By Sarah Merritt Ryan
Recovery from psychosis typically requires medicinal and therapeutic intervention: medication to target cognitive recovery and therapy to help with emotional recovery. I believe that true emotional recovery is a gradual process and a personal journey that takes time and work beyond a written treatment plan.
Your whole world — and your understanding of it — can be turned upside down by a psychotic break when a “different” reality takes over. Afterwards, you might constantly question your current reality, remembering that a false reality forced you into a hospitalization and medication regimen. Maybe you recall how you said and did things that, normally, you would never do — so you doubt yourself and worry that other people doubt you, too.
Ultimately, psychosis can leave you feeling like your mind has betrayed you or been hijacked. You may feel at the mercy of your brain and chemical processes that medicine can help but not always completely fix. Amid all this confusion and doubt, it is understandable that you might worry if you can depend on your mind to function regularly ever again. You may even blame yourself, as it is nearly impossible for us to separate our minds from our authentic selves.
So, how do I define “emotional recovery” as someone living with serious mental illness (SMI)? Emotional recovery means accepting who you are after your episode, learning to trust yourself, believing in yourself again and feeling happy just being yourself.
During my own recovery, one of the biggest challenges was how I constantly questioned, scrutinized and analyzed everything I said and did around other people — to the point where I could not enjoy myself around others. I was so scared of saying anything “off” or “unusual,” revealing to people that something was “wrong” with me or that I was still struggling with my mental illness symptoms. This fear was legitimate; my illness did not go away overnight — it took years of consistent medication use and counseling before I was completely out of the woods. So, I lived in fear of being misunderstood.
I’m in a better place now where I feel more confident, but that progress required a big step: accepting that I may never be exactly “the same person” that I was before psychosis. I am beginning to believe my new normal is right for me for this time and place in my life. I have come to believe that part of emotional recovery is realizing that adapting to a new normal makes you a survivor — and you should feel proud of that. It’s ok if you are not the same person you were before psychosis. Maybe you were always intended to become the person you are now.
Trusting yourself is key to your quality of life — but it can be hard to trust yourself when your mind has failed you. Your mind controls everything you say, do and think. It controls your direction, your safety and how you present yourself to other people. Unsurprisingly, then, losing control of these processes and behaviors can create a sense of distrust. This can easily lower self-esteem, compounding any existing mental health issues.
To develop authentic trust in myself, I had to be patient and wait for positive experiences to build upon each other to strengthen my confidence. One successful situation, like navigating conversations in a group of people, gave me more motivation and confidence to take on another. Eventually, I felt more comfortable being myself, and I began to relax. When a situation did not work out well, I had to give myself grace and trust that the next opportunity would be different because I was improving. I had to believe in my ability to return to the life I once knew.
Trusting and believing in yourself go hand in hand, but believing in yourself takes the process a step further to finding empowerment. Your ability to believe in yourself and choose life, with all things considered, is a choice that can’t be taken away from you. Believing in yourself gives you strength and enables you to do what it takes to recover.
To recover, I had to believe that I have value as a person, and that I matter, even if I have a stigmatized diagnosis. I had to realize that even though I had experienced something that most people are afraid of and don’t understand, my life could still be redeemed, and I could have a future. Sometimes, I struggled to convince myself that I could have a future, but I decided that, deep down, it was better to try and fail than to not try at all. You have to believe in yourself to persist against the odds and possess a relentless hope that you will succeed.
It is so easy to feel like a human anomaly when going through a psychotic break (or recovering from one). It can be tempting to look around at everyone around you and tell yourself that they are “normal” and you are not. It can be so easy to ask, “why me?” and “why am I being singled out like this in a way that is so bizarre?” You may feel like your life isn’t good enough or you might even wish to have a life other than your own — one that feels less “flawed” or ridden with social stigma.
I felt all these things for so long. For the first time, though, I can say with confidence that it is good and right to be me. My life is not a mistake — and good things have come out of my life that outweigh the bad. I can never truly make sense of what happened to me, but I have finally let go, because I have too many other great things to hold onto that are pulling me forward.
Emotional recovery from psychosis is so vital, yet not always emphasized. Trusting and believing in yourself again is one in the same with this healing process. It is an inward journey guided by patience with and love for yourself.
Sarah Ryan is a writer covering mental illness topics like stigma, recovery and hope. She is a survivor of schizophrenia, and she is now a wife, mother and proud owner of two pitbull rescues. She is also an ongoing NAMI Wake County blog contributor and NAMI Connection support group facilitator in North Carolina.
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