When I began work at DBSA, we talked about treatment. We looked at this research study and that medication. We discussed the new talk therapy model, the importance of peer support, and our support groups. And then Larry Fricks joined our Board of Directors.
Larry is a longtime consumer advocate who lives with bipolar disorder and is the creator of the first program in the country that pays peers to support and stand with peers as we work on our wellness. Through Larry’s gentle and encouraging conversation and vision, DBSA began its own journey toward focusing on wellness, not illness. And that focus is called recovery.
Recovery looks at our lives: what we want to achieve, to be, and to become. It is strengths-based. Instead of looking at what I can’t do because of my illness, I look at what I can do, what I love; my passions, dreams, and goals. With a recovery mindset, we build on those strengths, dreams, and goals to achieve a full life in the community.
Larry often puts it something like this: If I have two doors in front of me — one that says “treatment and focus on my illness” and another that says a “recovery and a focus on my wellness” — which door do you think I want to open and walk through?
A recovery orientation changes the point of treatment. Instead of discussing how our medication is working, we should be discussing our lives and how our medication is helping or hindering our lives, our goals, and our dreams. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have a treatment plan; it means that the point ofthe treatment plan is no longer simply a cessation of symptoms. The point of the treatment plan is my life, my goals, my dreams.
A high-ranking government leader once said to me that he finds the concept of “recovery” simplistic and naïve. He points out, correctly,that our medications are not all that great and not enough is known about the causes of the illness within the major organ affected (the brain, of course), let alone the genetic component. And he is right, of course. But he is also missing the point.
If all we look at is our illness, then that is all we are: our illness. But if we look at our lives through a recovery lens, then we are so much more: we are people with strengths, with gifts to give the world, who are capable of so much.
As Korey writes:
As time went on I started learning from my mistakes. Now I’m correctly medicated and have actually been in a committed nine-month long relationship with someone. That may not seem like a long time to some people, but many of us who have the disorder understand how hard it is to stay in a relationship. I have a job that I am happy with and a future I can actually foresee. I am a painter and have chosen to finally use my God-given gift to succeed in the present life.
I know it’s hard sometimes. I know it hurts sometimes. To feel so alone, so helpless, so angry, so bitter, and so exhausted. But it gets better, I promise you.
I thought things would never get better. I have the scars on my wrists to remind me every day where I’ve been. Today, I’ve blossomed into a happier being and am rationally re-connected with the social world.
So,does recovery mean we are cured and can throw away our treatment plans? No. For most of us, these are chronic conditions, like diabetes or epilepsy, that will be with us all of our lives. So, we will need to care for them all of our lives. But with a recovery focus, we can still create lives of meaning and purpose where we give the gifts we have to the world. It’s hard work, but we can get there.
For a more detailed discussion on recovery, see the white paper National Consensus Statement on Mental Health Recovery. Created by leaders in the consumer and provider mental health community, it can offer a well-considered and well-crafted starting point.
DBSA’s definition of recovery is “a full life in thecommunity where our illness does not get in the way of our life,” and that is what I wish for all of us.
Published On: March 01, 2007
Living With6 Chronic Condition Guidelines to Live By
Facing the challenges5 Rules for Bipolar Relationships