The Reality of Recovery

Worth Living Ambassador Katie Campeau

Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 20 years old and am in my 3rd year of Sociology at Acadia University. I love writing and reading, and I’m very enthusiastic about learning. I also happen to be dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression. I know, just your stereotypical student…

I’ve been racking my brain over what to write for my very first blog post. What do I have to share about mental health with Worth Living, and how can I make this post relatable for everyone? What should my very first take on mental health be about? As I thought it over, I felt it was only appropriate that I share what my current state of mental health is like, and address what it means to be in recovery. So, here goes nothing!

I’m in my second semester of my third year of university, and the stakes are pretty high right now because I need to maintain a certain GPA in order to pursue my Honours and thesis in my fourth year. It’s a lot of academic stress and responsibility. I also live in an apartment, which I love, but this also comes with the responsibilities of cleaning and making sure I buy enough groceries to feed myself. On top of this load, I’ve been juggling a part-time job, which thankfully I won’t have to continue to do for the rest of this semester. Even though I’m lucky enough to have parents who help support me financially, I still worry about all the expenses that come with everyday living. As you can tell, I have a pretty normal life with many normal tasks. Nothing special.

However, I have a constant battle in my head that makes these mundane activities the most difficult burdens to bare. While that sounds dramatic, I want to remind you that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involves obsessing over disturbing intrusive thoughts, and these thoughts leave me feeling empty. If it was emptiness alone, then that would be one thing, but unfortunately my disorder makes me hate myself. This ties into negative coping mechanisms, and so when my OCD is at its worst,I find myself struggling with self-harm compulsions. Coupled with this is my depression, which makes it difficult to even get out of bed most days. These illnesses trigger each other everyday and at this point I am an exposed nerve, meaning that almost everything around me triggers an emotional breakdown. It makes living a regular life with regular responsibilities a bit more difficult.

With all of this in mind, you can tell that my mental health is in a bad state but I haven’t always been in this state. I actually got my diagnosis and started treatment four years ago. I’ve gone through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy—a psychotherapy that focuses on changing behaviour and thinking patterns through hands-on approaches. I’ve done a lot of the dirty work which is confronting your disorder face-to-face. But even when I started treatment, I had this unrealistic idea that talk-therapy would get rid of my disorder altogether. I thought after a year of therapy that I would no longer have OCD and depression and would come out the other side with a healthy brain. It’s not my fault that I came to such an inaccurate conclusion. Whenever we come across social media stories that centre on mental health and recovery, it’s often romanticized. We think of recovery through these rose-coloured goggles and this warm, fuzzy sentiment. You battle your demons and come out the other side better for it. After therapy you begin to start your best life where you are your most confident, accomplished self. This is a common misconception that I shared with many other people.

Now I know what the actual reality of recovery is  and I’m here to say that it is complex. It’s a roller coaster that is both terrifying and confusing. One minute you are riding out your highs and you are invincible. Then a minute, a day, a year later, all of a sudden you are at your lowest and wondering when you’ll get back up. Hell, sometimes you’re not even in one of the two extremes, sometimes you’re just hanging out in this awkward middle, feeling okay but something’s not quite right. Recovery comes with its own set of responsibilities, like working on your self-care skills. There are days where you have to force yourself to do the things you love in order to get yourself up and even then your effort doesn’t always necessarily come with a reward. There’s a lot of trial and error, some days are better than others. It’s about being on guard for triggers and preparing for how you’re going to handle the anxiety and depression that come with these triggers. Recovery has many faces and looks different for everyone, so even when getting out of bed may look like a trivial effort, it can be a huge accomplishment for someone else.

These past four years have been a wild ride for my own recovery. When I came out of therapy,  I aimed to conquer everything on my own terms. What I deemed successful is quite different from what others would claim to be successful. And I’ve done a lot of amazing things since getting over the the first hurdle of therapy. I’ve made many new friends, pursued academics that I’m passionate about, travelled, and pushed myself to be more confident and courageous. This was all happening while in recovery while I was still dealing with my disorders. I had one summer where it felt as though my OCD had almost vanished entirely, but in reality it was still at the back in my mind. I’ve had other high roller coaster moments where the disorders were still present but much more easy to manage and lock away when needed. Whenever I’ve been through these periods of recovery that are more positive, I’ve also been prepared for the periods where recovery is not going to be as effortless. This is where I’m at with my mental health now, a low.

When it comes down to it, recovery is not about upholding some sort of beautiful aesthetic where smiles will cure depression, or nature walks will rid you of anxiety. It’s not this linear process where there’s nowhere to go but up. I’m always going to have these disorders. No matter where I go, they travel with me. This is okay though, because even when I’m at my lowest I know I’ll eventually reach my highs. Even an awkward middle ground state will do. I hope that if you take anything away from this post, it’s that recovery is messy and that is completely okay. It is hard work, and the hard work is what makes life worth living.

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