I think that in the mental health community, we are kind of afraid of relapse and all that it entails. It’s definitely not a pleasant thing to discuss, but it is necessary to address it, in all its forms. Just doing a quick search on Google, pretty much every article is on how to prevent relapse- only one was on how to cope with relapse. While ideally you should work to prevent a relapse, let’s be real- it’s very likely that it will happen to you at some point. So, I’m going to take a different stance on this: embrace it. Embrace your relapse in all its glory. Embrace all the ugly. Embrace the mess. Because when you embrace it, it puts it in a different light: instead of shining a beacon of negativity on it, you are casting a shining ray of hope and strength.
Relapse can come in many forms, and it doesn’t always mean that you hit rock bottom. Think of relapse as a spectrum, and that you can fall at any one point at any one time during your recovery. Just by changing your way of thinking of what relapse looks like, you are changing the way you approach it when it happens to you. And hey, it happens to the best of us. I know that for me personally it is hard to think like this when I am in the midst of a relapse, because my thinking is clouded: negative and hopeless. It takes real work to remember that this relapse isn’t the worst you’ve ever been. It takes real work to recognize that you are in a relapse.
While it might be hard for you to recognize that you are indeed in a relapse, it is key that you recognize and acknowledge the fact that you are. Being honest with yourself in times like this is so important for your recovery. I struggle with this. Sometimes weeks go by without me realizing that I am in a relapse, and by that point it is so much worse than it would have been had I just been honest with myself from the beginning. I’m really bad about lying to myself and others when I’m struggling, because I don’t want to acknowledge the fact that I am not doing so good. Because if I do that, I feel like I have somehow failed myself and others. But that thinking is so negative! And it’s the last thing you need when you are relapsing!
I can only speak for myself, and for my experiences. I am actively trying to change my view on relapse, to prevent myself from getting lost in the depths of it. Because, guys, I can get really bad- I lose my grip on reality, and then all hope is lost. My last full blown relapse landed me in the psych hospital for two weeks, and out of work for an entire month. Granted, I did realize at that point that I needed to get some help to get myself back together, so I went willingly, but that doesn’t change the severity of it at the time. It took removing myself from my life completely to recover from the relapse I was in. I think that it’s the fear of that happening over and over again that is continuously fueling my desire to lie about it if it does happen.
Since I’m writing this post and all, I am publicly admitting that I am in the early stages of a relapse. How can I tell? I am not taking care of myself. I don’t have the desire to shower, go to the gym, or do anything productive. All I want to do is sleep, sleep, and sleep some more. And all of this was brought on by taking on too much at once. I want to learn how to play guitar. I want to crochet a million things. I want to work all the hours. I want to go to the gym. I want to make friends. I want to do this. I want to do that. And I am out of control. SO STOP! Just stop, take a minute or two to assess the situation, take a deep breath, and continue on. But don’t continue on doing what you are doing, working yourself further and further into a relapse. No, instead, work actively to get yourself out of relapsing, and back into recovery.
I have something very important to say: even if you are relapsing, you are still in recovery. Do I need to repeat that? All the things you have previously accomplished while in active recovery do not just disappear when you are faced with a relapse. No! They are right there, just waiting for you to grasp a hold of. All those coping skills you learned about in counseling? Use them! The support system you built around you? Rely on them! The safety plan that you constructed, to be used in a time just like this? Reference it, and take appropriate actions to get yourself back on track!
When I’m in a relapse, I forget about all these things. And, since I forget everything I have accomplished, I generally spiral out of control. Out of control and lost, I view everything through gray colored glasses. It’s so hard for myself to get myself out of that viewpoint, too. The key is, though, to keep reminding yourself of all that you have accomplished. Remind yourself of all the ways that you have grown since starting on your journey! Do you want to know what I did? I sat down one day and wrote a list of all the ways I have grown in the last year, and it is hanging above my desk, where I can see it every day.
So, when you are in a relapse, what can you do? Well, here is what I try to do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, I just keep trying at it again and again. It can be a tiresome process, and I sometimes lose sight of the goal: to keep myself from sinking into my mental illness, foregoing any process I made for the moment.
- I remind myself of my coping skills.
- I use my coping cards. They reference specific situations that generally happen on a pretty regular basis, and over solutions.
- I reference the power statements I came up with when I was in a better state of mind.
- I reach out to my support system- granted, it is not very large, but the few people I rely on are usually there when I need them.
- I try and get out. Sitting in the house, all alone? Not very helpful. So, I try and reach out to others, or I drive to the Gorge and sit outside, overlooking it. Or I go for a walk.
- I journal. I read. I do creative things, to try and express my emotions.
But really, you have got to find your own things that will work when you are relapsing. Whatever happens, though, you have to focus on positive things that will help you in your recovery, not set you further back in your relapse. I struggle with self harm. I started self harming when I was just 13. I’m 24 now, and still have thoughts of self harm on a pretty regular basis. It took me years to quit- and I haven’t had a serious run in with self harm in six years, but every now and then I still fall into the seductive trap of it.
Relapse isn’t fun. But, it’s a part of our reality when faced with mental illness. And given this, the only thing we can do is actively work to prevent it- and when it does happen? Be honest with yourself, be kind to yourself, and use positive coping mechanisms to help pull yourself out of that relapse.
You got this, friend. We all fight similar battles. There are people out there who understand. You are not alone- always remember that.