My Relapse Prevention Plan Didn’t Include COVID-19
At 18 years old, I was struggling with depression, anxiety, complex PTSD from trauma, suicidal ideation and addiction to self injury, an eating disorder, alcohol, and pills. Even though I was struggling in a way that wasn’t new to me, I still didn’t have the language or understanding of what was happening with me. I quickly entered the adult mental health system cycling in and out of inpatient programs, intensive outpatient and day programs, doctors appointments, rearranging 34 medications in 8 years trying to find the right combination, many rounds of therapy, support groups, and more relapse prevention plans than I can count on my hands.
Today, I am 35 years old. I am no longer a part of that system in the same way, but my overall well-being, especially my mental health and wellness is important to me that a lot of energy and intention goes into it. It’s been over 15 years since that journey began. I was proud of myself. On some days I still am. In the midst of all that time, I had managed to graduate with my B.S in Psychology and my M.S in Multidisciplinary Human Services; I had spoken to so many groups on mental health and recovery; I had relapsed more than once. I was living independently and actively involved in different communities; was 3 years in successful in my recovery from engaging in self injury, my eating disorder, alcohol, and pills; and survived a toxic marriage. I had worked on my trauma and healing; found my soulmate and am in a healthy second marriage looking forward to our life together; and had a large box of tools with immense understanding of myself and my struggles. I felt equipped as I continued on my holistic health journey and counseled others who were struggling on the realities and possibilities of life in recovery. I felt strong and stable in my tools, my daily intentions in self-care, and my ability to notice signs early to call for pulling out my relapse prevention plan for a little extra support and accountability. In all of this, none of it included or was prepared for the mental and emotional impact of COVID-19.
COVID -19 has impacted millions of people and has changed the way we knew life to be as well. As a person with an autoimmune and neurodegenerative disease, I was so focused on the physical impact for myself, family, and friends. Because I felt like I had been through everything with my mental and emotional health, I didn’t think it was an area of my life I had to worry about, even though life as we knew it was about to change for all of us and I knew how that impacts me in relation to my anxiety and high functioning autism. However, as time went on I felt myself being challenged to keep everything together in a way I had never been before. Recovery and relapsing seemed to be fighting over the driver’s seat more and more as each week passed. I became afraid and stressed of losing all the previous work I had done, the successes I had achieved, the stability and health I had gained with the life I was enjoying starting to build after all the healing and recovery work.
It all came to a head the day I broke down crying in immense anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, and frustration the morning after texting the Crisis Text Line in effort to not give in to my past addiction and suicidal ideation in the middle of the night trying not to wake up my wife just 1 month into being newly married and 1 ½ months into the shelter in place order. Something had to change. My mental and emotional health could no longer take the back-burner. I was open with my wife, connected to a therapist, explored how to incorporate more self-care during COVID-19, and started a new COVID-19 relapse prevention plan. This experience and new type of relapse prevention plan has taught me:
1. Its’ okay to not be okay. Sometimes just being able to acknowledge to myself or be able to reach out to someone and say that I am struggling makes all the difference. It helps me feel I am not alone and have support making it to the next moment.
2. Seeking professional and/or peer support does not make me weak. This has always played a part for me across my journey and has been an internal struggle. But especially during this time I have been thankful for the virtual recovery meetings, therapy access, crisis text lines, and support groups to connect with support and support others at the same time.
3. Discovering more resources to add to my toolbox is always helpful, and the size my toolbox is limitless.
4. Be kind and gentle with myself and others.
5. Sometimes the words are just not there. That’s okay. Ask yourself are there other ways you can express or get out what is happening for you such as baking, creating or playing a game, going for a walk, drawing/painting/writing a poem, singing/writing/listening to music, etc…
6. Be open and non-judgmental about what I and others are experiencing.
7. Self-care is important and it’s okay to make it a priority. No, it’s not just okay, it’s a necessity.
8. Recovery is not linear. My relapse prevention plan is not linear. They are in action, struggling, changing, growing, evolving, and more.
9. No matter how much I am struggling, it doesn’t automatically mean I have relapsed or that relapse is inevitable. I am capable. Gathering data about how I am really doing is important. I can get through this. I will come out stronger than ever on the other side. I got this. We got this.
10. It can be hard to hold onto hope, but hope is still holding onto me one moment at a time.
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