Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Inspires Recovery?

This post is a part of the Recovery 101 blog series. The series will explore ideas, philosophies, language, tools and questions about mental health recovery. Submit any ideas for topics in the comments section of any tagged post.

Stories of success in mental health recovery often include a moment of inspiration.  An action by a friend or family member, a life event, a misfortune or a random bit of information learned may act as a catalyst to change in an individual's life.  The stories I have heard often describe a change in the individual's thinking which promotes a drive or motivation to recover.  They reframe their thinking.  They gain hope or a positive outlook.  They create a goal for themselves. 

As workers or support figures we are often searching to find this source of inspiration for our clients or friends.  Doubtless mental illness suffers are seeking it for themselves too.

Last week saw Bell Let's Talk day get lots of attention.  I decided not to write about it at the time due to it being a corporate sponsored event, and I don't have much to say about Bell.  The next day however one of my clients talked about watching a TV interview with Let's Talk spokesperson Clara Hughes along with other famous sports figures talking about their experiences with mental illness (depression and PTSD were covered as far as I remember) and how they recovered.  This client himself suffers with depression.  He told me that watching the show made him feel even worse.  He said they each talked about how their spouse or partner helped them get through - he does not have a spouse, and when he did she was more cause for pain than support.  He said they talked about how despite their various successes (Olympic medals, major trophies and awards) they still suffered.  His take?  If he didn't even have these type of awards, how much worse off does that make him?

Not the intended effect of the program I'm sure.  What was meant to inspire in this case, really didn't help. 

On the other hand I have taken clients to hear recovery stories shared by those in their community and they have reported feeling hopeful in their own lives as a result.  One woman I worked with who has bipolar disorder described watching coverage of Charlie Sheen go off the rails as inspiration for her to get better because she "didn't want to end up like that guy".  There are stories of people going to their doctor, support worker, family member and hearing the same message every day until finally "click!" something registered that was their moment of inspiration.

The moment of inspiration does not result in life getting fixed over night.  Things may not look any different for a while.  But down the road, further along the recovery journey it's the moment that someone looks back on and says "that's when everything changed for me.  That's when I knew I could get better." 

It's the moment that makes all the difference.  Because we can be surrounded by the most well-meaning people in the world, all the praise and validation one could ask for.  But if we are suffering inside, true change will not come until we are open to it.  And the key to open the door may come in all kinds of strange and unpredictable forms.

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