Yesterday was a good day. I got out of bed within 10 minutes of waking up, I took a shower, I washed my hair. I put on makeup – and it looked damn good. I took my dogs on a long walk followed by the dog park, enjoying the sunshine and cool November breeze.
I took my dog to the groomer, and while he was there, I ran errands instead of anxiously sitting in my car. I went into Target without having a panic attack. I had a conversation with a stranger without feeling a knot in my stomach. I turned up the radio and sang (terribly) at the top of my lungs. I laughed and smiled – and it was genuine.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was finally starting to get better. I felt like everything was going to be okay.
But today...today was not a good day. Yesterday, I felt like I finally took a step forward in mental illness recovery. Today, I felt like I took three steps back. And it made me wonder, “Am I really getting better? What does ‘getting better’ even mean? And how will I know when I get there?”
These are the things we strive to get to when we’re battling mental illness, self-injury, addiction, an eating disorder or any chronic illness. We have this image in our minds of becoming a new person who laughs and smiles all the time, a person who knows how to perfectly handle the difficult things life throws our way. We have this idea that once we’re better, we’ll have it all figured out.
But there’s also the pressure from those around us to keep moving forward, to stay positive, to put one foot in front of the other – and we fear what happens if we take just one single step backward.
To get better – after all – is to keep moving forward. Recovery is about getting better, doing better, being better.
Recovery is messy. It’s complicated. It’s tough. We make mistakes, relapse, and sometimes, take more steps backward than forward. We stumble – even when we do everything we’re supposed to do.
The idea of “getting better” can be overwhelming, and sometimes, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get there.
But your recovery is not measured by how many times you make a mistake. It’s not measured by how many times you slip up or relapse. It’s not measured by how many times you let the negative thoughts in your brain win.
Recovery is how you move forward when you feel like you can’t. It’s how you wake up every day, push through the lies your brain tells you and pick up the pieces when everything falls apart. It’s how you reach out for help even when it’s the last thing you want to do. It’s how you do your best every single day – no matter what your best looks like that day. Sometimes, recovery looks like falling on your face but having the courage to get up.
It’s easy to let the weight of other people’s expectations get to you. But this isn’t their recovery journey; it’s yours.
In recovery, you’re allowed to stumble and fall. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to sit on your bathroom floor and cry. You’re allowed to have days when you don’t want to go to therapy or days when you’re tired of all the medication. You’re allowed to have days when you hate the world and you hate this process. You’re allowed to feel those things. Give yourself permission to feel those things.
Go to your therapist and be honest with them even when you’d rather stay home and isolate yourself. Take your medication even when you’re tired or ashamed. Text a friend when you’re hurting even when you feel like you’re being a burden. Listen to the advice of your mental health professionals, and do the things that are hard – especially when they’re hard.
You can have bad days or struggle with dark thoughts while also getting better. You can take a step backward and still be getting better. You can make mistakes or cry in bed while still getting better. You can have a bad day after a week of good days and still be getting better. You can forget to take your meds for a few days and still be getting better. You can relapse and still be getting better. You can take one step forward – even if you just took five steps back – and still be getting better
Recovery isn’t a race; it’s not limited to a set time frame. So let yourself fall, fail, take steps backward, get back up, cry, scream, give up, start over, hate the world, trust the process, keep going. Give yourself time to recover, and know that wherever you are now, you are recovering.
Because you are still here, still fighting, still being brave even when it’s scary, still showing the world that you won’t give up.
We're not doctors, therapists, counselors or mental health professionals. We didn't study psychology in school. But we are a group of people living with mental illness, navigating recovery and learning how to take care of ourselves in the process. And because we know what it's like to do it alone, we believe you shouldn't have to.
Fight for Better Tomorrows was built on the belief that tomorrow can be different. We're here to share our stories and help you navigate recovery so you can fight for better tomorrows, too.