Recovering from a Breakdown (7)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
In our continuing series on recovering from a breakdown, we will look at the many benefits of helping others while trying to recover. Feel like you can’t help yourself, let alone help others? That’s a common comment among recoverers. But not only is it possible, it will help you to recover more quickly. Read on!
When a person has a breakdown it may manifest in many ways. There may be moderate or severe depression, crippling anxiety, the hallucinations and voices that are the hallmark of schizophrenia, the routines and rituals of OCD. Whatever the form of the breakdown, we are responsible for helping ourselves as best we can to manage the symptoms we experience. Talking to a counselor and medication are valuable aids in turning your life around. But there is often one aspect that practitioners often forget, and that is requiring the sufferer to help others.
As ridiculous or impossible as this may sound to you, particularly if you are the sufferer yourself, the act of helping others will speed up your own recovery. When a person suffers from a mental illness, the pain of the disorder can be overwhelming. To add to the distress, family and friends may not always be understanding of the suffering associated with mental illness, and this misunderstanding and ignorance can add further to the person’s suffering. Small wonder that the depressed or anxious person withdraws into a world of pain that follows them like a shadow day and night.
But apart from medication, talk therapy, a good diet, exercise, and positive thinking, the act of helping others is a huge step on the road to recovery. The easiest place for a sufferer to help others is in a support group for sufferers of similar emotional problems. The most functional types of support groups work two ways. First, they offer much needed support and understanding for the sufferer, and the realization that others, too, suffer from the same condition. Good support groups validate the existence of the disorder and confirm to the sufferer that it is not “all in his head”. They also reinforce that idea that to be told to “move on” and “pull your socks up” is pointless.
But the second invaluable aspect of these groups is that they allow the sufferer to help others. A simple word of encouragement that you as a sufferer may offer to another sufferer is all it takes to start rebuilding your self-esteem. And self-esteem can certainly take a battering after an emotional breakdown. Yet, over time, simple acts of helping others will help build your self esteem and your confidence.
The ability to help others, even when you are sick yourself, takes away feelings of uselessness and hopelessness. It proves to you that you are, in fact, as worthwhile and valuable as any other person. Sufferers from mental illness really need this feedback as they are often very hard on themselves, plus they have usually been subjected to the thoughtless and uninformed comments of others.
But there are other ways that you can help others while you are undergoing a breakdown as well as joining a group. One household chore a day, however small, will help the load of others in your family but, most importantly, that act will help yourself. Or perhaps you have a talent for drawing. If so, make “thank you” cards for those who are helping you out, or may be suffering in some way themselves. Has your neighbor admired one of your plants in the past? Take a cutting and pot it up for them and give as a gift. You can find countless ways to give love to others, no matter how sick you are feeling. At those times of the day when you are feeling most motivated, share an act of kindness with others, so that you will feel a part of the world again. Recovery is a two-way street; by helping others as much as you are able, you’ll be better able to get back to get out of your present cul-de-sac and onto the highway of life!