"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 21, 2013
The Fourth Pillar of Psychiatric Recovery: Recovery Environment (Part 1)
by Sarah Hancock

Now we've arrived at the fourth vital pillar of psychiatric recovery -- recovery environment. It's interesting to me that this is part of the recovery model because it just seems self-evident. However, I can assure you that I made no progress until I was able to create a recovery environment for myself.

Initially I tried to manage my life as though nothing had changed -- denying symptoms of my illness. Most people who surrounded me did the same. Gradually I realized that my symptoms did interfere with my daily life, but I didn't know how to help myself.

Sure, I went to doctors, counselors, crisis homes, hospitals and even an institution, yet nothing seemed to get me rolling in the right direction. Why? I didn't know how to create a recovery environment.

Values. One of the most important aspects of creating a recovery environment is to get to know yourself better. What makes your heart sing? Do you get your energy from people or when you're around people do you need a break? What do you value? If you listed your values in order of priority, which value would come first? (Faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge . . . I just had to throw those in! Obviously you can come up with your own values.)

Personally, I get my energy from people. The more I am involved with others with have common values, the better I feel. Before I understood my values and what I find most important, my environment was counter-recovery.

For me it was important to live with people who enjoy a good laugh and sitting around talking after a hard day of work. I feel great when I hang out with people who look for the best in others. I enjoy being around people who build and strengthen others.

This past week I had a conversation with a friend who is trying to create a recovery environment in her home for someone she holds dear. The more we talked, the more we brainstormed ideas of possible things she could do for this loved one.

We talked about having hopeful yet realistic expectations. We talked about involving this person more into daily activities and the community. Although my friend and I had many insightful ideas, one thing rang true with me again and again. Regardless of how well-crafted and well-intended our ideas were, they were not created by the person we were trying to help.

A person with a psychiatric illness can improve when she recognizes her interests and values and sets her own goals. Anything goal I create for her strips her personal power.

Clubhouses. One of the things I tried to do when creating my recovery environment was to go to a clubhouse. A clubhouse is a peer-run psychosocial organization that provides activities and classes for members (other people with a psychiatric diagnosis).

Clubhouses can be a wonderful opportunity for people to interact with others. Personally, a clubhouse was not a good fit for me and I chose not to go on a regular basis. However, while interning at a clubhouse, I met many wonderful and compassionate people. Now I realize that if I had to do it again, I would go at least two weeks before giving up on the clubhouse. There are many fun and interesting people to meet.

Volunteering. This is a particularly important part of creating a recovery environment. Since I was so symptomatic, I wasn't at a time in my life when I could work. Not working made me feel like I was a completely inept leech on society.

Finally I started looking for ways to keep myself busy and build my ability to keep a schedule. I realized that the more I could get out of myself and do something for someone else, the stronger I felt that I was capable to move on to something more.

I volunteered in a second grade classroom helping kids learn to read and sitting next to kids with behavioral problems. When I showed up, the kids would jump out of their seats and come give me a hug. Talk about a morale booster! The teacher said she could teach more effectively when I was in the room.

At first I did two hours once a week. Progressively I grew to two hours on two days, then two hours on three days. It was still flexible enough that if my symptoms or medications needed adjustment, my absence was just fine.

Soon I felt about my ability to cope with my surroundings and I graduated to a part-time job. Next week I will start my first full-time job ever. While I am nervous, I am truly excited.

Keeping around other people, although overwhelming at times, helped me personally because I am the kind of person who gets their energy from being with people. Isolating is particularly natural when someone is in the throes of depression. However, it is even that much more vital for a person who is an extrovert to be around people -- which is difficult when your body doesn't have the chemical balance to do so.

Exploring one's values -- what brings them energy and getting out of their own mind -- is necessary for a person with a psychiatric disorder to create a personal recovery plan. For that reason, each of those things should be incorporated into a recovery plan.

Following a recovery plan can create a recovery environment. These are just three things vital to creating a recovery environment. Next time I will cover the importance of utilizing recovery language when creating a recovery environment.

Until then, make it a great day!

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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