The problem with explaining mental health recovery is that no one really understands what it entails. There is this expectation that recovery will be a straight line up. That each time you do something out of your comfort zone, the next time will be easier. God, I wish that were true. Recovery is this awfully messy trail where absolutely nothing makes sense. The problem is that when you're ill, you can't focus on the good and so you don't hold onto that memory which tells you that it was all okay. It's so discouraging when you have a good day doing something out of your comfort zone, only to find that the next time you go to do the same you're no less terrified.
Recovery is always two steps forwards and one step back (sometimes two). The key flaw in my recovery so far has been my approach, I enter every situation filled with dread, and I spend the entire time anxious. It doesn't matter what I'm doing and it doesn't effect whether I was happy at the time, but I can promise you I was anxious, and that's all I remember after. For the first 18 months, I really expected that when I did scary things they'd get less scary each time. Seem's logical, right? It's a real wake up call when you realize that that is definitely not what's happening. A new therapist and a new way of life, and now I'm developing a new approach, a patient approach. I suppose that's what it comes down to, patience, this isn't a quick fix thing. I'm at peace now having accepted that it is going to be messy until I fix what's wrong at my core. Coping skills are great, they get you from A to B but in a world where i'm anxious all the time, it isn't enough in the long term.
Saying all this, I know recovery isn't the same for everyone. For some people, feeling the fear and doing it anyway is a valid approach and will work for them. For me, it's only made my life harder. When I feel the fear and throw myself out there, there's a 75% chance I will have a panic attack and not return to that place for months. I haven't been back to Reading since May. Now I'm taking a more relaxed approach to it all, I am accepting my limits for now, and putting faith in my new therapists system. I will sort it from the inside out, instead of putting myself out there and getting burnt.
My recovery is something I don't notice immediately. It takes time for me to become more comfortable with something and it evolves so slowly that eventually it'll just become apparent that I don't worry about it so much. Usually it's someone else who points it out for me. It's easy to fall into this pit of hopelessness where it feels like I'm not recovering at all, and I know I'm not alone in that, and so it's important to me to keep lists and records of things that I feel have improved. I can say for certain that I am no longer afraid to be home alone, I don't (usually) get dizzy in the supermarket anymore and I can take myself for very short walks. While these things aren't exactly getting me any closer to a fully functional life any time soon, I suppose added together they stand for something bigger and that is that recovery is happening. It's easy to forget with every step back that there have been steps forward. It's always worth remembering, whether you're suffering or not, that recovery is never linear. It's not like breaking a bone, it wont heal smoothly over time. There will be fall backs and that's okay, we'll get there eventually.