A man walking is never in balance,
But always correcting for imbalance.
– Gregory Bateson
People with mental health concerns do recover. Even with chronic and serious mental health concerns like psychosis, obsession-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (I prefer the terminology of interpersonal difficulty), there is reason to hope, as people do get better and lead a full functioning life.
And it’s also not about leading a “normal” life, but an “optimal” life.
The literature in what is loosely called the Recovery Movement suggests several factors that contribute to a person’s recovery. Beyond what most mental health professionals thinks, it’s not just a reduction of symptoms like low mood, anxiety, or voice hearing, but rather consumers on the receiving end of help point towards a different horizon.
Gleaning from a variety of clinical studies, qualitative research, and firsthand encounters with people on their journey of recovery, there are three pillars that stands out:
When I speak about Work, I speak about Occupation. What Occupies your life? What do you allow yourself to be filled with? What do you make space for in your life? Work, in its tradition sense of the word i.e., gainful employment gives us a sense of purpose. It is not simply a distraction in life, but the ongoing engagement in something that makes sense to you, has a profound impact on our sense of worth, as well as boosts our self-confidence. For more than a decade, I have worked with many clients in therapy, that when they start to be involved in work that makes sense to them, enlist in a volunteering group, or even getting enrolled in studies that is in accordance to their interest, things change. What’s more, the ability to earn an income has a direct impact on one’s sense of personal agency, contributing either to their own living, or even that of others in the family.
Through time, the process of engaging in a meaningful work, becomes an experiential teacher. Such lessons learned about life are highly personal, sometimes not a conscious learning process, but certainly leaves an undeniable mark. As if that imprint is like a road sign that points towards a direction in your life, guiding you where you should proceed. These are the lessons rarely learned from books.
“We are what we love”- Thomas Merton , Book of Hours (p.95)
Love is our hallmark of humanity. Our individuality is bind and build by our connectedness with each other. As Carl Jung (1969) once said, Wholeness is a combination of I and You. We are shaped by our relationships. From the birth of life, we are nurtured by receiving love. We are surprisingly dependent on our care-giver in the first few years of life.
Beyond receiving love, to be able to give your love to others, is a powerful display of our sense of self and relatedness. Just watch an infant in the arms of the mother. See the dance of life played out but the one who is receiving and the other who is giver. Often, the one who is giving is also receiving.
The importance of having fun is one of the most underrated elements. Think about a little child. Eleminate the fun of learning to read, write, or attempting to speak new words, you basically eleminate learning.
When busy-ness of living sets in, the joy of doing something fun often gets relegated. We need to reclaim that into our lives. It could be solitary activities (e.g., reading, listening to music, playing an individual sport), or with others (e.g., hanging out with friends, groups sports, playing music).
“Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.”
– Winston Churchhill
Ask yourself, which aspect in your life currently is deprived? Seek ways to develop each of the aspects in Love, Work, and Play. Like a car, we don’t just service them once, it’s an ongoing process. Do not be afraid to seek help when we need someone with the right tools for the road of recovery.
1. See Lori Ashcroft and her colleagues work on Recovery Innovations. Check out their resources and videos;
2. My Singaporean colleagues and I published a book in 2011 called, The Write to Recovery: Personal Stories and Lessons About Recovery from Mental Health Concerns. See HERE for a sample of the Introduction Chapter;
3. Eleanor Longden, psychologist and mental health consumer, sharing her first-person perspective on her tumultuous journey of recovery from psychosis .
For those who want to improve their initimate relationships, I highly recommend psychotherapist Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight;
Jane McGonigal: Check her two inspiring TED talks on the power of gaming. She brings back the fun in life. She was recently interviewed on the Tim Ferris Show podcast, and has her second book, SuperBetter coming out this month on how to lead life with a “Gameful” Mindset. Serious stuff.