More on Recovery (Lessons from IKEA)

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Last week, I posted Taking a Fresh Look at Recovery. The piece proved especially fresh to me, as somewhere in the middle it turned off in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. The comments I received brought a new level of freshness into the dialogue, several layers of it actually. Let’s get started:


    Willa started off the conversation by observing that “recovery is a concept that frames the rest of my life.” We deal with the challenges of crisis. Then:


    When I feel like I've got my feet firmly planted beneath me, then I consider those bigger "Who am I and what will I do with the rest of my life" questions (awakening), meaningful activity, advocacy, the wider world.

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    There is the inevitable relapse. We pick ourselves up. The end, she says, “is not some final destination of perfection. The end is a life that is worth living - every day making deliberate choices for my health and the welfare of the planet.”


    Joanne notes that treatment and recovery are both necessary, but “one needs to make sure they don't get in the way of each other too often. You get bonus points whenever you can get them to augment each other.” We tend to fall down on this point: 


    I think one of the key things that people miss is that the goal of psychopharmacoloy is to minimize your symptoms while the goal of recovery is to maximize your life experience. These two things can work together, but they don't always.


    Recovery is a long process, she concludes, not a quick fix. It happens in fits and starts. Failure is common. 


    If I am interpreting Willa and Joanne correctly, recovery is like assembling a piece of IKEA furniture. The directions make no sense, you screw in a piece the wrong way and have to start over, again and again, the process takes way too long, and what you end up with may not exactly what you expected starting out. But in the end, you can at least sit in it or put a vase on it or store things in it. And maybe, just maybe, your life is that much better for it.


    Crystal was not exactly bullish on recovery. In her words:


    I have not experienced anything that shows me that this is remotely possible. People speak from their personal experience but that doesn't include how everyone is. Yes I am cynical because nothing has worked for me. Suggestions and ideas don't work if you can't stay emotionally stable, as is my case.


    Joanne replied to Crystal in this fashion:


    In 2002 I was heading towards marriage with the love of my life. I was a workaholic technologist with a comfortable income. ... In 2012 I'm divorced; my mood disorder is more severe (ultra-rapid cycling, drug-resistant bipolar); my anxiety is worse; I'm going through menopause; I've been unable to work for years; my only income is a social security check that is 85% less than my last paycheck; and - my life is so good my friends and family are jealous. 


    How can that be? Recovery, she concluded, “is about building a life that works for you.”


    Let’s bring IKEA back into the picture. Our lives are a constant IKEA hell, a never-ending process of assembly and reassembly. Trust me, I know. I have an IKEA table in my kitchen. My first assembly involved three legs touching the floor and one pointing to the ceiling. As I wrote elsewhere: “IKEA is Sweden’s revenge for not being allowed to be Vikings, anymore.”


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    But I did manage to put together a table that has all four legs touching the floor. It’s not exactly a table one would show off in Architectural Digest, but - guess what? - that table is connected to many happy memories. It’s not about the table, it’s about what you do with the table. This, I trust, is Joanne’s point.


    But what if it’s simply impossible to build that table. As I wrote in my original piece:


    Think about it: We can barely get out of bed, we’re told to exercise. We’re too ashamed or terrified to meet people, we’re told to get out of the house. We experience hunger cravings or none at all, we’re told to eat healthy. Our brains run away from us or bog us down, we are told to get on a good sleep routine. We can’t think, we’re told to exercise mindfulness. On and on and on.


    Donna strongly identified with this. In her words:


    Normal responses are expected from me when I am not operating normally inside. To others, like my family or my doctor, the answers must seem obvious. Just do this or that and you'll get the result you're looking for. It would be nice if it did work that way.


    I recall assembling my first piece of IKEA furniture. A key piece of hardware dropped out of the box and rolled straight across the floor and under the refrigerator. Trust me, Donna. I strongly identify with you. Life - and IKEA - are rigged against us, and we are doomed to an existence of constant frustration if we allow others to define our successes and failures for us.  Let’s conclude this with words of wisdom from Steve Jobs to the Stanford class of 2005:


    Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Published On: April 13, 2013