Learning To Accept Setbacks
It’s been a long time since my mental health has been a serious concern for me. It took many long years but I’m at a point where I usually feel confident in managing whatever comes my way. And yet, I sometimes still worry that all my mental health progress might be undone in an instant.
The other week I was having an emotional discussion with my partner, when he got up and left before I had finished what I had to say. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but it suddenly plunged me back into an experience of strong dissociation from my body that I haven’t felt in many years. It was so scary to feel myself physically disconnected and unable to move again.
Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something significant had happened. What did it mean that these same issues from my past were returning?
I worried that this might be a sign that all the progress I’d made with my mental health might be winding back, and this idea terrified me. I didn’t want to become that person again. Despite the fact that I have overcome so much over the years, this tiny sign that old issues might be resurfacing immediately convinced me that I was failing, and would soon end up right back where I started: miserable, anxious and alone.
On a logical level, I know that this kind of thinking is a little ridiculous. As a peer support worker, I often find myself reassuring other people that recovery isn’t linear, and that we can see our small setbacks as something we can learn from instead of failures. While I believe these sentiments wholeheartedly when I tell them to others, it’s always much harder to apply them to myself.
Throughout my struggles with my mental health, my lack of trust in my own mind has been a constant. For the majority of my adult life, I never felt 100% sure that anything I thought was real or accurate or devoid of distortions. I had the sense that my own brain was working against me, in an effort to sabotage my attempts to create a “normal” life. So, while I could believe that other people’s lives go up and down over time according to a natural variation, I was convinced that any slight downturn in mine would be the one time my brain finally succeeds in taking me down.
Over the years my relationship with my brain has improved, but I’ve also realised that my mental wellbeing doesn’t rely solely on having trust in my own mind to “work properly”. Instead, I have other protective factors to fall back on. Since seeking help and working to manage my mental health better, I’ve established some good relationships with people I feel comfortable seeking support from, and a range of strategies that help me to crawl out of my mental hole whenever I get stuck in there.
This means that whenever I get the feeling that things might spiral out of control, I have people around who can ground me, and remind me that things will actually be fine. And even when contacting one of those people doesn’t feel like an option, I have reliable ways to self soothe when alone.
It hasn’t been easy to get to a place where I have enough supports to hold me. Getting here was a journey of tiring trial and error. With the benefit of many years of hindsight, I can now see what I couldn’t in the moment: that it’s hard to have perspective of a bigger trend when you only focus on what’s directly in front of you. But when I look back at all the progress I’ve made, it’s difficult to believe that I could ever go all the way back to feeling the way I did when this started.
These days, every time I overcome a little setback, I try to remind myself that it’s just another reason to be confident in my own resilience.