We receive a lot of messages, consciously and subconsciously, about what healing is. I have my own opinions, some of which will be evident in this post, but I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is what does healing mean to you? There may be limitations to our ideas of a dream life, because we don’t live in a vacuum, but only you get to decide what your healing actually means and looks like. Unfortunately it’s something that is quite overlooked in a lot of mental health spaces, and we’re not often encouraged to really define it for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we can’t.
Personally, an important part in redefining healing for myself has been understanding what I’ve been taught about healing. A lot of what I’ve learnt is to see ‘getting better’ as this hyper-individualistic thing. We’re told that ‘getting better’ is about becoming a productive member of society again, going back to work full time, having more output, and living up to the expectations placed on us. A lot of therapy is often about this idea – it’s about mitigating the factors that get in the way of productivity rather than fostering genuine happiness. The idea of compliance and non-compliance in the mental health system is a huge part of reinforcing this and getting in the way of anyone who needs to stop and question whether this striving for efficiency under societal norms is actually what they need.
We don’t live in a vacuum, so I think it’s only logical to suggest that we don’t heal in a vacuum either. And yes it is possible to have personal peace without those around you experiencing the same, but that’s not to say our healing is entirely individual. We are connected; we are even a part of nature. When bears hibernate or trees shed their leaves we don’t look at them and say they should be doing more, they should be doing better; we understand that they are in a season of their life. Yet we so often fail to extend this same understanding and grace to ourselves. We are a part of nature too, and so we are connected to those around us and every part of the world around us. It is only logical to think we should lean into this connection and these seasons to find peace. So I would say healing is community. Healing is working together. Not in order to fix or mend one broken individual, but to recognise what in our living, breathing system of life contributed to their pain in the first place, and to heal all of us. I’ve found that when I am held by a community, only then am I able to find my own inner peace.
We also seem to see healing as this end destination – we arrive at ‘healed’ and then we continue there as before… until maybe we need to be healed again. But I don’t see it like this. Healing is an ongoing, every day process for me. Just like I see myself as a continually ‘recovering’ alcoholic, I also see myself as a continually ‘healing’ person. Partly because there are new challenges to life every day; partly because I have chronic mental illness; and partly because I see healing in a larger sense too, one of societal healing. That can be hard to conceive sometimes, or to not get wrapped up in. But I see it as a source of hope rather than a drain of hope. A source of power. That healing, as an ongoing, everyday practice, also means trying to help others and be connected with their struggles. Trying to learn how we can all work together to do better, to build better infrastructure, to break the chains and patterns of the past, to move forwards.
So what does healing mean to you? Does healing mean connection? Does healing mean going back to the life you had before? Or is that just the easiest life to imagine? Does healing mean productivity, or does it mean inner happiness and peace? What do you need to see that realised? Is healing individual, or collective, or aided by the collective? Is healing a destination or a journey?
I’m not saying there’s one right way to redefine healing. It is personal in how it manifests in our lives, but the very fact that so many out there are healing and recovering shows that while it is personal, it is not individual. And I think the mental health system needs to recognise that too.
Sending all of my love and support to you today xxx