Do you ever get frustrated because life is hard? Do you ever get annoyed, perhaps even at God because He won’t snap His fingers and vaporize all the obstacles in your life? Are you like me and often wish the road to recovery was straightforward and complete with a magic pill guaranteed to make everything better? Today I watched a lecture by the incredible ultra endurance athlete Rich Roll where he talked about how in today’s culture we all want a ‘hack’ or a quick fix for essentially everything in our lives. A popular tweet from Rich reads “ Maybe stop trying to find shortcuts to “HACK” your life. The best things are hard. Invest in the journey. Just sayin”

Curiosity got the best of me so I typed ‘life hack’ in my search bar and the list of options was endless. There were pages of websites and videos dedicated to life hacks for girls, youtube, school, boys, kitchen, moms, dads, parents…you get the gist. Of course many of these provide useful tricks to help solve daily problems like the video I watched on how to get your water bottle to stay secure on your mountain bike or how to get the smell out of your running clothes. But it’s come to a point where we tend to search for shortcuts through just about everything. We can’t expect to ‘hack’ our way through life and still reap the rewards brought about by hard work. When we try to take shortcuts in our approach to faith, recovery, and physical and mental health we end up short changing ourselves from the growth, lessons and fulfillment that a difficult journey often provides.

This really resonated with me today because when I woke up to the persistent dreary weather that continues its grip on the northeast I felt completely unmotivated. There wasn’t an ounce of desire within me to lace up my shoes to go for a run. Even the thought of prayer seemed overwhelming. It wasn’t long before I began wishing my psychiatrist would just prescribe a pill that is guaranteed to lift my spirits, my therapist would give me a mantra that would combat every negative thought before it enters my mind, someone would offer a diet pill to safely melt the excess fat off my body while simulating the effects of a grueling workout on my system as I binge watch Netflix, and my pastor would give me the perfect scripture to memorize for comfort. Is this really too much to ask?

The truth is there is no magic trick, especially when it comes to mental health and that’s sometimes hard to digest. Reflecting on the last ten plus years since my diagnosis I’ve heard from many people who claim to have the quick fix for bipolar disorder. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard “Just pray more or give it to God and you will be better” or “Just exercise more, just focus on others more or just eat better…” Typically it’s well intentioned advice but it’s misleading and often harmful to say these things especially when someone is in the throes of an illness that in its very nature already messes with your mind. Has praying, running and helping others lifted my mood and helped me? Absolutely. And when I look at my life as a whole to understand the lowest of the lows I can definitely see where these strategies have truly helped but it was never the result of a simple “Just do this”. That implies there’s a quick and easy fix. Our bodies and minds are wonderfully complex so it only makes sense we have to consider a variety of factors in our lives in order to get or stay well.

That’s something I don’t like to hear. I don’t want to be told that recovery takes time and hard work. If I have the option of choosing between a book that claims to have the answer to weight loss without me having to change my habits and one that outlines a plan requiring me to work hard and change, which one am I tempted to buy?

But when I’m completely honest with myself I know that the best, most satisfying and lasting results come from hard work. I’ve come to accept that if I want to live my life to the fullest then I am going to have to continue to fight hard every day and understand that there is no quick fix. I’ve seen so many variations of the saying “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations” usually printed on a picture of a winding or dirt road leading to a breathtaking view from a mountaintop. Deep down I think we all know this is true because I see it shared all over social media but it doesn’t always prevent us from trying to find hacks to improve our lives.

Take my wellness plan for example. I know from many years of experience, therapy, and research that in order to stay healthy I have to exercise consistently, eat healthy whole foods, cut out sugar, processed foods and all animal products, pray and trust God, spend time helping others, and force myself to think positive thoughts. Quite honestly that sounds overwhelming and there are times when doing just one of those things seems downright impossible, but when I am able to remind myself of the positive effects they have on my life and remember what my goals are then I’m more likely to push myself through the pain because I remember what it’s like to get out on the other side.

It’s life changing.

When I’m able to look back upon that difficult road I just conquered I appreciate all of the valuable lessons I learned along the way that made the journey worth taking. But we have to be willing to take it.

The bottom line is I know that when I work really hard on my recovery – on every aspect of it – then I am able to be productive, I’m full of energy and my outlook on life remains positive. When I dig deep and honestly examine my tendencies, there’s no way around the truth which is I am going to have to work hard in order to stay well and live my life to the fullest.

I wish I could write a book and tell everyone with a mental illness that I have discovered the life hack for beating it and avoiding all of the challenges that accompany it. Such a book would be a lie however. It takes time, energy, commitment and hard work. The good news is that recovery is possible for all of us as long as we believe it to be and then decide to work for it. Trust me, there are days when I really don’t want to work for it but I am getting better at reminding myself of how rewarding it is when I fight for it.

I’ve probably read hundreds of books and articles regarding mental illness in order to gain a better understanding of what I’m dealing with. Quite often my goal was to find the one thing that would finally work for me. But experience has taught me that when I treat any piece of advice as the “be all end all” my recovery falls short. However, when I apply what I have learned to my life, treating each new bit of knowledge as another piece to the amazingly complex puzzle that is me it is life changing.

When I fight the voices in my head screaming at me to give up and I step outside to go for a run I celebrate a small victory. From there I’m more likely to talk to God as I thank Him for the win and beg Him to help me fight the battle. When I arrive home chances are I’ll want to keep the momentum going by refueling with something healthy. I’m more patient with my kids and more fully engaged. At the end of a day like this I have a renewed sense of hope that wellness is possible. I am content knowing I did everything in my power to improve my health. No shortcut will ever provide that. Invest in the process. Be a mindful student on your journey. Trust that God can see around every corner and all He’s asking you to do is take one step at a time. Every step has a purpose. Don’t shortchange yourself by looking for the quick fix. Lasting and meaningful change takes time and hard work but I promise you the destination is well worth the journey.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.