Recovery from mental illness isn’t about staying within your comfort zone

Regarding mental health recovery, I just saw someone on facebook advise one of my friends to “take baby steps”- totally agree with this, but then she said “go at a pace you’re comfortable with” – this, in my humble opinion, is dangerous ground… let me explain.
Recovery from mental illness is going to be painful, it’s like physio, it ain’t gonna work if it doesn’t hurt! No pain, no gain and all that jazz!
The one barrier to recovery, I’ve seen over and over again is being terrified of change and needing things to stay the same.
There’s the old adage – no-one likes change and it’s true.
Yes, being mental ill is horrendous, no-one actually wants to be ill but, wanting to get better and wanting change are two very different things – I don’t think anyone would be ill if getting better was easy, straight forward and didn’t involve making massive painful changes to the way we think, feel and behave.
Unfortunately, the longer someone has been ill, the more comfortable the illness is, which makes change even harder. BUT there’s also the opportunity to use the feelings of frustration to motivate the change.
When recovering from anorexia, comfort, for me included, feeling hungry, saying “no” to food and making decisions based on consuming few calories and burning many. If I’d been told to “go at my pace”, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere at all. I’m not saying I wanted to stay ill but changing even the tinniest thing caused distress I couldn’t manage.
As odd as it sounds, depression can also be comfortable. I had my routines, I had people care for me, my thinking patterns were familiar, I believed the running commentary in my head… I was useless and trying was pointless – it was easier to stay in these patterns.
How could someone not want to break free?! Of course, I wanted to break free but I also didn’t want anything to change.
There’s a fear of failure, and let’s be honest, taking huge leaps increases the chance of failure, then confidence in one’s ability is knocked! So, it’s essential to take baby steps but I always found the tinniest step was uncomfortable.
Once I’d decided I was going to tackle recovery and make it work, I had the right people around me, people who had faith in me, they presented me with challenges they believed I could achieve; every step was difficult, I had to fight my daemons and manage extraordinary levels of anxiety, but if I’d not gone through that, I’d still be at square 1 (or worse).
With all mental illnesses it’s important to make the changes stick, so, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a day off! If you take your foot off the gas, chances are, steps backwards will occur.
Deciding to take a day off (as enticing as it is!) is dangerous territory!
So, baby steps – yes, even half baby steps, but as soon as you think it’s ok to stay comfortable, chances are, recovery will halt.
I DO NOT want anyone reading this to feel bad about taking steps back or not making progress, this is natural and (dear I say) ‘normal’! Recovery is exhausting – it’s seriously been the toughest thing I’ve even done, it’s so difficult to make the ‘right’ decisions days after day!
I’m simply pointing out, that in my experience (in myself and supporting people) recovery is about stepping out of your comfort zone, not staying within it.
I hope this will help supporters understand why linear recovery just isn’t possible!

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