What people mean when they say they don’t want to recover from a mental breakdown
On a cold afternoon in November last year, I was talking to a close friend of mine who is familiar with the issues of anxiety and panic attacks. Bonding over our mutual love for tea, I was mentioning how the process of recovery mentioned in online articles and self help books seems very faffy and superficial. They treat humans as machines who have broken down and various permutations and combinations of good habits, self care, musical therapy, travel or medicines are required to rebuild it, so that it can function “normally” again. Something about it seems very demeaning and mechanical, for mere words printed in blank ink cannot encapsulate the complexity of human emotions. In that moment, with the room aglow in the sunlight filtering through our glass window, my friend said a sentence which resonated with me more than any advice I had ever received in the past from my counselors and psychiatrists. It was as if the providence had finally taken mercy to my plight and was providing answers through the comforting voice of a friend.She smiled wryly and stated in a calm but contented manner,” I don’t think I want to recover from it. I like knowing how it is.”
Relief. That’s what I felt. I was relieved to hear her say what I had been thinking.It was my deepest darkest secret which I didn’t want to admit to anyone. I still don’t but since I swore to be honest with myself , I will just say it.Five simple words. I don’t want to recover. Because the definition of recovery is becoming your old self, right? To be motivated and ambitious, joyful and driven, social and desirous of something, anything. Anything other than the blankness of emotion and lack of ambition which has come to dominate all the other colors which earlier combined to form your personality. Anything which acts as a tether to this world, which makes you see value in the self help books and music therapy.
It is said that while creating porcelain artifacts you have be very careful, because unlike clay, once a crack or disfigurement occurs, it cannot be corrected. I think it’s the same with me. Maybe the experience is different for others. Many people, with medical help and support of loved ones do become their old selves. And that’s great. But I know that I am not one of them. And I believe that everyone knows the truth of their true selves, if not their limits , since a young age. No matter how many times the world tells them that they will be unable to bear the consequence of a certain decision because their character lacks tenacity, that they don’t know their own selves well enough,a defiant voice inside says “No”. This is the same voice that I hear in my mind whenever someone says that I will become normal again. “No”.
This voice doesn’t seek to fetishize pain and suffering but delineate the justified expectation of recovery which is placed on all people, not merely the ones who suffer from mental health issues. To devalue the popular defintion of “normal”.Yes, the panic attacks need to be dealt with. Yes, the feeling of suffocation is debilitating so it should be treated. Yes, social support should be extended to discourage instances of self-harm.
But the sadness and pain one feels isn’t abnormal. The sense of disillusionment from this world isn’t unjustified because let’s face it, the world isn’t that great a place to live in. Opting out of seeking social status or refusing to conform to the convention of feeling happy is fair. You know why?
Because pain , finding meaning to life in a world where since birth we are conditioned to think that material things will bring us happiness is difficult. Once you choose to reject the truth of the masses, you are told that you inhabit an unreal world. A world in which you choose to not smile at family dinners, in which you openly claim that your old self is gone, in which you ask people questions about the meaning to life to which they will have no answers. So they will ask you to recover. Return to their “real” world.But you don’t want to.
You want the physiological symptoms such as nausea, breathlessness and loss of appetite to go away . And you should because when mental breakdowns happen, one shouldn’t suffer physically or mentally because of it. But the pain, which made you seek meaning, made you opt out of the “real” world,gave you a true sense of the depth of your emotions, made you relate more to the words of long dead poets than the nonsense spewed by social media outlets and most importantly, set you on a tiring but an individual path , isn’t something you need to recover from. The movie “Inside Out” got it right when they portrayed how sadness is a legitimate emotion. An emotion we should teach the younger generation to acknowledge and accept. Alas! We are never taught to embrace it, only run away from it endlessly.
After reading countless articles on managing depression and anxiety, figuring out what motivates you, curse of genius and the apparent evolutionary purpose of mental breakdowns , I can finally say it out loud. I don’t want to recover . I don’t want to go back to my old self. I cannot.That person is long dead. I killed her. Because I didn’t know how to live with someone who wasn’t me. And no, there is no new enigmatic cult personality that I have adopted as is the popular belief, all thanks to pop culture. I am still the old person, for the change which has occurred in my mind is unnoticeable and doesn’t need validation. It is independent of externalities which is its true beauty. I don’t even know if I am moving forward or if I have stagnated. All that matters is whatever I feel or think now, are my own thoughts. There is no path to follow or a desire to create a new way. I find contentment in the thought that at least I am out of the maze of fear . The memories of a simpler past and uncertainty of the future still haunt me, I still try to hold on to familiar parts of my old self , but now when I inevitably fail and breakdown , I don’t feel fear, only sadness. And that I can live with.