We could all, mental health problems or not, be seen to be treading on a metaphorical tightrope, separating stability from instability, a positive mindset from a negative. However, you could argue, that some people tread on stronger ropes than others, that something that might make one person loose their balance completely, will merely affect another. And then there’s the question of those who have fallen: how do they learn to regain their balance and stability?
It takes time, that’s for sure. Contrary to the belief that you “never forget to ride a bike”, even routines you have previously mastered are at first challenging when you have not participated in them for some time. It’s simply human nature; your brain needs to be allowed time to readjust and to regain its bearings. That is why I believe recovery from mental illness can be such a complicated process : it is literally like trying to remember something that you are convinced you have forgotten how to do. And of course, that ‘something’ is living a functional and fulfilling life.
Obviously, this is even harder to achieve if you’ve never experienced living functionally before. Although it is a rarity for an individual to have never had a period of functionality in their life, it is of course possible, and for those individuals, the journey is bound to be more challenging. Similarly, for many people wishing to enter recovery, a stable and balanced life seems like a lifetime ago, and this too makes the process difficult. Unlike the notorious bicycle theory, living functionally is not something we can pick up again quickly five, ten, twenty years down the line. It takes patience and commitment. It is often infuriatingly difficult to regain the knack of, and you find yourself tempted to give up on numerous occasions.
After how ever long it takes for us to regain our balance (it could take weeks, it could take years), we are faced with another question: Will the tightropes of those who have a history of mental illness be permanently compromised? I suppose you could look at it from either way. Like cancer, or an abscess infection, mental health problems generally become more susceptible to those who have experienced them before (though of course, not always.) This, metaphorically speaking, can be seen to make the tightrope you walk on less stable, increasing the chance of you loosing your balance again. However, you could also argue that, due to previous falls, your body (or in the case of this theory, the mind), has an increased resistance for emotional distress, making you more equipped to deal with situations that could potentially trigger a relapse.
A lot of people are unaware of how fragile our minds can be, and this is, in some ways, fortunate. Because, once you are no longer ignorant to the tightrope below, it becomes harder and harder to maintain your balance. It’s sort of like when you think about blinking; a natural bodily function becomes a fixation, and suddenly, you find yourself unable to blink thoughtlessly anymore. Every blink is planned, every interval in between them tense and frustrating. You start to worry that you will never be able to resume the natural rhythm you once had…but then you are brought back to reality, and soon something else steals your attention.
Of course the sense of knowing will always be there, but it will not always be at the forefront, in fact, sometimes in may be buried so deep in your mind that you are barley aware of its presence at all. With time, your awareness will fade, and eventually, you will experience periods where you walk the tightrope without thinking. It may take you weeks to experience this, it may take you years, but eventually, it is inevitable. Happiness doesn’t come into it. You can still experience mental stability without feeling content; though of course, it’d be wonderful if it came as a part of the deal. But it isn’t. Because, in truth, I have learnt that recovery is not about feeling content with your life all the time; it is about being able to deal with the negative feelings you have and making the steps needed to resolve them. It is about gaining perspective. It is about having patience with yourself. It is about holding on when you get knocked from your tightrope, and, when the storm has passed, pulling yourself back on to it to start the process again.
It isn’t easy. But is anything worth fighting for?