The Secret to My Mental Health Recovery? Rejecting the Expert’s Prognosis

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The secret to my mental health recovery was rejecting the expert’s poor clinical prognosis. Over a decade ago, I learned the hard way that being in your mid-twenties with a degree, ambitions, friends, a boyfriend and a full life to live, a total nervous breakdown is not merely an inconvenience. What I didn’t fully appreciate though due to a startling lack of specialist education, was that it also didn’t need to be a life sentence.

Back then it was suggested to me by a clinician that I may never escape public mental health service treatment. Once I did, a professor of psychiatry announced it unlikely I’d recover to any great capacity. He also deemed it implausible that I’d come off my psychiatric medication. He got it wrong and had I taken his word and lost all hope – I would have suffered the consequences of his poor judgement. The fact that I chose not, proved my saving grace.

An esteemed doctor recently reminded me that psychiatric and psychological evaluations are subjective.

Lived experience is as varied as beliefs, culture and perspectives. Furthermore, given that very few modalities for mental health diagnostics via tangible clinical findings are available, professional opinions can vary wildly. In some instances, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Some of the key ingredients in a successful recovery are determination, effort, commitment, hope and the strength of a therapeutic alliance. Those particular early support services gifted me none of the above. However, they did happily excuse a lack of progress based on their perspective, while happily taking money to support my ongoing apparent non-recovery. As the nature of my illness was considered “indefinite, cyclic in nature and always going to require specialist treatment.” 

Fortunately, I had other ideas about my future.

I was already determined to overcome these challenges and those words put a fire in my belly. I never have enjoyed being dictated to on what I will and won’t do, what I can and cannot achieve and how things will or won’t transpire. That sheer will turned to grit, which turned into quiet courage and then fierce determination. I kept persevering and at times it felt like a cha-cha. I’d take two steps forward, three steps back. I tried to remain undeterred while I took courses on personal development and recommenced writing plus storytelling as a means of self-expression. I also engaged in mental health advocacy and periodically extended my comfort zones, to adjust to the signposts of improvement.

Related: How to Build Resilience by Prioritising your Happiness

When I eventually met my current doctor almost five years ago, her attitude was different to her predecessors. She suggested I was the driver in this recovery journey and that I would in fact largely with support determine the clinical outcome. She saw her job as to get me to a point that her role became largely redundant. At that point in time, I still had regular admissions to hospital and saw her almost fortnightly. But the difference was I now had the key ingredients of determination, effort, commitment, hope and the strength of a therapeutic alliance, in surplus. I have been hospital free for over a year. We catch up to review plans quarterly and I am getting on with my life and it’s a happy one. I’m a wife, a mum, a writer, an author, a mental health advocate, and soon to be TEDx speaker. I am looking forward to carving out a large place in the publishing and literary industries. Contrary to what was suggested – my life is full, but far from complete.

From my experience, I want people to learn the following:

Clinicians who actively undermine hope in a mental health recovery journey effectively undermine therapy and recovery itself. People who have been through the experience of knowing what a recovery takes, often have more pragmatic suggestions than archaic textbooks of yesteryear. It’s not rocket science that people with depression given very little hope of future happiness, fail to progress into recovery. Research is increasingly backing the implementation of a lived experience workforce to complement mental health service provision. As old hands of the system- they know what it takes to effectively navigate the complexities of mental health challenges, including the system itself. 

At times in those early years in the mental health system, I had far more insightful conversations with fellow patients about the road ahead than I did with any clinical treating team.

My key message though is this: if someone (anyone!) presents your future in a way that is unfavourable – you get to choose how to respond. You can accept them as a lord and expert because they have certificates, letters behind their name, swipe access and a pay packet you don’t. Or you can choose to remain analytical. 

If somewhere inside you believe there is a possibility their perspective is inaccurate, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by forgetting that the real expert in your life- is you!

Naomi Fryers is a writer, author, upcoming TEDx speaker and mental health advocate, with a passion for storytelling and suicide prevention. Her debut memoir, ‘A VERY Long Way’ is based on her lived experience of recovery will be released on October 10th by KMD Books.

Writers Page: https://www.facebook.com/naomi.elizabeth.fryers/ Insta: @NaomiFryers