Claire Turner has lived experience of mental distress, including eating difficulties, intrusive thoughts, trauma, destructive behaviour and difficulties in connecting. She shares her journey to help others know that they are not alone and that recovery is possible.
Recovering from mental distress comes with no straightforward guidelines. When I was struggling, I desperately wanted my life to be different. At the same time, I felt hopeless and doubted my ability to change. I yearned for a sense of stability and control, but life felt chaotic and the more I tried to control things, the smaller my world got.
I lost everything before I managed to turn my energy towards recovery. For me, recovery was in fact more difficult and scarier than being stuck in distress. I had felt comfortable with the familiarity of my unhealthy coping mechanisms. In contrast, my rollercoaster ride into flourishing was unpredictable, intense and terrifying. I needed to be brave and to trust in myself, those around me, and in the future, as uncertain as it all was.
With other people’s journey in mind, I’d like to share some advice that I would have found helpful during my own experience of mental distress. By sharing what has worked for me, I want to empower you to make changes too.
- Recovery can be beyond what you can possibly imagine
As clichéd as it sounds, this statement has absolutely been true for me. In my tunnel vision of distress, I couldn’t envision what it might feel like, what it might look like, to be truly at home within myself. I now feel connected to myself in a more genuine, compassionate and relaxed way. My world is now vibrant and although I still have times of difficulty and doubt in moving towards what I care about, I remind myself that recovery is worth it!
- Be curious about why
Get to know yourself. Why do you feel what you feel, think as you think, do as you do? Often underneath your behaviour, there are feelings (such as anger)and needs (such as care and safety). When you figure out the ‘why’ behind your behaviour, you gain control over what you do next. As you work with your ‘why’ and find a positive way to express yourself, more choices become available to you. In my case, my addiction to food meant I was expressing my ‘why’ through unhealthy eating behaviours rather than communicating my feelings and needs to those around me. By putting my pain and despair into unhealthy behaviours, I missed the opportunity to use these experiences to grow closer in my relationships.
- Your feelings are legitimate
Given all your life experiences, your relationships, your living situations, your biology and a myriad of other factors, your pain makes sense. There are reasons for the way that you are feeling; your experience is valid and deserving of care and attention. Even the symptoms I had, that would be considered bizarre and unusual, made sense in the context of my previous experiences. What had looked like schizophrenia was a prolonged and serious reaction to traumatic experiences.
- Change might not happen in the timeframe you want or expect
Change is something you need to actively work towards. It will not happen by magic. You’ll need to be willing to try something different; I often describe it like stepping off a cliff blindfolded. Change can seem terrifying and uncertain – and that is normal – just don’t let that fear determine your behaviour. What looks like a breakdown may actually be a breakthrough, if you can trust the process and keep moving forwards!
- Accept the help you are offered
I was fortunate enough to receive comprehensive support from several places. I changed my life at the Ashburn Clinic in Dunedin, where I received individual and group psychotherapy. The clinic was modelled on principles of the ‘therapeutic community’, which involves living together, doing everyday activities as a group, and asking thoughtful questions of others and their behaviour. It was a difficult road, but I am so much more resilient and happy as a result!
- Stay connected
Looking back now, I can see how my relationships have undergone a lengthy process of repair, which has involved hearing difficult feedback about the effects my behaviour has had. As I have allowed myself to experience care from others, I have learnt to trust when others say I am worthy of love and internalised that love for myself.
So my advice is, stay connected! Dedicate this time to your relationships and your wellbeing. I focussed on slowing down and overcoming my need to be constantly productive – on lowering my expectations of myself and doing fun activities with others.
REMEMBER | Recovery does happen and it is within your reach. I wish you all the very best on your journey.
Claire lives in Otago and aspires to work in mental health. She enjoys distance swimming, reading, and coffee with friends. You can read more about Claire’s journey on her blog | www.fierce-freedom.com