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A year of recovery: to hell and back

A bit over a year ago, I was released from the psych ward. I graduated and decided to take a gap year to focus on active recovery. A year and a pandemic later, I’m suspiciously stable. I’m doing so perfectly fine that I’d almost start wondering whether it was really such a big deal.


Back then, being released from hospital didn’t mean I was well. But it meant I was doing well enough to go home, as long as my mum would stay in Malta to take care of me. I had spent eight days in Mount Carmel, where I was drugged into a lifeless bit of human. I was happy I could leave.


I slept for a month. My days were two to three hours long, I spent the rest of the time sleeping. I could have a conversation for about six minutes, then I would start to zone out and slowly fall asleep. I ate a bit, but only because my mum prepared me food. Even getting out of bed to go to the bathroom was a huge mission.


I tried to fight it, because feeling weak isn’t fun. But at some point I accepted that this was life now. With my mum and psychologist constantly reassuring me that “yes, you do indeed need this time to properly recover”, I managed to find some peace.


And so my recovery journey began. At first I would go back to Mount Carmel Hospital every two weeks to speak to my psychiatrist and doctors. We would have very brief chats and they would decide whether or not to lower my medication dosage.


One time in March, my psychiatrist asked me whether I was still worried about the virus, as I was obsessed with the idea that I was patient zero of the Corona virus. I laughed and said: “Well, I honestly wouldn’t be, if Covid hadn’t just arrived to Malta…” He understood my sanity had returned, but that it was a crazy time to be recovering in.


The first few months were rough. I tried to go out and do sports within two months after my hospitalisation, and immediately realised that I could not expose myself to so many impulses yet. Big groups freaked me out, and my psychotic symptoms would reappear in loud and crowded restaurants.


I once ordered bruschetta, and as I received the dish I could smell the poison they had - supposedly - put on it. It tasted weird, and I decided to only eat from home until I was more confident in trusting my senses.


Because that was the main challenge: learning to trust myself again. How can you rely on your perceptions when they were once so messed up? How can you believe the way you perceive reality, when you ended up in a psych ward for believing your mind? How can you get back to confidently living life again when you experienced such an intense attack on your sanity?


It took time. And medication, and therapy, and reflection. It took lots of writing, tracking my progress, and talking to friends. And even today, these are the things that keep me sane. I track my moods and write about my experiences. I practice yoga and diving, two things that allow you to actively focus on your breath, your body and your surroundings.


Recovery teaches you to find coping mechanisms. At first I taught myself little tricks for when I was feeling anxious. I had never experienced fear like this before, and the trauma of the psychosis manifested itself in little anxiety attacks.


If I would feel myself getting paranoid about my surroundings, I would touch all of my fingers with my thumb, one by one, to ground myself again. I would sit down and look around to prove to my brain that no one is in fact spying on me or following me around.


I learnt to recognise the things that triggered this anxiety. And every time I would catch my brain slipping, I would grab myself by the hand and remind my mind that not all thoughts are reality.


All of these little things became bigger things, such as finding people I can openly talk about mental health with and doing activities that help me feel present. And using my experiences for the better, instead of being at the mercy of them.


I learnt to accept my limitations and the fact that I need rest. Where I was once stuck in the idea that my worth was based on what I achieved and ever-focused on being great, I know now that I am worthy in simply being alive and getting through the day.


Recovery happens in baby steps. I was fixated on the idea that my actions caused harm. The first time I went to the bathroom in my own house I realised that nothing bad happened when I flushed the toilet – something that had freaked me out every single time. Something as simple as flushing wouldn’t cause a house to collapse and opening my eyes in the morning didn’t cause the world to go up in flames.


Just like with physical injury, mental health issues take away certain aspects of your life. You lose a certain part of yourself. I had to leave the blue-haired girl that was out five nights a week, running around and surrounded by people, in the past.


To realise that you are no longer able to function on three hours of sleep while moving mountains wasn’t a pleasure, to say the least. And while Covid was a helping factor, I had to say goodbye to my nightlife-self as well.

In a sense, I was extremely lucky. While the pandemic is certainly the strangest times I’ve lived through, it made my recovery so much easier. No FOMO, not missing out on anything. When there’s little to do, it’s easy to focus on yourself and practise self-care.


All in all, it was a process of learning and growing. To accept that you have had bad luck, and that you can’t change what happened, but that the rest of your life is still up to you. That you can still explore the depths of who you are and talk to strangers and make something beautiful out something not-so-pretty.


The cards of life are handed to you, but the way you play them are up to you. And the amount of lessons I’ve learnt in the past year are worth years of living. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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