TW: Mentions of mental health relapses.
“Healing is not linear” is one of my favorite quotes. As someone who’s struggled with mental health since middle school, my mental health journey has been anything but linear and stable. And the truth is, the mental health journey is not easy, nor is it something that you can check off of your to-do list. One of the earliest pieces of wisdom I received was that the mental health journey isn’t to get rid of your mental health issues—it’s just learning to cope with it better.
While this seemed discouraging at first, I’ve started to understand what it means. In my situation, I’ve always struggled with anxiety. And all I wanted was to get rid of it. It felt unfair that I had this mental health issue that inhibited my ability to easily start conversations with friends and made me overthink my everyday life. I just wanted it gone.
Over time, I’ve realized that it is true. Even on your best days, emotions like anxiety can still pop up. I believe that no matter how far you’ve gotten with your mental health, bad days are normal and prevalent. Because of this, the goal isn’t to never be anxious ever, but it is to learn how to cope with anxiety so when these bad days come, it isn’t as overwhelming.
Recently, I’ve been doing pretty well with my mental health journey! Seeing a therapist and receiving treatment has definitely been helpful — I’ve learned ways (both general and specifically tailored for me) to handle and cope with my anxiety. On top of this, being able to share my anxieties with someone and release some stress has been very beneficial! I could tell my new coping mechanisms were working when I found myself challenging my anxious thoughts and finding the impracticality behind them. I’ve also been reaching out to my closest friends for help when I need it, which is something I struggled with before getting treatment.
I also found myself reaching one of the “non-linear” parts of healing. After a great few weeks of stability, very intense, anxious thoughts seemed to come out of nowhere and completely blindsided me. I tried all of my coping mechanisms, but in all honesty, I felt weak. Almost too exhausted to even fight back at this point. I found myself reverting back to my mindset before my upward growth: hiding my feelings from everyone and staying in my dorm, paralyzed in bed.
What was I supposed to do now? I was doing so good and now I’m back to square one. It was unbelievably discouraging, and I felt extremely disappointed in myself. How does one bounce back from a mental health relapse?
Mental health relapses look different for everyone, meaning that the strategies I used for bouncing back may not work for everyone. Even so, I do believe there are pieces of advice and strategies that might help you with your mental health relapse, regardless of what yours looks like.
The biggest thing to know is that you are not your mental health state. At this moment, I feel weak and am struggling to find my self-worth. But this is not who I am. I am a strong and capable person, and I’ve been through these feelings before and I can do it again! Remember that these negative thoughts and feelings are temporary and are not representative of who you are.
Another piece of advice is that you’re not going back to “square one.” After working so hard for such an extended period of time, it does feel discouraging to go back to such a difficult mental state, I’ll admit. Still, this one relapse is just a relapse. That is all it is — a bad day or a moment of weakness. You’re not starting all over again. If anything, it is representative of all the hard work you’ve put in and the hard work you will continue to put in. It shows that there was such an improvement in your mental health that a bad day was out of the blue! It’s not a sign of a lack of improvement, but instead, one of your hard work and dedication to becoming better.
As I write this article, I’m still struggling to accept and understand my mental health relapse. I still feel feelings of resentment and disappointment towards myself. I do realize that I am not perfect in my mental health journey, but that’s exactly what a mental health journey is: imperfect.
Whoever is reading this, I am so proud of you. I am proud of you for choosing to put in hard work to get better. I am proud of you for continuing to try after hitting a mental health relapse. You are going to make it.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.