Mental Health Awareness: Finding Your Individual Path to Recovery

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”   –Dr. Stephen Shore

Ditto if you’ve met one person with Parkinson’s disease, or one person with PTSD, or one person with depressive disorder. Or even if you’ve met several people. Whatever the situation and even if you’re a licensed doctor, you can’t just hear the name of the diagnosis and say, “You need to do this; it works for everyone with that disability.”

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month 2024 (May), this post looks at the mental-illness recovery journey—and the reasons to draw an individual map for each patient.

What Does It Mean to “Recover” from Mental Illness?

In most cases, “recovery” doesn’t mean “curing” the illness and achieving permanent immunity. It means that symptoms have abated, or are under control, to the point someone can return to healthy, functional daily living—though usually with medication or other precautions to keep the illness at bay.

The few universal principles of recovery are:

  • Don’t expect it to be quick or easy.
  • Have a clearly defined recovery plan.
  • Never stop or change any prescription without first consulting your doctor.  
  • Stay in touch with a support network of trustworthy friends and peers.

Beyond that, there’s no guarantee that what’s good for one person will be good for another with the same diagnosis. People vary widely in:

  • Natural temperaments
  • Skills and passions
  • Communication styles
  • Reactions to medications
  • Dietary needs
  • Disabilities and other physical health concerns
  • Genetic predispositions

…any of which may have favorable or unfavorable effects on someone’s response to specific treatment options.

Finding What Works for You

Plus, it’s important to have a voice in your own recovery plan, rather than just following “doctor’s orders.” As an active partner in recovery, you hone various skills important to mental health:

  • Confidence
  • Self-understanding
  • Proactivity
  • Perseverance
  • Personal organization
  • Teamwork and accountability

A few hints for planning your recovery journey:

  • There’s a difference between stretching your comfort zone in the interest of personal growth, and doing something completely against your better judgment. If your therapist is committed to a particular approach, but your gut says that won’t work for you, it may be time to consult another therapist.
  • However, there’s also a difference between true gut instinct and surface doubts. Beware of cynical impulses that tend to arise at new-and-different suggestions. Take time to consider the reasoning behind the ideas.
  • Test suggested approaches against your natural personality, skills, passions, and dreams.
  • If you aren’t sure of your skills/interests, consider a personality and/or abilities test (and read the results carefully: they usually include “next steps” suggestions). Or ask trustworthy family members and friends what strengths they’ve seen in you.
  • Surround yourself with positive input. Chronic naysayers will hamper anyone’s journey.
  • Be willing to dream big, and to believe in your own potential.

One Individual’s Perspective

Tom Reichard is a Veteran in recovery from PTSD, and the husband of BridgingApps Project Manager Marjorie Reichard.

“I am a firm believer in learning your triggers and avoiding them. I’ve learned to avoid such situations as war movies and fireworks. I’ve also learned how to lean on my wife, utilize my service dog to help me maintain equilibrium, and create space when I need it. 

“For me, it is easier to avoid triggers than confront them. I have tried the confrontation approach, and it makes things worse, just bringing up bad memories. I want to go on with my life and not relive the past.

“One very important thing I’ve learned through the mental-illness and recovery journey: it gets better as time goes by.”

Tom Reichard (wearing sunglasses and a navy sweatshirt) on outdoor bench. Service dog (Norma), white retriever-type, sitting on ground next to him. Brick-paved walkway in front; in the background, tall brush and then a blue-green building with balconies, and two tall palm trees.
Tom Reichard with service dog Norma.
Tom with Marjorie, their two daughters, and Norma, standing and smiling for a family Christmas picture. Background of blue and white balloons surrounding a blue backdrop with star illustrations. Bare trees visible outside the high window behind.
Reichard family Christmas picture.

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