the winter blog

It’s Not Always Sunny In Mental Health Recovery: 12 Hard Truths

Too many prefer gentle lies to hard truths.

Shane Parrish

Mental health recovery is kicking my ass. Let me level with you guys. I feel like I’m letting you down. I feel like I’m letting me down. I feel like I’m giving up.

For these last 6 months, I have had the time and the spoons to be a prolific writer. I was publishing 3-4 times a week. I was keeping up with social media and gaining a following for The Winter Of My Discontent. I was spreading the word and helping people. I was flying high, honestly.

I knew that when I returned to work, I would need to cut back on the time I spent on the blog. I figured at least one post a week, 2 if I could find the time. But I’m slowing down a lot. The ideas aren’t coming as freely and the inspiration strikes quick and hot and if I can’t harness it when it hits, it’s gone.

Anyway, I digress. Slowing down to 1-2 times a week, not having such a constant presence on social media, and missing Mental Health Month due to my own struggles with mental health…it all makes me feel like I’m letting you down. I know I can get in a groove with work and things will start to settle down and I’ll start to settle in. I also know that you lot are kind, compassionate, and supportive and will be understanding of my sudden absence.

It got me to thinking about some of the pitfalls of mental health recovery, besides the obvious. I, like many others, waited for that moment that feels like sunshine on your face after a long, hard winter. That blissful moment of, “Oh! I’m in recovery.” It doesn’t happen. You’ll be waiting forever. Today, I want to give you a glimpse into some of the reasons why I’ve been so absent for the last few weeks.

Mental health recovery can be mundane.

girl, tired, student

I once told Dr. Webb, after we found the right medications to treat my depression and anxiety, that I had been feeling a sort of low-level apathy. I was having a really hard time accentuating what I was feeling, except that it felt vaguely apathetic. Her answer, “Have you thought about the fact that you are finally on the right medications so your brain is working how it should and you’re just feeling “normal” for the first time in a long time?” She was right.

After years of feeling every, single emotion turned up on high volume, I am now starting to understand that normal levels of emotion are a sort of mundane way to live. I need routine in my life and I’m getting that again now that I’m back at work. But routine starts to feel like everyday sameness and sameness starts to feel like apathy. It can all be very boring.

Some things don’t go into remission.

This was disappointing for me to find. The fact is, you can’t go in remission for something like ADHD. It’s always there and, a lot of the time, it’s acting against you. You can have excellent coping mechanisms and have your condition well under control, but you are still going to have to work harder than everyone else. You’re still having to deploy methods for tasks that neurotypical people don’t give a second thought too.

It’s always there. I was reminded of this upon my return to work when, by my 3rd day back, I found myself struggling to stay focused on work. I have managed it each day since, but my distractibility is really high. My inability to switch quickly from one task to the next is still apparent. I knew these problems would still be there, but a part of me wanted to believe that recovery meant I’d just be able to go in and easily do the things I’ve always struggled with. Not so, my friends. Not so.

Recovery/treatment can be frustrating and disheartening.

Here’s the thing. Mental health recovery is a long row to hoe. It is non-linear. There are no points on the map and path certainly doesn’t follow a straight line. It’s full of twists and turns, hills and valleys. There are parts of it that will lead to great frustration. Medication, finding a therapist that fits, and finding compassionate care are all difficult. It can sometimes feel like you aren’t being heard or cared for properly.

caricature, imagination, hand drawing
mental health recovery

For me one of the main frustrations has always been medication. I’ve been trying to find the right ADHD medication since October 2020 and it’s still not right. My doctor is calling in a new one this week to try because all my other attempts have been failures. I don’t know why these medications don’t seem to work for me, but it’s disheartening. It makes me want to give up the search. It makes me feel like it will never be an easier.

Having ADHD will always be hard.

As I said before, ADHD never goes into remission. It will always be hard work. We will always have to work harder than the next guy. Even people who have coping-skilled themselves into perfectionists are still working harder and pushing themselves further than others. When I found out I had ADHD, this thought haunted me for about a week, “It will never be any easier. This is a life sentence.” It’s literally who I am.

ADHD comes with peaks and valleys, too. When things are good and you aren’t struggling to, say, take a shower every day, it’s easy to forget the parts where you struggled. But circumstances will always bring it back around. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but having ADHD will always be hard.

Sometimes you aren’t going to be able to [insert creative endeavor here].

paint pallet, paint, art tools

From time to time, I can’t write. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to promote. The same sentiment stands for all of my hobbies. Sometimes I just don’t have the creative energy to do them. Most days, I give myself the bare minimum for self-care, if that. Of course, I struggle with creating content that people want to read on a regular schedule. Throw a day job into the mix…it’s not pretty.

Here is where I struggle. I know, logically, that’s it’s okay if I don’t post 3-4 times a week. I know that my readers will understand that I can’t post as much. I part of me is scared that I’ll lose it all and it will be because of a job that I’m not passionate about. It’s a silly fear, but nonetheless. I just have to learn to be okay with the fact that it’s okay to not be creating something all of the time.

The pain will always be there, to a point.

No matter how much work you do, no matter how much trauma you overcome, no matter how many therapy hours you clock; mental illness will still invoke mental anguish, from time to time. Even on medication and going to therapy 2-3 times a week for 6 months, I still have days where the pain feels like too much; the doubt, the fear, and the uncertainty feel like they’ll crush you.

I also struggle with the pain of what I’ve already endured. Be sure, I am proud of myself and when I look back at my life, I feel strong. That said, I’ve been through some dark and trying times and the pain of those times stays with me; it haunts me, breaks my heart. The thought of what could have been if I had a brain that was just a little more normal. If I knew then what I know now, right?

Sometimes mental illness makes you really negative.

This is one of the reasons that I hate toxic positivity so much. Sometimes, you can’t help it. Your brain doesn’t give you a choice. It only wants to focus on the negative; shining a spotlight on all the things that are wrong with you, with your life. You don’t mean to be a buzzkill. You often know that you’re doing it, but you can’t help it. Skepticism is permeating.

It’s hard for me. Having been in situations where someone else’s constant negativity has brought my own mood down, I know that it can be very difficult to absorb it. That said, I feel empathy for people who find themselves trapped in negativity with no discernable way out because I’ve been there too. The fact is, negativity and feeling jaded are sometimes par for the course for the well-seasoned.

680b0 thumbs down bad dislike stockpack

Knowing when and how to set boundaries is hard.

I’m still working on this. I’ve found that setting boundaries is getting easier for me, but enforcing them is the part that I’m getting stuck on now. Either way, boundaries are tough. If you’re anything like me, I often feel guilty when I have to set or enforce them and often struggle with any consequences for stomping all over them right in front of me.

They are so important, so I’m going to keep working at it, but don’t beat yourself up if you struggle too. Just keep pushing; keeping laying down the line and not letting anyone cross. It’s what is best for all of us. Easier said than done, I know. Boundaries aren’t worth much if you don’t enforce them and enforcing them is hard, especially for people who live with trauma.

Old habits are hard to break…

…and new ones are even harder to form. Part of mental health recovery, especially so late in life, is unlearning the unhealthy coping mechanisms that you’ve put into place to survive and replacing them with new, healthier strategies. Easy enough, right? Not so much. It’s hard to let go of the things that have protected us in the past, even if they aren’t good for us.

For anyone who has ever bitten their nails or smoked cigarettes can attest, habits are hard to let go of. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Replacing them with new habits takes time and even more hard work. You have to actually remember to ritualize your new habit for long enough that it becomes second nature in your life. Neither of these is an easy feat and it takes time and energy that you just don’t have.

Sometimes you don’t feel like going to therapy.

Therapy is important, but sometimes you just don’t feel like it. Again, it takes time and emotional energy that you just don’t have. It’s hard, working through your shit; taking ownership of your pain and your trauma. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You don’t have the energy to get ready, drive to the appointment, and spill your guts out for an hour. Often, you don’t really have anything to say.

I’ve recently put the breaks on my therapy sessions. I was going 2-3 times a week for 6 full months and, honestly, I got burned out. It was in the middle of EMDR sessions and I worry that my break will be set back in treatment, but I’ll cross that road when I come to it. In the meantime, I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m back to working full-time now and it has been a load off to not have to worry about appointments and the recovery from those visits.

holzfigur, stones, life struggle

Mental health recovery is a full-time job and it is exhausting.

Recovering from your own brain is an all-hands-on-deck type of situation. You have to be diligent and steadfast. You have to be prepared for the bumps in the road and there will be many. Even in recovery, there will still be battles to fought; intrusive thoughts, deep and abiding sadness, apathy, all of my ADHD symptoms…they make regular appearances in my life.

I’m still working on building new coping skills and I have some parts of my life that I really need to work on. My executive functioning skills have been non-existent for well over a year now. I rarely cook or clean and even things as trivial as taking a shower seem impossible most days. Also, I’m still learning how to outsmart this ADHD brain. My day job is less than stimulating and I don’t know how to make my brain work without being in crisis mode, but I’m working on it.

Being mentally ill will always suck.

No matter how well my medications work, no matter how well the therapy helps me, no matter what strategies and techniques I implement in my life…it’s always going to be harder. I’m always going to have to work harder, push harder, and do more. I’m always going to have to fight my own worst instincts and fight to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Even when I’m feeling well, there’s always that anxiety of, “When is going to happen again?” You always wonder when the other shoe will drop. It feels as though you can never really get away from it, even in your best times.

Being disordered is hard. We live in a world that makes it even harder. All we can really do is fight the good fight, one day at a time. Reach out to our support groups when we need them and always stay the course, no matter how bad it gets. Knowing that this will always be life for us can be overwhelming; no end to the constant barrage of your own brain turning on you, but we’ve got this if we can just hang on.

The truth is, my friends, is that recovering from any mental disorder is no piece of cake. It’s a long and arduous journey; one that never really ends until we do. But we fight the fight because it’s worth it. Life is worth it. The people that we love are worth it. The things that we love to do are worth doing. Mainly because we are worth it.

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Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight! 💜💜

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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  1. It’s an heartwarming post Amber! Though I’m not a mental health survivor but your words can really make me relate to all those hard truths which are practically uncertain in life! But I completely agree with each and every pointers you’ve listed down here, must say they are quite impactful to individuals life! But at the end as you say, still people are fighting and it’s totally worth it because it’s not something to do for others but for ourselves and I believe each one of us deserves to be well, be it through any hard fight at the end each effort behind that fight is worth it! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

    1. Thank you, Biren. It’s a hard row to hoe, but I keep fighting the good fight!

  2. I love this post, and thank you for sharing your experiences through these last few weeks. Like you said, mental health recovery isn’t always pretty – often it can seem plain or mundane on the outside when we’re working hard on the inside. But I relate greatly to these truths you’ve shared, and I’m wishing you luck as you return back to a routine. Thank you for these reminders and for sharing what you’ve learned!

    1. Hi Nathan! Thank you! It does get tough some days, but we just have to keep fighting on. 💜💜

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