Let me ask you a question: “What is the most effective thing you can do to avoid plunging into the downward spiral of low mood or relapse?” Not sure? Well, the answer is to learn as much as you can about yourself, your health issue – and how they overlap.*
Depression is different for you, than it is for me. Addiction will be different for you, than it is for the guy sat next to you at AA. That’s why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment or program for depression or addiction recovery. It takes time and effort to discover what works for you and what doesn’t; when you’re at risk; and when you’re ‘safe’ from dips or flare-ups. The journey of learning how your health issue manifests itself is important and valuable. Below some reasons why.
1. You are unique!
Just like everyone else: you are unique. Your age, lifestyle, family history, life history, genetics, personality, general health – all come together in way that is uniquely you. That combination is what makes you different from the next person who walks into your doctor’s office, presenting with the same mental health issue as you. Other folk with depression or addiction are similar to you, but they are not the same as you. This is why no single depression/addiction treatment works for everyone. Make it your mission to discover how your health issue manifests in you, so that you can find what works best for you.
Make it your mission to discover how your health issue manifests in you, so that you can find what works best for you.
2. You’ll see that you have agency
Someone who suffers with depression and addiction can feel as if their symptom flare-ups occur without any reason. It can seem as if these flare-ups just randomly happen to us… and we have no control over their severity or duration. However, the more you learn about yourself, the better you’ll understand your physical, biochemical, spiritual, psychological and social needs. And the more the timing/type/intensity of your symptoms will begin to make sense to you. You’ll understand how the ebbs and flows you experience are not in fact random. It is that understanding which give us a sense of agency.
3. You’ll develop a sense of control
One of the most dispiriting things about achieving good mental health is how can precarious it can feel. You may have the impression that if you didn’t do everything absolutely perfectly you will relapse. You ask yourself why your mental wellness is stacked like a house of cards? Why a single wrong move leads to its collapse? And why that collapse is outside your control? Well, that’s not true. In fact as you learn more about yourself and what you need to remain stable and healthy, you’ll understand why dips in mood happen to you. This means you can then directly intervene to reduce the dips in mood. You are not a victim of your mental health, you have control.
4. You’ll grow to trust yourself
It is particularly brutal how mental health issues erode our sense of self-trust. How many times have we felt that we’ve again let ourselves down, by again relapsing into addictive behaviours or depression? We castigate ourselves for not being more vigilant, or for making poor choices. It’s unfair to treat ourselves this way. Remember that each of us has unique requirements for a stable and lasting recovery. Until you learn what those requirements are, you’re occasionally going to make a wrong choice. And sometimes a couple of wrong choices mean you’ll spin off into the cycle of relapse. But as you gain knowledge about your health issue – and what your needs are – you can begin to trust yourself. You’ll know you haven’t let yourself down. You’ll know all that happened was that you didn’t notice or (know to) prioritise certain risk factors.
5. You’ll develop contingencies
Because you are unique, you have unique recovery needs. For your stable recovery some elements of your recovery program will need closer attention than others. For example you may find you are more vulnerable to the effects of not getting enough good sleep than other people. Or your mood dips noticeably after a couple of missed meals or junk food meals. By knowing this about yourself you can put contingencies in place – so you are able to prioritise and protect your sleep regime, or have healthy meals/snacks on hand for times when you might be too busy or stressed to cook.
By knowing this about yourself you can put contingencies in place
6. You’ll gain perspective
Without the knowledge of what you specifically need to remain stable, you won’t know what parts of your recovery routine to protect. Without knowing what to protect you can spin into an obsessive over-protection of everything. Through self-knowledge you might discover that you can miss a week of AA meetings without it affecting your mood/sobriety. Yet you can’t miss your therapy session, or pig-out on chocolate, or have two late nights in a row without having a negative impact. Thanks to this type of knowledge you discover your wiggle-room. And by having wiggle-room your life gains space. Recovery becomes a vital component of your life, rather than it be all-consuming and unforgiving.
7. You’ll learn to rely on yourself for support
We each need a recovery support team. We need people and resources we can call upon to help us achieve and maintain a stable recovery. The hub of this support team is you, around whom everyone else revolves. As you come to learn more about yourself, and your health issue – you’ll be more of a valuable contributor to the team. The more you know the better able you are to have an engaged and informed dialogue with your doctor/therapist.
I have spent hundreds of hours over the years, reading and learning and listening and talking about my recovery needs. I’m gently proud of myself for doing this. I have a more spacious life now, with more freedom and peace. Learn, learn, learn all you can about yourself, and your health issue. Become The Expert on your recovery needs!
Take good care of yourself
*This article was written when moodfoodmove’s focus was people affected by depression and addiction. Whilst we very much still care about this group, our advice re taking better care of yourself (via good nutrition, healthy lifestyle and a positive mindset) applies equally to all of us. We ALL need to take better care of ourselves.