Coming to the end of my group therapy course (DBT), I had convinced myself that I was getting better. I felt that I had reached a few milestones in my recovery. My social anxiety was going down a few notches and I was practicing the mindfulness techniques that had been taught in therapy. I was eating more regularly, doing exercise and still taking my medication. I was getting better. I was getting better at living my life. Was it a miracle??…Err no, not quite.
Relapse In Recovery
About a week later, I was re-diagnosed (again) with having both Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder II. I tried to reassure myself by not getting fixated with labels and stigma whereas in reality I was f***ing terrified. It gradually went downhill from there but I didn’t want to disappoint those around me who have supported and literally cared for me incessantly over the last year. How could I let them down after they had recently expressed how pleased they were to see me making such progress? So, I ignored all the professional advice and resorted to masking my feelings which is something that I have grown very accustomed to, over the years. I didn’t want to admit to the truth of what was occurring within my mind. I was starting to feel sick, my mood was dipping, I was lacking motivation, becoming very irritable and overly sensitive towards noise.
I realised that I didn’t want to fail again after years of being pulled forwards and backwards between being content and being on the brink of existence. I had been so committed to my recovery thus far and I didn’t want to give up, despite it being incredibly frustrating. The only coping mechanism that I could remember was to distract myself so I made lots of social plans to see friends and family and I even joined a yoga school. These distractions seemed to be effective at the time. However, at night, the rumination and self criticism began all over again and I was left feeling mentally exhausted trying to keep up with the expectations of others and my own in relation to where I was in my recovery. A lot of the time, I am my own worst enemy and when things get too challenging, I should communicate my feelings instead of spiralling out of control. The truth is that self-harm may have provided me with a second of relief, but the secondary emotion of shame and self-disgust is far more damaging.
What Have I Learnt from Relapsing?
Although relapsing feels like you’ve eradicated all the hard work that you’ve put into your recovery, it doesn’t mean that you’re back at square one again, and that’s something that I’ve only just accepted. I’m able to recognise that this depressive episode is nowhere near as bad as my crisis period last year. I also remembered a distress tolerance skill and I did manage to distract myself (to a certain extent), and that’s how I know that I do want to keep fighting. For me, I think that I relapsed for a plethora of complicated reasons. One of those, was that I was simply pushing myself to achieve far more than, what I am capable of doing right now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed.
We need to accept that relapse is common. I have not failed by relapsing and you have not failed by relapsing. Healing is an ongoing process and it will take time, commitment and the practice of necessary skills. Most importantly, remember to always be compassionate to yourself!