My family has more mental illness in it than you could shake a stick at. It was a virtual russian roulette game which one I would end up with. We are kind, good, strong people but my family tree has mental illness running through it's veins. There is poison in it's sap and it has leeched out onto to every branch on the way down. Would I be bipolar, depressed, have OCD, or addiction problems? Would I have suicidal tendencies like so many of my kin? So many have tried to end their own lives in my family that it seems like a family curse. My Great Uncle succumbed to that curse. It is not something that my family used to discuss except in hushed tones and with deep grief etched on their faces. It's was a thinly veiled secret and secrets keep you sick. It's a sad history full of amazing people who were tortured by their own minds, and I am no different. I am tortured by my own mind as well. It's a family legacy for us.
That being said, I do not feel as though I am hopeless or that I can't live a peaceful happy life. The only good thing about having so much mental illness in my family is that I know I am not alone, even if some of them won't talk about it. I also have learned to accept my condition and view it as not being doomed to suffer. I can be happy and productive, it just takes more work to be so than the average person. Thankfully another family trait is persistence, strength, stubbornness, and a wicked sense of humor.
My post today is about the power of words. I would like to discuss two words that I personally do not use when talking about my mental illness or the mental illness that runs through my family. No doubt some will disagree with me, but this is my opinion and I have a right to have one.
RECOVERY. I have heard many people say they are recovering from mental illness. They are very adamant about that word and I totally support them on that. It is a good word. It is a word that promotes hope and hope is an amazing thing. I can see that they are recovering and I think it is wonderful. However, I do not like that word nor do I like the implications of it. Or rather, what that word implies to me, personally. Now, before droves of my angry mentally ill brethren show up at my door with burning torches and sharpened pitchforks, hear me out. I don't like that word because to me, recovery means returning to some semblance of normalcy. I have never been normal nor will I ever be. It also implies to me that I some how have "gotten better" with my symptoms. I have not, I have just learned to manage them. It speaks to me of regaining something I have lost and that I am no longer suffering. I am suffering. I have gained self respect, self worth, and self esteem but I did not regain them, I never had them to before my mental illness came into my life. I gained them with treatment. However, in no way do I believe that I will recover. I believe that I will mange. That I will fight kicking, clawing, and screaming. That I will overcome obstacles. I do not believe the word recovery applies to me as no amount of medication or therapy takes away any of my symptoms. They do help me to manage them. Another reason that I don't like the word recovery, or feel it applies to me, is that recovery implies that I have gotten to a higher place and that if I am not careful I could fall back into my mental illness issues. It does not apply to me because I have nowhere left to fall. I have never climbed above my OCD. It has always been with me and it is carried by me everywhere I go. If you look at the word recovery for addicts you will see that that that means they still feel the pull to use but have remained sober/clean. I not only feel the pull of mental illness but I am cloaked in it. I am clean and sober because I am not an addict but I have not ever been clean/sober from my mental illness. To imply that means that if I were to have a really bad episode that somehow I fell off the bandwagon. That some how I have failed myself. That I have relapsed which is impossible since I never stopped being mentally ill in the first place. It sets me up for failure and guilt if I can not remain the way I am now. I am not willing to be put in a place where I know I will fail because I may improve but I will never be truly recovered. I have always had it and I always will. No one in my family has ever recovered from mental illness, like me they have just learned how to manage it. We manage. We overcome. We strive to be happy and productive but we have never recovered. We are still all mentally ill. It is not a depressing or damning fact, it is simply the truth and we are accepting of that. I believe the word recovery is used to offer hope that one can improve, and we can improve. I believe that the word is used as a beacon of hope for not just the mentally ill but also to make normal people less scared of us. My truth is that I will never recover but I will manage and improve. I will improve on some things but I will never be free of my mental illness. It is important to me that I accept that fact. I prefer the word manage. I prefer it because for me it much more accurate of what I go through daily. I manage to get up, to talk to others, to advocate,to have meaningful relationships in my life, to not cry when I am hounded by intrusive images, to not be shamed because I am not normal. I manage, but I am not recovering. I am living the best way I can.
The other word I have heard thrown around is CURE. This word to me is damaging. It is a loaded word and I do not accept it. There is no cure for mental illness and to suggest otherwise is hurtful. There are treatments and therapies. There are ways to learn to live with mental illness. There is no magical pill, no pixie dust encrusted shot, no special dragon scale oil curing therapy that removes all traces of mental illness. That is the stuff sold by snake oil salesmen and con artists. One article I read the other day was asking why we do not use the word cure when we get better. Seemed pretty simple to figure out for me. The author was a psychologist which scared me a little bit. To say that we can be cured, at this point, when there is no actual cure makes those that are ignorant on the subject falsely believe that we don't want to be cured. It suggests that we want to remain sick. Let me be clear, no one would choose to live like this. It isn't a choice. It is not something we like to have or want to be. I was flabbergasted that this "doctor" would ask such a loaded question. To say that I am cured would be a lie. I am not cured. I have my mental illness in a place where I can have good days. I have my mental illness in a place where I am able to function. It is still there. The voice still talks to me. The images still play through my mind like a twisted horror movie. I still have OCD even after therapy and medications. I am not going to call myself something that is a lie to make others feel better about my dysfunction. Accept it or get out of the way because I am not going to play pretend to make others more comfortable around me. I have mental illness. If I can deal with it on a daily basis then so can you.
If you use the word recovery then I support you for your decision. I back you up and I stand up for you. I do ask that you not ask me to use that word. I do not believe it applies to me. Not that I am not hopeful because I am everyday. It's just that I choose to use a different word that I am more comfortable with. Same meaning just different vocabulary.
There is no cure for mental illness at this time. That doesn't mean that some point one won't be developed. But for now, it hasn't and I am not going to be part of a lie that will only hurt people like me. I don't care what reasoning is behind it. I am not cured but I am managing my life with mental illness. I am living the best way I can. I live for my children, for my husband, for my friends and family. I live for my uncle who could no longer live in the hell his mental illness had created for him. I live for myself because I am proof that it can be done. We can live. We can be happy. We can fight and struggle and still find footing on the ground. Words are so very important. They are what keeps us grounded. I choose my vocabulary very carefully. I want my words to uplift and help. So please forgive me if I do not use certain words in regards to mental illness. It is not that I do not care, it is that I care to much.