Keep Moving: Why I Keep Trying New Mental Health Treatments (Even If They Don’t Always Work)

When I talk about the various types of treatment I tried and how many of them did more harm than good, people almost always ask me ‘why?’.  Why I tried this or that, why I keep trying different things, and if I regret any of it.

My simple answer is:  I had to.  No, I don’t regret any of it because I had to try.  I have to keep trying.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

That was one of the first things that a therapist told me. I had spent the last decade hiding my depression and living a life of fear.  I hated how I felt, but at least it was familiar to me.  Making changes, or trying anything different was overwhelming and terrifying.  I was afraid to let go of the life I knew, even if it was miserable.

What if I tried something new and it didn’t work? In my mind that meant something terrible. That meant that I had failed.  That I was a failure.

But my kind therapist helped me recognize that what I was currently doing wasn’t working for me anyway.  He tried to help me see that that didn’t mean I was a failure–but learning that lesson was a process that took years.

Fortunately, I was able to quickly accept the logic behind “if nothing changes, nothing changes”. And I decided to start trying some changes.  It was scary. Not everything I tried helped, but I discovered that trying something new and moving in a new direction felt good because it brought me hope.

Moving… Where?

People like to talk about “moving forward”, but with mental illness, it can be difficult to determine exactly which direction is “forward”.  Fortunately, there is something to be said for simply moving.  In any direction.  Have you ever seen stagnant water?  

gross stagnant water

It’s gross.  It has swirls of algae and junk.  There’s usually a layer of obnoxious bugs hovering just over the surface.  It smells.  If any littering humans have been around, there is often garbage floating on the top, as well.  Gross.

clear, moving water

Contrast that with a moving body of water.  Even a small stream can be beautiful.  Gross things can get tossed in, but because it keeps moving, they eventually flush out.  It smells crisp and clear.  Sometimes a severe storm comes along and muddies the water, but that too will eventually settle down as the water moves along.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be that little stream than a stagnant pond.  Even if that stream takes a very meandering course, sometimes through very dark places. No matter what garbage gets tossed at me, or how muddy a storm may make things–if I keep moving, things always clear up again.

Why I Keep Trying

So, I keep trying new things and I keep moving.  If one direction isn’t working then I change and try a different way.  I tried medications of all different types, doses, and combinations for a year and a half before we determined that was not a good direction for me. I tried ECT and became a zombie for a couple months and lost a year’s worth of memories.  I’ve tried different therapies, natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and more.  Sometimes I’m headed in the right direction and sometimes I’m not.

But, I don’t regret any of it. The changes that weren’t helpful help me recognize and appreciate the changes that are helpful.  (See more on this concept here.) Going back to school is, by far, the most difficult and scary change I’ve made yet.  But it’s also brought me the most happiness, stability, and resilience I’ve experienced since this whole journey began.

Worth It

I used to feel like I had completely lost myself.  I felt trapped by this irritable, angry, depressed, miserable monster and I thought I’d never be free.  But I feel closer to myself than I have in years.  I even feel comfortable in my own skin much of the time.  I’m not constantly plagued by the self-loathing and shame that kept me company for years.

I enjoy being around my family again.  I can handle bad days and tough situations.  When I look at myself, I no longer see a failure and a loser.  I see someone who is brave and resilient.  And someone who is happy.

Just Keep Swimming

Bad days still come. Not as often. But when they come, they are fierce and overwhelming.  I still have moments of wanting to hurt myself or take my life, but I’ve gotten in the habit of moving.  I taught myself that if I can just keep moving through the dark, putting one foot in front of the other, I always find my way into the light again.

Sometimes I find the light quickly, and sometimes it takes weeks.  It takes longer if I forget to keep moving.  Doing nothing is the same as giving up.  There’s no hope in that.  So, I get going again. And eventually, I make it to the light.

I’m Not Special

An interesting thing about those two photos of moving vs. stagnant water is that it is the same body of water. I took those photos on the same day.  It’s just that one part of it is moving, and one part of it is not.

There is nothing special about me or my situation.  Believe me, I asked my doctor and my current therapist repeatedly if I somehow had it easier and that’s why I can drag myself out of bed every morning, even on the worst days.  They’ve both assured me there is nothing easy or less about my mental illness. In fact, we’ve all discussed whether or not I actually have more going on in addition to bipolar II, but I’ll save that for another post.

The point is, if I can keep moving, so can you.  “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) You have it in you to be brave, take a chance, and move out of the place you’re currently in.

If nothing changes, nothing changes.  We are here to change, to learn, and to grow.  It is okay to be afraid, especially at first. That’s normal. Just don’t allow your fear to keep you stagnant. Remember that whichever direction you move, it only begins with a small step.  Take that small step today and you will be amazed at where you may end up.