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Recovery Isn’t Always Neat And Predictable And That’s Okay

Though we like things to follow a guided course, recovery isn't like that. The path to recovery might not be linear, but you will get there.

Recovering from mental health problems can be like recovering from any injury. It can be frustrating, limiting, and at times, painstaking. When the path gets weary and long, we may experience feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and hopelessness.

But, when we feel this way, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are taking the first steps towards a more stable and fulfilling life, and reaching that goalpost is going to come with hurdles and setbacks. When our path feels more zigzags than straight lines, it’s important to remember that even the smallest and shakiest of steps still move us forward.  

Why Recovery Isn’t Linear

As humans, we often find a sense of comfort and control in predictability. It’s perhaps why many of us may prefer to rewatch our favourite show over a new one. We know what is going to unfold, and how the story is going to end. But when it comes to our mental health, recovery isn’t something we can forecast. It isn’t a set course, and it can take a lot of trial and error. The key is to not get discouraged. 

It’s important to recognise that our progress will look different each day. What we managed and coped with yesterday, might feel unattainable today, and that’s okay. It’s important that we recognise when to step up and when to step down. On the days we need to step down, that doesn’t mean we have failed. Recovery requires us to make changes, and change can be stressful under any circumstances. But when we are recovering from mental health struggles, it can be even more difficult.

Recovery isn’t linear because we won’t always know what works for us. It can require a lot of feeling around in the dark before we are able to find the thing that we need. We are navigating new grounds, and it’s okay if we get a little lost along the way. It’s the steps we take to find our way back that matter.

What Recovery Might Look Like 

As with most difficulties that we face in life, there isn’t a magic formula or a one-size-fits-all resolution. But there are little things to be sought along our path to recovery that light up the way ahead and make it a little easier to navigate. Whether that’s in the form of harnessing a new coping technique, letting go of a habit that no longer serves us or acknowledging a positive shift in our mood or behaviour.

Recovery doesn’t have to be a cure. Recovery can look like being able to cope and manage our struggles to a point where we are able to live the kind of life we want to live. 

We all struggle with emotional stressors and hardships in our lives. As we begin to recover, we will find better, easier ways to calm the churn, take a step back, and avoid the pitfalls and negative talk that can keep us stuck.

Difficult Days Don’t Undo Our Progress 

Recovery isn't linear
it’s important not to let this relapse consume us. Photo: Team Design

Our progress isn’t measured in wins or losses. What matters is the number of times we continue to get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. Sometimes our worst enemy is that voice inside our head. It can be critical and judgemental and extremely loud; it’s no wonder we have such a hard time ignoring it. But we are not the person this voice makes us out to be. 

When we find ourselves taking a step back in recovery, it’s important not to let this relapse consume us and erase or minimise all of the hard work we have put in. Instead, let’s remind ourselves how far we’ve come. One step backwards doesn’t compare to the miles we’ve gone to get where we are.

Things We Can Do That Help 

Recovery requires a lot of work, and sometimes that work can be tiring. As with any job, which is what recovery is, sometimes we just need a break. It is okay to give ourselves downtime where we can just “be” instead of “do.” It’s also important for our future recovery to grant ourselves patience and compassion when we find that we’re stagnant or experiencing a setback.

Here are some things we can do to support ourselves in our recovery: 

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great tool for motivation, hope and can provide us with the courage we need to keep moving forward. It is a practice that can  help us  live in the present, meaning we aren’t jumping ahead to the future or revisiting the past. When we are mindful, we are intentionally engaged with what is happening around us  and accepting without judgment.

We can’t stop stressors from happening, whether they are internal or external, but we can choose how we interpret and respond to them. When we are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, we can try to take a step back from the situation to truly look at it. If we choose not to allow it or respond to it, then it can’t touch us. Using mindful tactics like mindful meditation has been shown to decrease stress levels, reduce negative thinking patterns, and reduce anxiety.

Let Go Of Fear And Shame

Fear and shame are two very powerful motivators for relapse. They are also very natural feelings that we all have, no matter who we are. When we  have a relapse or fail to move forward, it can feel like a failure. Failure often leads to the fear of not trying again and the shame of not getting it right to begin with. The difficult  reality of failure is that without it, we can’t grow and learn. But often, our greatest failures produce our most valuable lessons.

Recovery can’t be linear because it is in the missteps that we learn how to put one foot back in front of another and continue. When we fail, we don’t just get right back on the path where we were, we  do so with more knowledge, experience, and strength because of it, not despite it. When we are able to  recognise that failure must happen in order for us to reach success, it can help us find it easier to accept. 

Fine Is Not Always Fine

Recovery isn't linear
It’s important that we give ourselves permission to not be okay. Photo: Team Design

When in recovery, there is pressure to say “I’m fine” – even at times when we are not fine. Everyone has points in their lives where they are not “fine” or “okay,” and it is okay not to be. When we are having a hard time, it’s important that we give ourselves permission to not be okay.

One day of letting lemons be lemons is a huge necessity to learning to accept those parts of ourselves that are still a work in progress. It’s important to acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can, trying to be the best version of ourselves and that we too deserve a break just like the ones we give to others. Only then will we begin to see that the only one who has to be okay with you – is you.

Asking For Help From Those Around Us

Often, when we have an internal conflict that no one else can see, we keep it inside. We don’t want people to see the worst parts of ourselves, so we hide them away. When we don’t address the sorrow, depression, and sadness that we are harbouring and don’t ask for help from those around us, it can feel like hanging onto a secret.

No one is supposed to go it alone – that’s why we have people in our lives. It isn’t weak to ask for help; having the courage to be vulnerable and tell people how you truly feel and what you really need is a strength. While it is true that recovery can only happen if we are committed to it, it is also true that people are more successful when they have others to lean on and share the load.

We Are Not Alone

Recovery is a journey that can feel very isolated and lonely. No one else hears what our inner voice is saying or the things we may be struggling with behind the scenes. They can, however, be a sounding board and safe ear to keep us on track. When we aren’t stepping forward, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are falling back.

Every day that we make choices that benefit our wellbeing, and accept failures as learning opportunities are good days, and a testament to our resilience. It’s important to remember, especially on the grey days, that our recovery doesn’t have to be a silent struggle. Whether we confide in a trusted person, make an appointment with our GP or reach out to a mental health organisation for additional help, support is available, and we are worthy of the support that we need to get better.

Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.


Blurtitout employs stringent sourcing standards, using only peer-reviewed studies and academic research to ensure the accuracy of its content. For details on their editorial process, you can visit their website. This commitment to reliable sources is crucial in the health and medical fields. If you need help finding or interpreting these sources

  1. Jacobs, T.L., Epel, E.S., Zanesco, A. and B. Alan W (2012). Self-reported Mindfulness and Cortisol Dynamics During a Shamatha Meditation Retreat. [online] ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/216643204_Self-reported_Mindfulness_and_Cortisol_Dynamics_During_a_Shamatha_Meditation_Retreat.
  2. Yang, C.-H. and Conroy, D.E. (2018). Momentary negative affect is lower during mindful movement than while sitting: An experience sampling study. Psychology of sport and exercise, [online] 37, pp.109–116. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2018.05.003.
  3. ScienceDaily. (2018). Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety: People with anxiety show reduced stress on the arteries after 1-hour introductory session. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423135048.htm.


Julie Keating has a bachelor's degree from Loyola University and a masters degree of public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also the author of Notes From a Blackberry and the mother of six. What she did not learn from her years of formal education, she did from her experiences being a mother and caretaker.

Kind words
for unkind days