When I first was diagnosed, one of my biggest coping mechanisms was to consider my mental illness like any other physical injury I had ever had up until this point- as something that I will bounce back from, passing in its own time, given that I look after myself, rest up, and practise patience.
It’s a classic case of youthful thinking that I was, in some way, immortal, and that whatever happened, I would always be fine and just go back to how I was before. The idea of a sports injury sticking around as something I have to work with for the rest of my life was something that I couldn’t comprehend.
Of course, now I know that things don’t always happen that way. Bodies get old, and pain is stubborn, and one particularly persistent illness or injury may never quite seem to fade completely. You never quite go back to square one. But what you can do, if you’ll let it, is end up somewhere completely different.
In the yoga community, I have heard the most inspiring life stories from people, first hand, of how they were told they would never walk unaided again, or be able to go back to the work that they love, and yet they did. These people managed to overcome the odds stacked against them, working oh-so-slowly, and with all of the patience of the universe within themselves.
And no, of course they’re not the same people they were at the start- they have undergone an immense soul-changing journey – how could anyone be the same after that? They often come out of it with an entirely new life perspective, being more in control, more aware, more accepting, more understanding, and more patient with themselves, and with others, than they ever could have been before.
But of course it is hard to be patient, all the time, when the future seems to stretch out in front of you empty and bleak, and you feel like you are so far from where you want to be, and even further from what you were before.
I guess in recovery, it is important to let go of these self comparisons and expectations that you put on yourself, and try not to look too far ahead. To practise a different kind of patience with yourself, one where you are not waiting for something in particular, but one where you continue to pootle along on your path steadily and patiently in the face of obstacles (and of course there will be obstacles, life likes to do that for us to give us a little push from time to time).
The difference is to work with progression, rather than aiming for some sort of perfection. To let go of expectations or life plans and just see where you end up. To live in the present, as you are, and try to accept how you are feeling today and work with today, rather than getting frustrated with yourself for not being who you were before.
Because (and this can be a really difficult thought to deal with) you are not who you were before. And you will never be who you were before again. But instead, you are someone with the potential to be so. much. more. With the depth of your experience, you are creating the most beautiful landscapes of mountains and valleys within your soul. So it is ok to take your time. You are becoming more you. You are coming home to yourself.
Below is an extract that I was given by my therapist when I was moving on from my CBT course at Birmingham Healthy Minds. It is about faith, and patience, and doing everything from a place of love.
I hope you are all well.
Doing the Best You Can
Progressing with Patience
Try not to expect perfection when starting out on a spiritual path or attaining inner peace.
It isn’t always easy to meet the expectations we hold ourselves to. We may find ourselves in a situation such as just finishing a relaxing yoga class or meditation retreat, a serene session of deep breathing, or listening to some calming, soul-stirring music, yet we have difficulty retaining our sense of peace. A long line at the store, slow-moving traffic, or another stressful situation can unnerve you and leave you wondering why the tranquility and spiritual equilibrium you cultivate is so quick to dissipate in the face of certain stressors. You may feel guilty and angry at yourself or even feel like a hypocrite for not being able to maintain control after practicing being centered. However, being patient with yourself will help you more in your soul’s journey than frustration at your perceived lack of progress. Doing the best you can in your quest for spiritual growth is vastly more important than striving for perfection.
Just because you are devoted to following a spiritual path, attaining inner peace, or living a specific ideology doesn’t mean you should expect to achieve perfection. When you approach your personal evolution mindfully, you can experience intense emotions such as anger without feeling that you have somehow failed. Simply by being aware of what you are experiencing and recognizing that your feelings are temporary, you have begun taking the necessary steps to regaining your internal balance. Accepting that difficult situations will arise from time to time and treating your reaction to them as if they are passing events rather than a part of who you are can help you move past them. Practicing this form of acceptance and paying attention to your reactions in order to learn from them will make it easier for you to return to your center more quickly in the future.
Since your experiences won’t be similar to others’ and your behavior will be shaped by those experiences, you may never stop reacting strongly to the challenging situations you encounter. Even if you are able to do nothing more than acknowledge what you are feeling and that there is little you can do to affect your current circumstances, in time you’ll alter your reaction to such circumstances. You can learn gradually to let negative thoughts come into your mind, recognize them, and then let them go. You may never reach a place of perfect peace, but you’ll find serenity in having done your best.