The Unedited Truth About Having A Relapse When You’re Recovered

I know that a relapse is hard, no matter the circumstances. I know that no one wants to take steps backward or feel the way they felt in their darkest times. But when you add the stress of relapse onto being a mental health advocate who constantly talks about how great recovery is, it becomes really, really hard.

It’s no secret that I like to share how far I’ve come in my battle with mental health and am probably a little too open about it. But I still have bipolar disorder. I still have a significant mental illness that will always have recurrent episodes. And sometimes being such an advocate makes that extremely hard to admit.

This means that when I struggle, my go-to coping skill is pretending I’m not. For those familiar with DBT practices, I’m well-known for abusing “opposite to emotion” by not validating, or even acknowledging, when I’m symptomatic. Because it’s hard. I know I’m a light in my community and a light to those around me who also struggle. I give lectures every day about how I’ve overcome the darkest parts of myself and found brightness in the world – and I mean what I say.

But some days, it’s hard. Because I still see the world as a beautiful place, but it’s also a place I don’t want to live in anymore. Except, when that happens, due to being this beacon of light, I don’t know how to communicate that with those around me. I struggle with reaching out to my support system, because I’m supposed to be the happy one now. I’m supposed to be the recovered one.

And I’m like that even in psych wards. In my near-yearly tune ups, I find myself going in, preaching about my insight and recovery tips with the other patients, while knowing I don’t want to be alive. Even so, I can’t stop myself from wanting to spread the word about how mental illnesses can get better – people can be functional after a psych ward. Life will not always be dreary.

Except, since I’m bipolar, some days will be dreary. Some days will always, always be dreary – it simply comes with the territory of having a severe mental illness. But it’s still really hard to admit that without feeling like I’m losing my identity as a mental health and recovery advocate. Rationally, I know my diagnosis will always be symptomatic at one point or another, but socially, I can’t bring myself to speak up about that.

In my mind, it feels like if I admit I’m struggling, I’m invalidating every sunny text I send out about how mental health can improve when someone puts in the self-work. It feels like I’m suddenly a fraud. And in those times, I really worry other people will see me as less credible when I speak out about recovery again. So, because of all that, when I do struggle, it feels like I lose my whole identity in the process.

Because nowadays, I don’t tweet about how depressing life is. I tweet about how far I’ve come. I don’t dwell on hard times with friends. I talk about how those hard times will soon be replaced with better days. I don’t focus on negativity, because my brain is no longer wired to be negative all the time.

But what about when life is depressing? What about when I don’t know if I can wait to see better days? What about when I’m lying on my bedroom floor in the middle of a panic attack, because I feel physically unable to do anything but sob? How do I admit I have times like that when I view myself as this guiding hope and inspiration to those around me?

I don’t. I don’t know how to admit it, so I don’t. It’s something I struggle with every time I hit a low point. Because I’m not the sick girl anymore… but then again, I’ll never be the fully recovered girl either. So, what do I do with that?

Honestly, I’m still not really sure. Maybe I’ll figure out a good balance one day, but for now, I’m simply unsure. I just know it’s something I need to work on, and that’s all I can do.

So, if you know the secret – if you know how to be an advocate while being able to admit that you’re having a hard time – please, let me know. That’s a lesson I haven’t quite grasped yet, but I really do want to learn. I just don’t know how.

Educator by day; Writer by night.

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