When I used to mentor teenagers who had emotional and mental health issues, I used to regularly draw them what I termed ‘Mrs P’s Recovery Graph’. I have tried to recreate it in the image below.
You’ll find many versions of this online, and they are all very similar. Usually, they feature one graph on the left of the image, with a straight line showing positive correlation from start point to end point, with steady, consistent progress being made over a period of time. This is usually entitled something like ‘What We Expect Recovery To Be Like’. Nice. Neat. Straightforward.
Then, on the right, it shows the same axes with a very different, squiggly, up and down, confused, tying-itself-in-knots line, but still with the same start and end points. Now there’s just a hell of a lot of mess in the middle. Not nice. Not neat. Not fucking straightforward. This is usually entitled ‘What Recovery Is Actually Like’. And that’s how it is. We get to the same place, IT IS JUST NOT LINEAR.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this graph recently, especially about how easy it used to be for me to draw it for OTHER people. I enjoyed showing the young people I worked with (and often their parents too) that recovery is never easy, simple or what we expect. It is hard, it is unexpected, it is hard again and, regularly, it is spectacular. That’s really easy to explain to someone else, but living it and applying it to yourself is another beast entirely. And I mean a beast that keeps changing shape and tries to suck out your soul in the process. Like a Boggart crossed with a Dementor. Sorry for people who don’t get the Harry Potter reference. (And I mean that: I am sorry for you, those books are great.)
I must have drawn this graph for at least twenty people, and yet every time I find myself in one of the dips I have drawn so many times, and which are now much further up the graph than my dips used to be, I still run round in circles (both metaphorically and literally) going ‘GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH what if this is it??? What if I’m like this forever?? I’m as bad as I’ve EVER been!!! GAAAAAAAH.’ Completely ignoring the fact that if I drew my own recovery graph from my hospital admission in October, there is not a single bad patch I have not bounced back from. The evidence is literally irrefutable. And each time the peaks of my graph get higher.
But that’s the bugger about recovery. It’s hard. You often have to climb one bit of mountain, slip back down, and then climb the same bit of mountain all over again several times before the progress ‘sticks’. How frustrating is that? Yeah? Try living it, mate.
I know a lot of people, when I tell them I’m in another bad patch, assume that things are as bad as ever. And I don’t blame them at all, because I regularly think that myself. Which is why I need my people to be MY Mrs P, to draw the graph twenty times over and remind ME how far I’ve come and the progress I’ve made. I need those closest to me to repeat themselves umpteen times, because my BPD wants me to forget how awesome I have been, and to just focus on the times I have felt bad before. And BPD is a fucking liar.
So, please, do not pity someone if you know they’ve been ill, and you know they’re struggling again. Chances are, they just need to consolidate their progress, climb the same bit of mountain several times over, rest a bit at base camp, and then try for the summit again soon.