Reprinted from the "Blips and Dips in the Recovery Journey" issue of Visions Journal, 2019, 15 (2), p. 4
Warning: Metaphors ahead. Metaphors work because recovery is abstract and very individual. It’s hard to talk about setbacks, hiccups, dips, blips, ups, downs, ins, outs, relapses, crashes and the myriad other terms we use to talk about the shape that moving forward takes. Because that’s what recovery is: moving forward. It may feel like falling forward sometimes, but it’s still forward. If recovery isn’t your preferred term, what’s clear is that whatever your words, we all know the process is not a straight line. My art teacher in high school forbade rulers in her class. “There are no perfectly straight lines in nature,” she would say. So, too, with recovery. And yet sometimes our service systems and our own inner critics act as if it is a straight uncomplicated line between ill health, intervention or treatment, and—poof!—health. It’s never that simple.
I have lived experience of mental illness and although I am well, I still live the journey. I know I can’t take my mental well-being for granted or it will tap me on the shoulder and remind me in unpleasant ways. There are two metaphors I find personally relevant to getting through a rough patch:
- When I feel close to a setback in my health, I sometimes refer to it as a wobble. Staying in balance all the time is hard. Sometimes I feel a bit off-kilter. It’s not a fall though (or yet), just a wobble. I usually brace myself for a fall (and that gets me into trouble sometimes if I brace too much). But mostly I need support. That’s a big theme in this issue: the capacity to ask for and receive help. And, frankly, to be kinder to ourselves when we do.
- I bike to work everyday. I love going fast downhill, and I dislike most uphills. Fighting gravity is like fighting the inertia or the unhealthy thoughts of mental illness. It takes work, sweat, gearing down. But the energy-save, memory and momentum of an easy downhill helps get me started on the next uphill. Plus, the uphill will transform into a downhill when I turn around to go home (read: how I approach things matters).
As always, I’d love to hear your reactions to this edition. Write to us anytime.
PS. If the terrain metaphor hits home, I would recommend reading the brief poem “Autobiography in five short chapters” by Portia Nelson.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division