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  • Writer's pictureAshton Rose

2 Steps Back or a Bump in the Road? Nonlinear Mental Health Recovery

Healing isn’t easy, especially when talking about mental health recovery. It can be full of bumps and unexpected hurdles, and at times, it may feel like you’re moving backward.

But healing isn’t linear, and that’s even more true around mental health. It can be unpredictable, and there’s no real “roadmap to recovery”, at least not one that works for everyone.

(A quick note about that linked article: it is old, so it uses the wrong pronouns for Demi. They now prefer they/them pronouns.)

Sadly, mental health recovery involves setbacks. There will be times when you’ll struggle more, or you might relapse. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re moving backward. It just means there’s another bump in the road, and you can get past it.

This applies to nearly all facets of mental health recovery. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, trauma, OCD, addiction, and more all involve nonlinear healing. And notice that many of these conditions are things that can’t be “cured”, so they might not ever go away. That’s ok too.

Today, let’s talk about the nonlinear aspects of healing, and how you can reframe your mindset to go easy on yourself while going on this journey.


Setbacks can take many forms, depending on what you’re dealing with and your circumstances. They can be as unpredictable as the weather, and may come and go just as fast, or may last for a while.

When in the midst of a setback, it’s easy to feel hopeless, like all of your progress has gone to waste. But that’s not true: having a setback does not negate any progress you’ve made.

Healing is unpredictable. Even physical healing can be full of surprises and setbacks: what was supposed to be a simple break in my foot has turned into post-traumatic arthritis, a lifelong issue. So know that you’re not alone, and having a setback or unexpected twist isn’t wrong. It’s completely natural.

Don’t blame yourself

The first thing to remind yourself is that this isn’t your fault. Sh** happens, and we just have to deal with it. So when you have a setback, don’t make it more stressful by blaming yourself.

Instead, accept that it happened, and that this is what the universe is like. By spending less time blaming yourself and dealing with guilt, you can spend more time figuring out how to continue with your healing.

I’ll say it one more time: don’t blame yourself.

Identify potential stressors/triggers

When you find yourself facing a setback, see if you can figure out what might have led to it. This may or may not help you in the moment, but it can be a great tool for mental health recovery, because it can help you prevent similar issues in the future.

Sometimes, you won’t be able to identify a specific stressor, and that’s ok too. But if you can, you’ll find yourself more ready to handle it if it happens again.

You’ve done it before

If you’re even having a setback, it means you’ve made it far enough in your recovery to be able to have a setback. That means that you’ve made progress before, right?

And if you’ve done it before, you can do it again. Part of nonlinear healing might mean having to face the same problem multiple times. Remember that you have what it takes to make it through, because you’ve done it before.

It isn’t permanent

No matter how bad you feel right now, remember that it isn’t permanent. Things don’t stay bad forever. They can, and will, get better.

You just have to believe in that, and keep working to make things better as much as you can— even if it’s only a little bit. Remind yourself that you won’t be in this hole forever, and you’re still making progress in your mental health recovery.

Mark your achievements

During setbacks, it is easy to feel like your previous achievements don’t matter. But they do. Having a setback doesn’t erase any mental health achievements you’ve had thus far.

So take the time to remember and acknowledge your achievements. Remind yourself of all the progress you’ve made, and that this is just another bump in the road. And what does that mean? An opportunity for even more progress!

It’s ok to feel bad

As I said, don’t blame yourself for your setbacks. But also don’t blame yourself for feeling bad, because it’s ok to feel bad. We all do sometimes, and it’s completely natural. You don’t need to add to your stress by feeling bad about feeling bad— that’s just a whole, unnecessary “bad” pancake there.

Seek solace in others

Mental health recovery doesn’t have to happen alone. In fact, it shouldn’t. We’re social creatures, so there’s nothing wrong with asking for help from others.

Even if all you need is someone to sit with you, that can be done. Seeking help from others might provide you with the extra support you need to get over this hurdle, and continue down this road of healing.

So remember, nonlinear healing means that sometimes, there will be setbacks, and that’s ok. It doesn’t erase the progress you’ve made, and it doesn’t mean you’re moving backward. Perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to blame yourself.

If you can reframe how you think about setbacks, it can make it a lot easier to keep moving forward. It’s not two steps back: it’s just another bump in the road that you can, and will, get over.

Do you have something else to share about nonlinear healing? Mental health achievements you’d like to share? We would love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).

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