The toxicity of online ‘anti-recovery’ communities.

For many people suffering with mental illness, it can be profoundly difficult to seek treatment and support. However, most would still certainly prefer not to be sick, and would find it almost unthinkable to want to stay that way forever, completely disregarding all means of regaining a semblance of happiness and comfort. This exact rhetoric however exists within a dark corner of the internet often found on tumblr and reddit, known as the ‘anti-recovery’ community.

The overlying theme among this internet group is pessimism and dismissiveness towards mental illness recovery. Although a lack of hope and an apathy towards the future is a common symptom of many mental illnesses, and it is important not to stigmatise mental illness as something to be hidden away as it used to be, to promote a mindset that recovery is impossible and to be sick forever is simply inevitable is extremely harmful. For those with suicidal ideation it could be particularly damaging, causing individuals to shut out methods of treatment without so much as attempting them, and in turn causing their illness to worsen as feelings of cynicism and hopelessness are exacerbated.

While it’s true that many people do promote methods of recovery that may only be entirely useful to so called ‘neurotypical’ people, such as those dubbed by the internet as ‘yoda crusaders’, I disagree that these methods – including yoga, exercise, experiencing nature and healthy eating – are useless and pointless to try. Although they aren’t cures or even treatments, for some – when coupled with therapy, mental health tracking and medication – these small things can make a big difference in improving mood and health, even if they only create ‘temporary’ happiness or allow someone to feel more independent and empowered.

Truthfully, the road to recovery from a mental illness is much like treating a broken leg. Although you may never fully ‘recover’ – in that many illnesses such as neurological disorders and personality disorders don’t just completely go away, much like how a broken leg may never be the same afterwards – learning to cope with your symptoms and create a comfortable living environment for yourself where you can experience happiness is paved in small steps. Everyone’s journey is different. Some take the road through hospital care, then therapy and medication. Others however help themselves in small, everyday stages too, such as taking up yoga, making dietary changes, trying mindfulness meditation, and developing a new hobby, and that shouldn’t be invalidated if it helps the individual and matters to them. I’ll repeat that these things are certainly not ‘cures’ and recovering from depression is not equal to a neurotypical person cheering themselves up after a bad day, but if these small steps have been proven to at least uplift other people, why not try them just for a short while where this is possible? Why choose not to help yourself but to mock others who do? The essential fact is that every single person is able to ‘recover’ to an extent. It may be a very difficult task, but isn’t impossible. Your illness is not inevitable.

In spite of this, within these anti-recovery spaces online, individuals often disregard the positive experiences of others with medication, therapy and other treatment options as coming from people who must never have been sick to begin with. Suffering is validated and actively encouraged, as users compete in a kind of ‘symptoms-olypmics’ over who is truly the most mentally ill, recycling the old meme “we can’t all be neurotypical, Karen.”

Having searched for the anti-recovery tag on tumblr to see it myself, I can confidently say that it’s a rather dark tag to scroll through, consisting of posts encouraging eating disorder sufferers to continue and boasting about dangerous weight loss, vehemently rejecting the potential of therapy being remotely useful in favour of promoting avoidance and cutting off concerned loved ones, and glorifying suicidal thoughts to the point that wanting to kill yourself is actively normalised. Frankly, it shouldn’t be. It’s an extremely self destructive mindset to promote, to a userbase largely consisting of impressionable young people, being fed the rhetoric that if they aren’t suffering 24/7 then they aren’t neuro-diverse enough to claim that they are mentally ill. These young people don’t want to be mentally ill, but they are, and they see themselves in a community of people who understand where they are coming from, and this would be far from a bad thing if that same community wasn’t discouraging them from attempting to get help that could be life saving.

In these communities, being neuro-divergent is treated as something that makes you different and special, and that to strip that away is somehow an injustice. In reality, it is your beliefs, goals, personality and interests that make you special. You are not defined by your illness, and it does not have to be such an essential part of your identity that to seek help and begin a road to recovery (however you may define that) is something to discourage and fight against.

Activism around mental health is extremely important, and talking about symptoms is also extremely important. There is also nothing inherently wrong with being a neuro-divergent person. However, in this context, we can’t forget that these are illnesses up for discussion. By definition, they make your life much harder. They shouldn’t be desirable, and there is good reason why individuals who are deemed the most severe cases can be sectioned into hospital care; for their own wellbeing. Mental illnesses can kill, and all available treatments and healthy coping mechanisms should therefore be encouraged and actively employed wherever possible, instead of discredited with no validation.

In spite of the fact that I myself have complained about the inconsistencies and flaws in mental health care, and many people do have bad experiences, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another counsellor, another therapist or doctor, another medication or just more small daily changes that can make a real improvement to your standard of living if you too are suffering from a mental illness. It took trial and error to find effective treatments for my own disorder, and for a while I could sympathise with the hopeless sentiment found in these anti-recovery tags, but I am endlessly glad that I did not give up and accept suffering. I will not undermine that it was sometimes hard, and I am not cured, but I cope now to a degree that day in and day out I manage to be happy, and to truly enjoy my life. Still, had I fallen prey to anti-recovery rhetoric when I was at my worst, it would have seriously stunted my growth and progress with it’s toxicity. I would advise anyone to avoid taking to heart the shame and discouragement rife in posts associated with this community online. You are valid, you are strong, and you are capable of getting better.

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