Living with a mental illness can be very difficult. Once you’ve experienced a hospitilization or sought out the expertise of a mental health professional and recovered, it’s important to recognize the signs that the negative impact of your illness may be returning. This is a concept that we call relapse.
Like someone who is addicted to alcohol or someone who has battled a chronic condition like cancer, a mental health diagnosis can change your perspective on your ability to be “healed” or live a happy and productive life. The honest truth is, you can be satisfied, happy and fulfilled even if you have been previously diagnosed with a mental illness. There’s just one trick…
It requires hard work.
That is over-simplifying recovery a bit and I would remiss not to mention that there are plenty of barriers for a lot of folks out there in seeking mental health care (cost, cultural factors, time, etc.). But those barriers aside, recovery and maintaining optimal mental wellness requires significant hard work and commitment. That’s one reason why I have such admiration and respect for my clients as therapy or personal development is not an easy process. To use a running analogy, mental wellness should be thought of as training for a mental marathon. Both take a considerable amount of time, dedication, likely some discomfort or pain and leave you with a great sense of accomplishment and achievement.
A relapse can occur after extremely stressful events or exposure to particularly strong triggers of your past issues. Relapse is loosely defined as a period when previous symptoms return or the symptoms of your illness worsen. Self awareness is key here, along with the observations of a third party, like a professional mental health counselor.
Here are some warning signs that you may be experiencing a mental health relapse:
- A drastic change in energy levels
- Increased irritabitliy, anger of frustration
- Not properly maintaining a clean and organized living space
- Not grooming yourself as you normally would (ex. bathing, shaving, putting on makeup, etc.)
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Loved one’s reports that your behavior has changed
Relapse is a common experience for people who have battled emotional issues. There is no shame in acknowledging that symptoms may have re-emerged or worsened. Reach out. Engage your therapist, psychiatrist or loved ones at the first signs of trouble so that you can get the help you need. There is no shame in relapse. It is often a part of the process of recovery and can also present an opportunity to develop even deeper understanding, meaning and new ways to cope.