Doing the stuff we need to do to get better is tough enough.
Change often asks us to do things that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar, unnatural. Which, of course, makes sense: if the stuff we needed to do was comfortable, familiar, and natural, then we’d be doing it already.
Making positive change often takes us out of our comfort zone. It asks us to acknowledge our vulnerability, acknowledge that we don’t know it all, acknowledge that we didn’t come “equipped from the factory” with everything we need to know and do in order to live well.
All of which can be hard.
But, most of which is quite doable, provided we access the right supports and— not infrequently— swallow our pride and our preconceived notions a little in order to do the stuff.
As it turns out, however, there’s part of getting better that might even be harder than making changes in the first place: continuing to do the stuff, even after we’ve experienced relief or made some progress.
There is this temptation, once we’ve turned a corner, to quit doing the stuff that got us to that point of progress.
We’re suddenly not so depressed that we can’t see straight. Or we’re suddenly thinking clearly, without the influence of psychosis or paranoia. Or our anxiety has lessened such that we can be outside our house without freaking out at passing cars or ambient noises.
All of which makes us feel good.
And sometimes when we feel good, we sort of forget what it’s like to feel bad.
And when feeling bad isn’t this huge, overwhelming fear or reality, anymore, we tend to look at the tools that got us to that point— medication, therapy skills, therapy tools, external support— slightly differently.
Whereas those tools might have been lifesavers a minute ago, sometimes they now look kind of like a burden.
For example, if we’re suddenly no longer afraid of being crushed by our depression or burning ourselves out with mania, we’re tempted to look at our medication regimen in a new light. We find ourselves asking, are mediations REALLY something we need to function? Now that we’re feeling better, wouldn’t it be preferable to see if we can function med-free?
Or, if we’ve used internal communication and internal leadership skills to make peace between previously warring “parts” of ourselves, sometimes we’re then tempted to look back at those very skills and think, hm, now that I’m not at war with myself anymore, is it REALLY necessary to put all this time and effort into talking to myself? Wouldn’t it be better to try to function like “normal” people do, not having to use these specialized skills?
The temptation, once we’re feeling better, is to forget how very much we really DO need— not “needed,” NEED— those skills in order to function.
As a rule of thumb: if a tool or skill got you better…it’s probably necessary to continue using that tool or skill to STAY better.
Understand, that’s not necessarily to say that you’ll need to use EVERY skill or tool you’ve EVER used in your recovery indefinitely, or that you’ll continue to use those skills and tools in exactly the same way over time.
The truth is, your needs are going to be different at different times in your recovery, so you’ll probably need to adapt the skills and tools you use to your evolving symptom picture.
But I’ve seen lots and lots (and LOTS) of people unnecessarily backslide in their recovery because, after getting to a certain level, they’ve gotten it in their heads that they’re going to “try” to function without the tools and skills that got them there.
At the very least: if you think you want to change how you’re managing your symptoms, it’s highly, highly advisable to sit down with EVERYONE in your support system— including your mental health providers, your primary supports, and others who might be impacted by your decisions regarding what tools and skills to keep using or stop using— and get their feedback about what you’re thinking of doing.
I know, I know. Nobody likes to think they have to use the “crutch” of medication or therapy tools forever.
I wouldn’t, either…if I thought of them as a “crutch.”
The thing is…usually tools and skills aren’t really a “crutch.”
Usually they are simply the tools and skills people NEED for successful, pleasurable, productive living.
Most tools and skills you’ll run across in your recovery from trauma or mental illness— including medication!— are simply extensions of the tools and skills any well-adjusted person learns and uses in their lifetime in order to manage life.
If you want to stay better, please, please, PLEASE: keep using the skills and tools that GOT you better.
Don’t just stop.
Skills and tools that work have a tendency to KEEP working— unless they’re suddenly dropped.