You may have noticed my tweets recently asking about whether your local mental health NHS trust has a recovery strategy or recovery policy statement in place. I’m asking because I am part of a working group within my local trust considering this but it has got me thinking when I have had lots of retweets but not one person has been able to confidently reply and say that their trust has one in place.
So maybe I ought to start by asking myself what recovery is? I’m a third year student mental health nurse so often hear people talk about working with a ‘recovery model’ but I dispute this; recovery is not a model it is a process.
Recovery as a process, which belongs to the individual, has been hijacked somewhere along the line and translated into the academic ‘model’ which practitioners are so fond of professing. They don’t own recovery though, the service user always owns their recovery process.
I reflect upon my own journey and recognise that not having defined recovery early on in my illness hindered my progress. I was striving to achieve a return to the person I had been prior to a major episode of mental illness which had turned my life upside down. I was so convinced in this mythical ‘model’ which the professionals kept telling me about that I felt any less than this would let myself and those around me down.
I failed to pause and take stock. All life events, positive and negative, impact upon us as individuals and can alter our outlook, this could be a new relationship, a bereavement or a diagnosis of a physical illness. Once a major life event has occurred we can never make it unhappen, it will always change us even if that is in a small way. Maybe we become more cautious or maybe we decide to lose weight? What I’m trying to convey is that mental illness can and does change us. It changed me.
Mental illness altered my life in many ways, I lost my career to mental illness, I lost a year of my life, I lost some people I had previously classed as friends but equally I gained some wonderful evidence of how true other relationships are. My experience of mental illness is that it made me realise that life is short and we must grab every opportunity it offers us. It made me realise that self care is more important than salary and that getting well then staying well is always the most important thing.
It took many years for me to realise that it was impossible to return to being the person I used to be before mental illness as it had indeed changed me just like any other life event would have. My recovery began the day I realised I could live a full life whilst accepting my mental illness.
Once I realised that my mental health condition was here to stay and that I had to learn to manage it and live with it on a day to day basis it became easier. Self acceptance was the most important task for me. I hope once, as an organisation, my local NHS trust has a recovery strategy in place with recovery well defined it will enable more service users to work towards better mental health and make recovery a meaningful process rather than a corporate buzz word which I feel it sometimes is used as. A utopia where clinicians appreciate the recovery is different for every single person and where every service user is supported to defined their own recovery goals is on the horizon I feel sure.
I redefined my recovery as things changed, as my mental health stabilised. When I started this degree I was only five months out of hospital and still quite fragile although if I’d been challenged on this I would have likely vehemently denied that fact. I have taken care to ensure I have managed my mental health carefully, I realised that tiredness can have a huge impact on my mood sending me at the speed of light crashing into either pole not even sure of which one I’ve hit until it hurts. I ensure that I get enough sleep, if I have a busy fee days I know I need a ‘rest day’. I include things I enjoy like meeting friends for lunch as busy days as I still need to take days to myself to ensure my wellness. That sounds rather indulgent reading it back but it’s what keeps me well so I have to do it.
It’s taken years for me to realise the true benefits of good diet and exercise too, I’m not saying that a fruit smoothie and a swim twice each week will cure mental illness but those things are certainly a great prophylaxis treatment. I can feel when I have allowed myself not to eat well or to be a bit too comfy on the sofa, I try to listen to my body these days. The stakes are higher, I am a mammy, I owe it to my child to do everything possible to stay well.
I am near the end of my nursing degree now and the pressure is mounting so self care has become even more important. I lost my last career to my poor mental health and I am determined to stay well long enough to complete this qualification despite all the stress these last few months will bring. I will be a nurse soon and hopefully I will be a good nurse based on the training I have been fortunate enough to receive but also due to the lived experience of mental illness I have. I have passion in my belly to make a difference as a mental health nurse and if I can ensure that keeps burning by taking care of myself then I will make that difference.