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Recovery as a Journey of the Heart
By Patricia Deegan, Ph.D. (excerpted with permission)
Published by Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal
Pat Deegan is Director of Training and Education at The National Empowerment Center. She has lectured, published and consulted on recovery and the empowerment of people with psychiatric disabilities throughout the world. She is the author of an innovative training program called "Hearing Voices That Are Distressing: A Training Simulation And Self Help Strategies".

The following excerpts are from an article by Patricia Deegan, Ph.D. originally published in Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 1996 Vol. 19 No 3.

The full article can be purchased for a nominal fee directly from the National Empowerment Center. or by contacting them directly at: 599 Canal St., Lawrence, MA 01840 USA (toll free #) 1 -800-POWER2U or 1-800-769-3728 (Outside the U.S.) +978-685-1518. Proceeds go to furthering the work the National Empowerment Center does to help all those with an interest in promoting recovery from psychiatric disabilities. The NEC website also includes a large selection of articles by Pat Deegan and others on recovery, empowerment, and self-help.

  • The concept of recovery is rooted in the simple yet profound realization that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness are human beings. Like a pebble tossed into the center of a still pool, this simple fact radiates in ever larger ripples until every corner of academic and applied mental health science and clinical practice are affected. Those of us who have been diagnosed are not objects to be acted upon. We are fully human subjects who can act and in acting, change our situation. We are human beings and we can speak for ourselves. We have a voice and can learn to use it. We have the right to be heard and listened to. We can become self determining. We can take a stand toward what is distressing to us and need not be passive victims of an illness. We can become experts in our own journey of recovery.

    The goal of recovery is not to get mainstreamed. We don't want to be mainstreamed. We say let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.

    The goal of the recovery process is not to become normal. The goal is to embrace our human vocation of becoming more deeply, more fully human. The goal is not normalization. The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we are called to be. The philosopher Martin Heidegger said that to be human means to be a question in search of an answer. Those of us who have been labeled with mental illness are not de facto excused from this most fundamental task of becoming human. In fact, because many of us have experienced our lives and dreams shattering in the wake of mental illness, one of the most essential challenges that faces us is to ask, who can I become and why should I say yes to life?

    To be human means to be a question in search of an answer. However, many of us who have been psychiatrically labeled have received powerful messages from professionals who in effect tell us that by virtue of our diagnosis the question of our being has already been answered and our futures are already sealed.

  • I remember people trying to make me participate in food shopping on Wednesday or to help bake bread or to go on a boat ride. But nothing anyone did touched me or moved me or mattered to me. I had given up. Giving up was a solution for me. The fact that I was unmotivated was seen as a problem by the people who worked with me. But for me, giving up was not a problem, it was a solution. It was a solution because it protected me from wanting anything. If I didn't want anything, then it couldn't be taken away. If I didn't try, then I wouldn't have to undergo another failure. If I didn't care, then nothing could hurt me again. My heart became hardened. The spring came and went and I didn't care. Holidays came and went and I didn't care. My friends went off to college and started new lives and I didn't care. A friend whom I had once loved very much came over to visit me and I didn't care. I remember sitting and smoking and saying almost nothing. And as soon as the clock struck 8, I remember interrupting my friend in mid sentence and telling her to go home because I was going to bed. Without even saying goodbye I headed for my bed. My heart was hard. I didn't care about anything.

  • My efforts to protect my breaking heart by becoming hard of heart and not caring about anything lasted for a long time. One thing I can recall is that the people around me did not give up on me. They kept inviting me to do things. I remember one day, for no particular reason, saying yes to helping with food shopping. All I would do was push the cart. But it was a beginning. And truly, it was through small steps like these that I slowly began to discover that I could take a stand toward what was distressing to me.

  • Recovery does not mean cure. Rather recovery is an attitude, a stance, and a way of approaching the days challenges. It is not a perfectly linear journey. There are times of rapid gains and disappointing relapses. There are times of just living, just staying quiet, resting and regrouping. Each person's journey of recovery is unique. Each person must find what works for them. This means that we must have the opportunity to try and to fail and to try again. In order to support the recovery process mental health professionals must not rob us of the opportunity to fail. Professionals must embrace the concept of the dignity of risk and the right to failure if they are to be supportive of us.

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