to work towards better health and healing.
Relapse is real. Relapse is awful. But it isn’t the end of the world.
Relapsing and experiencing the renewal of old symptoms can still remind you to get back on track with your recovery. Keep going! Don’t stop! When you stop taking care of yourself, be prepared for your worst fears not just to haunt you but become the grim reality you feared so vehemently instead of investing the same mental energy in health and healing.