On Recovery

Marty Raaymakers was NAMI Michigan’s Consumer Council Representative from the late 1990’s into the first years of the new century. She has served as Chair of the national Consumer Council and was also the national Consumer Council member of the NAMI Board of Director for two terms. Currently she writes seven days a week.

What I Wish I’d Known About Recovery

By Marty Raaymakers

When people ask me to write about recovery now, my brain always seems to gravitate to the things I know now that I wish I had learned a lot sooner. After all I was raised in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave and in America all things can be fixed.

When talking about recovery and mental illness, for many of us a permanent fix is not possible. Things do get better, even awesome sometimes. It usually takes a time and hard work to achieve. It took me quite a while to find my way.

This is what I wish I had known:

  1. Meds don’t fix everything. I really didn’t know that. Someone said, “You need to get some help, let me find the name of someone who will be good.” That person said, “Take this medicine.” I assumed it would fix everything. Meds helped, but I had to put a lot of work into my recovery as well.
  2. Finding the right med is awesome, but always have plan B. Lot’s of people put crisis plans into place but don’t ever think about a plan B, a plan that may prevent you from reaching crisis. What do you do when stress hits and the med isn’t enough? Or what are you going to do if the med stops working? When there is no plan B, a person ends up going down hill until the crisis plan is needed. Always have a Plan B.
  3. Learning good coping skills is almost more important than the medication. Learning good coping skills is something that I didn’t want to do. I was ashamed of who I was so learning to want to take care of myself was hard. I’m now into Yoga, exercise and the support of friends.
  4. Needing support is OK. My Community Mental Health service provider kept telling me that they were going to help me be independent. My thoughts on that were that I wasn’t really supposed to need to lean on anyone. It took me a long time to find out that people aren’t really independent but interdependent. Or as a wonderful friend says, “friendships aren’t equal, they are reciprocal.” Guess I am still learning.
  5. Doing enough of what you love to do, as long as it’s not hurtful or harmful helps one’s mental state. I used to reward myself for doing all the things I thought I had to do, but didn’t want to do, by doing some things that I love to do. Now I realize that if I do less of the “ought to do” things and more of what I love, I feel healthier. Of course I had to find the support that allowed me to change the balance between the “ought” and “love” things.
  6. Figuring my checkbook isn’t the beginning or end of my life. I kept hearing people tell me that so and so needed to learn how to figure out his checking account so he could move out on his own. I still don’t balance a checkbook well. I look at it once a week and if it gets too complicated then I can always work and hire an accountant to take care of that. I do have the responsibility to find a good accountant. Remember that friend? For the price of a lunch she’ll double-check after my accountant. (Keeping up with laundry is the same way.)
  7. If one would rather earn money so they don’t have to do something, that’s OK. I don’t want to mow a yard, grow a garden, maintain a house, drive an economical car, scrimp on my pennies, or live in a Section 8 apartment building, so I need to earn money. If I want to travel, I need to earn money. It is important to know this since I don’t fit in a 9-5 job very well. I had to find what I do well and stick with it. When I get stuck in a 9-5 job that anyone can do, I become less well. So I do what I can to earn money and have learned to love that. It does require me to keep tabs on my expenses (why I also earn enough to pay an accountant.)

Recovery is a wonderful, precious thing to me. People ask me if I am afraid that I might become ill again. No, I am not afraid anymore. I have Plan B. I don’t have to be in a crisis to use Plan B.

There are all kinds of places to look for support outside of a community mental health service provider. Try any or all of the following:

  • See if there is a NAMI Connection Support Group available. If not, there may be another kind of support group available.
  • See if there is a NAMI Affiliate available in your area. If there is, see what they offer. Their education has been great when I needed to learn more about recovery and support.
  • See if there is a drop-in center available. They go by different names in different places. The Michigan Recovery Center of Excellence has a list on their website.
  • Go to a group specific to something that you like to. Support doesn’t have to come from other people who have some kind of a mental illness. It can come from many other places. I like to ride motorcycles and quilt. Most of my support comes from other people who like to do the same things.

I have found that recovery is all about finding a life that I enjoy living and going after that life with every fiber in my being. So far, it’s been a great ride.