I saw an article recently criticizing workplace mental health programs as nothing more than attempts to make people work harder and longer. That’s a valid criticism if a workplace or an individual is trying to use “stress relief” as an excuse to ignore the things they’re doing to cause that stress. But for me, that freedom to do more of what I love is one of the biggest benefits of recovery from a bunch of mental illness diagnoses. I was reminded of this freedom recently one Sunday morning.

I was flying out to facilitate a workshop in the afternoon but before I did that, I saw friends for coffee, then went to the gym because the workout of the day included rope climbs (I’ve been working on getting better at them), then went to water my friend’s plants because he was out of town, and then I cooked lunch for myself and made extra so there’d be some food in the fridge when I got back.

In the past, when I struggled with my brain, I wouldn’t have done any of that. I wouldn’t have seen friends because I was always worried I had the departure time wrong and I’d miss it if I wasn’t at home constantly confirming it. I wouldn’t have done the workout because I was scared of heights and didn’t like to do exercises I couldn’t do well. I wouldn’t have tended a friend’s plants because I was terrified of getting blamed for something going wrong–I could leave the door unlocked, kill all of the plants, spontaneously combust and burn down his apartment. And I definitely wouldn’t have cooked food because I’d have to do more checking rituals with the stove on top of all the other pre-travel rituals and that could make me late getting to the airport. I’d need to leave absurdly early for the airport just in case!

Dealing with mental illness is exhausting, anxiety-riddled, physically draining work. From the outside, it probably looks like not much is happening. Mental illness is only productive at producing more illness. Getting over all of those compulsions has helped free me up to do things I actually care about. I’m doing much more but it’s much less work.

That Sunday morning is a snapshot of how I define recovery. It’s about doing the things I want to do. It’s not about the presence or absence of stuff in my head. It’s about actions. Actions that help me build and create things I want to keep in my life. It’s not focused on managing illness. It’s about health.

On the other side of recovery, I hope you get to do all of the things  you want to do. And your brain can come along for that ride, doing whatever it’s doing.

Mark

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