A Different Look at Mental Health Recovery

On using the ‘Recovery Model’ to question the status quo…

A woman on the beach watches the setting sun on the water.
A woman on the beach watches the setting sun on the water.
Photo courtesy of Eddie Ferris

‘In every head, there is a world’.

I take this old, Spanish refrain literally and to heart. When we get to meet different human beings, we’re opening our visions to encompass ever wider perspectives — we discover a new world and a new part of ourselves.

I am learning life lessons as a Recovery Support Specialist (also known as a Peer Support Specialist) including using my life experience as a vehicle of connection and facilitating wellness for the club members I serve. One of my favorite parts of my job is the continual education credits: getting paid to learn new skills! Two classes I’ve taken recently revolve around learning to be a more effective advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and mental health diagnoses.

Since I am an ever-curious creature, learning is the thing that gets me up in the morning. Increasing in complexity, I imagine a kaleidoscopic pattern — I imagine that we all have these patterns within — an intricate, mental blueprint.

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

The more we learn, expand our knowledge and empathize — the more complex this pattern inside becomes. When we add to our storehouse of knowledge, we grow in complexity as human beings. One of the experiences I take the most pleasure in, is increasing my access to different perspectives. Whether it’s getting to know the people in recovery that I serve and how they see the world or watching documentaries, educating myself, and traveling when I can.

We learn something new about the world and also about ourselves, by using some introspection and seeing how we can relate or not — sometimes the differences are the most fascinating.

My Story

I’ve always been interested in Psychology and Mental Health — I’ve been a psychology major and had my own mental health crisis in the middle of college career and after three years in school, I dropped out.

As a freshman, it started with a commonly prescribed ‘mood stabilizer’, called Lamictal. By my Junior year, I got sucked into a world of suicidality, cutting myself, popping pills, and the revolving cycle of being in and out of psychiatric units. Like many patients in the mental health system, I stayed on psych medication for years. One prescription would be added to another- with the likes of Abilify, Buspar, Celexa, Seroquel, and a multitude of others.

At one point, I was on a medication cocktail that consisted of 8 different prescriptions — at 24 years old.

Through all the groups, treatments, and drugs, something was still missing. It was as if what I really needed was elsewhere. This “something” would have to be more substantial than just going to the doctor and seeing a therapist.

During my tumultuous twenties, it was hard to keep a job and I was 30 by the time I got my own apartment. My relationships with family suffered, I got involved with a man I met at an outpatient program who aspired to be a cult leader. Meanwhile, I struggled with a Xanax addiction.

Oh the irony — this doctor that prescribed me Xanax had become little more than a drug peddler — I would ask for an increase and he would give it to me, no questions asked. He must have known I was getting addicted, there’s so much literature out there about the negative effects of Benzodiazepines. And while I know I must take responsibility for myself, I eventually did, there should have been more support. And the expert, on whom I relied, shouldn’t have enabled my addiction when my cry for help was reverberating and clear.

It took a Mindfulness-based form of therapy, a near-completed suicide attempt, and newfound meaning to save me.

My recovery grew from a place that doctors and pills could not help — I needed to reframe my experiences and start from a place of making meaning. I could see myself as some kind of failure…

Or…

As simply undergoing a natural process that modern Western society still struggles to conceptualize.

The Recovery Model

In 2019, we still rely on a disease model of Mental health treatment (often called the biomedical model) — and while it does help some people, others fall between the cracks of a problematic system. A system where natural, human differences are still misunderstood and doctors are regularly courted by pharmaceutical reps. And yet, even so, there’s hope. There’s an emerging wave of people who are fighting to rectify these concerns and that’s where the Recovery model comes in.

The Recovery Model expands our view of what mental health recovery actually is and is built on one essential principle: that we will recover in our own respective ways — that we, the individuals, are in the driver’s seat of our own healthcare, and that we can seek mental health recovery outside of the traditional psychiatric systems, if need be. It’s a model that helps champion individuals’ strengths, rather than overemphasizing their deficits.

This model has came from decades of activism on the part of the ex-patient-consumer-survivor movement. While psychiatry has come a long way from its more oppressive past, it still has some ways to go.

Coercive treatments are still a reality for too many people. Also, I wish to emphasize that this is not a put-down for people who benefit from traditional biomedical methods. We need what we need. For example, if your approach to your mental health is medication-oriented and you feel this benefits your recovery, you should do what works for you.

The same doctor who got me hooked on Xanax, told an 18-year-old me that I would have to be on medication for the rest of my life. He was wrong. I was eventually able to let go of that medication cocktail, and my health began to fare better.

In my Recovery journey, meeting others who’ve been given similar prognoses (or worse — some people have been told they’d have to be institutionalized for the rest of their lives) and studying the history of the ex-patient-consumer-survivor movement, I’ve learned that I am not the only one they were wrong about.

You’re in Charge

There’s evidence that while many people benefit with short-term medication treatment, long-term treatment has been correlated with higher instances of disability. Medication is overemphasized when Mental Wellness encompasses so much more than tinkering with brain chemistry — it’s about improving quality of life. As a culture, we need to put more resources into quality-of-life supports such as better community access, housing, alternative methods of healing and meaningful employment.

Not everyone survives a mental health crisis. Suicide rates have become a wider, societal epidemic.

The good news is that Mental Health awareness has never been bigger than it is now! And with all of our good intention, it’s vital to remember that there are still gaping holes in our mental health system that need to be mended. So many marginalized voices that must be heard and it doesn’t stop with doctor’s prescriptions and weekly therapy sessions, it starts with an inventory of how we live our lives.

While we do want to treat people with mental health struggles, we need to remember that not everyone will fit into neat, diagnostic box. It’s easy to forget there’s a myriad of ways to experience our humanity. And for those of who have some experience with Neurodiversity, not only do we need support but also validation from those who claim to care for our well-being.

We are entitled to go through our lives in our own unique ways — and we get the right to choose what our own Recovery will look like!

As I just got my certification in Compassionate Activism, I know that my voice is brimming to the surface, raging inside to be heard. I can’t sit still anymore. I’ve waited so long to blog this, afraid of what people may say or how they may judge my work.

I read the work of other people here on Medium and I’m inspired — ignited.

I’m passionate about my work as a Recovery Specialist, because I know what I do is so much bigger than me.

I’m a Peer Support Counselor/ Mental Health Content Writer

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