Feelings of renewal can make all seem right with the world once more. But they can also mislead. Be careful not to mistake renewal for recovery.
Renewal might arrive swiftly. As refreshing and as heartening as the first daffodils that herald the arrival of spring. Recovery, on the other hand, will not be rushed. Recovery will take as long as it needs to.
You might feel renewal after a small, much-needed change. It might be that at long last you finally get a change of scene, a change of pace, or a good night’s sleep.
The seasons might change. Spring revives the world. Here comes the sun.* Winter-stripped trees show the first signs of life as it was before. The world will return to how it was before winter’s darkness and cold. Life might feel as if it can resume exactly as it was before.
Recovery is different. Recovery requires more than just renewal. Recovery will not be rushed. The path to recovery will be as long as it needs to be. It may not be as simple as breathing in those first sweet breaths of fresh spring air. The first step on the path to recovery is to recognise and acknowledge that you have a problem. To have any hope of recovery, you may need to make profound changes to your life.
I am currently on a path to recovery. A month ago, I had to admit to myself that I had a problem. Anxiety and stress got the better of me. They had been rising, intensifying for months. I felt I could cope. Until I couldn’t. Suddenly, I felt a loss of control. A constant, low-level feeling of panic colouring everything. Serious difficulty sleeping. I had to seek medical help.
I feel very different to how I felt this time a month ago. The medication that I have been prescribed to treat my anxiety and stress is slowly beginning to take effect. My sleep is much improved. My feelings of anxiety are gradually starting to diminish.
When you acknowledge that you have a problem, that you need to make changes, you will be amazed by the events that you set into motion. Unexpected forces will come to your aid.
I first wrote about my situation a few weeks back, in Into the infinity of thoughts. I am humbled beyond belief that a number of friends have contacted me since that post, sharing messages of support and of empathy. Beautiful souls, speaking exactly the words I needed to hear at the time I needed to hear them. Thank you, my friends.
A common theme in what many of these friends in need had to say was that recovery needs patience, and a willingness to take each step that needs to be taken, at the pace that each step demands. Focusing on my own needs in this way does not come naturally to me. But this is what needs to be done, an essential part of the path to recovery. One dear friend put it beautifully, in just two words:
Those first breaths of clear air
The photographs in this post were taken while out on a walk on the Ashdown Forest on Friday 18 March 2022. I had made it through my first week back at work following two weeks’ sickness absence spent dealing with the worst effects of my stress and anxiety. My energy levels and ability to focus had fluctuated throughout that first week back at work. But I was pleased and proud to have made it through. As soon as I finished work that Friday, my wife and I headed off to the Ashdown Forest.
Two days before the official start of Spring (which arrived on Sunday 20 March 2022), the Ashdown Forest appeared almost more beautiful than I had ever seen it. Renewed by and radiant in the sunlight.
Yet parts of the forest appeared brutally stripped. The forest keepers had removed, piled high and were working their way through chipping huge swathes of gorse. Printed signs informed walkers that while this might look like wholesale destruction, there was nothing to be concerned about. It was necessary to raze the gorse to the ground to protect and promote the biodiversity of the Ashdown Forest. The sign assured the reader that while the ground might appear devastated, it would inevitably recover. As Spring sunlight and rainfall take hold, new life will burst forth from the ground. Those parts of the forest that appear destroyed will once again teem with life. The necessary removal of the gorse will mean that they will be rich with more diverse life than they otherwise would have been.
Taking in those first breaths of the clear forest air and delighting in the sunshine, I felt renewed. All appeared right with the world. Life felt almost back to normal. Yet within minutes of embarking on this walk, I was overcome with exhaustion. Things might be starting to look and feel better. But this feeling of renewal is not to be confused with recovery. I am still working my way through the profound toll of mental and physical exhaustion that my stress and anxiety took on me.
I have a long way yet to go on this path to recovery.
None of this is to lessen the importance of renewal. Feelings of renewal can mark a decisive turning point. They can give you a taste of what is to be gained (or regained) from full recovery.
The feeling of renewal can be brought on by the return of something that you didn’t realise you missed. It is an essential part of recovery, and one that might bring with it an ecstatic joy. But renewal can be misleading. Renewal must not be confused with recovery. Just because you feel human again, or like your old self again, it does not mean that the path to recovery has reached its end.
When feelings of renewal arrive, cherish their beautiful gifts. Enjoy the feeling that all is right with the world once more. But be clear-eyed, too. If you are on a path to recovery, please bear in mind that feeling renewed does not necessarily mean that all is well with you once more and happily ever after. Take stock. Be honest with yourself about what still needs to be done.
Recovery will not be rushed.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
- Mental health (NHS) Information and support for your mental health from the NHS.
- Information and support (Mind) Resources from Mind, the UK mental health charity.
- NAMI Homefront (NAMI) Online resources from US charity NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
- SANE Australia Visit the site of this “national mental health charity making a real difference in the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues”.
* I am sure you do not need me to tell you that Here Comes the Sun is the title of George Harrison’s lovely song from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. But any day, however good it might already be, can always be improved that little bit further by hearing it once again, with fresh and renewed ears.
- All photographs on this page were taken by MJCarty in March 2022.