Posted in Uncategorized

Happy New Beginning Day to Me

Today marks the one year anniversary of my release from the hospital.  I’m incredibly torn.  Part of me feels frustrated and let down that ever since I left the hospital, my family has put in their best effort to pretend none of it ever happened.  They don’t seem to understand how significant the day is for me, or that I might want to be open about how I am feeling in my own home.  Over the year as well, my folks have made hurtful and ignorant generalizations about mental illness not seeming to have gained any understanding from what I’ve been through.

On the other hand, part of me wants to celebrate.  The day I left the hospital marked a brand new beginning where I was much more equipped to tackle life on my terms rather than on my illnesses’ terms.  I went through hell and emerged on the other side victorious.  Why shouldn’t I celebrate that?

I wish I lived in a world where I could celebrate out loud and not be judged or feared, ridiculed or looked down upon, scorned or invalidated.  I want to shout to the cosmos that one year ago today, I got a fresh start on life.  For now, I’ll settle for a few words on the internet on an obscure blog.  Chances are that only those who understand will ever read this, and that’s okay.  I don’t need the world’s permission to be proud of who I am and how far I’ve come.

Posted in Uncategorized

Rediscovering Me

One year ago today, I was admitted to inpatient mental health treatment.  My stay led to finding a medication that actually worked for me, giving me my life back and sending me on the path of recovery.

Before all of that, I struggled with undiagnosed mental illness for years.  Looking back, I am fairly certain my chronic depression developed in late elementary or early middle school.  Despite persistent and chronic symptoms, with so little frame of reference I had no idea that my experience strayed from what was usual and healthy.  For a young female with an early puberty, chronic fatigue and oversleeping are attributed to the growth spurt, and moodiness is explained away by PMS.  Only when these issues persisted into adulthood, growing worse instead of better, did I seek out answers on my own and reach out to the health center on campus for medical help.

Consequentially, I’ve lived more than half my life in the shadow of untreated mental illness.  After having my experiences and perception affected for so long, I have spent most of this past year rediscovering who I am.  Some things, the things that carried me through the dark years, have stayed true and steady, but other things that I had forgotten brought me joy have emerged from the shadows.  Some dislikes faded and changed as I redeveloped the energy to invest in life beyond survival, and others proved to be facets of my personality.  It’s interesting and challenging and scary all at once.

Sometimes I feel frustrated that while others spent the decade figuring themselves out, I spent it trying to survive.  But I am trying to focus instead on celebrating my becoming in the now.  I have fought battles few can understand, and by God’s grace I have emerged victorious.  I am triumphant, I am strong, and I am becoming new.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.’

‘Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.'”

Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-19

Posted in Uncategorized

Anxiety, Worry, & Fear

People often confuse anxiety with worry.  They mistake anxiety for fear.  People say, “Stop worrying so much,” or “Don’t get so worked up over nothing,” like anxiety is a choice, a result of too much brooding on life’s problems, a consequence of being too negative of a person.  In the church, anxiety can be misdiagnosed as a lack of faith.

In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

To battle my way through the worst of my anxiety, I have to be a more positive person than I ever would have had to be without it.  I have to put so much more effort into hoping to keep myself from drowning.  I didn’t choose to have anxiety.  What I did choose was to seek help and treatment because anxiety is an illness, not a character flaw.

My ability to deal with the stressful, the unknown, and the scary has grown and been strengthened by my battles with anxiety.  I learned to survive with feelings that weren’t mine, intense surges of panic seemingly without relatable cause, extreme physical reactions to ordinary things, and intrusive thoughts.  My brain is an encyclopedia of coping techniques gleaned from counseling, reading, conversations with others, and my own experiences.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my anxiety and depression, and how my medication has been managing my symptoms pretty well for about 8 months now.  Despite those positive things, I’ve found myself starting to slip into worry.  It’s a vastly different experience from the anxiety I remember.  What if my depression comes back?  What if my meds stop working?  What if I have to go back to the hospital?  What if I can’t keep up with my work?  What if I just keep cycling through new meds and bouts of mental illness for the rest of my life? 

In times like those, God lays on my heart reminders of how He carried me through the worst of my anxiety and depression in the past to calm my worries and guide my focus back to Him.  If a relapse of mental illness is in my future, God has a plan and can work through it.  And as scary as mental illness can be, I can work to maintain my mental health and do my best to prevent future crises without needing to live in fear of it.  I hit bottom and God provided the help and support I needed via medical treatment and brought me through it.  Was it awful?  Yes.  Do I ardently hope to avoid that pit in the future?  Yes.  But knowing I’ve experienced my own “worst-case scenario” in the past, I can count on God to bring me through whatever the future holds.

“Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me.”

Psalm 23:4

Posted in Uncategorized

Six Months Later

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.”

Psalm 116:1-9 (NIV)

Six months ago, I got out of the hospital after my first (and hopefully only) hospitalization because of mental illness.  This marks six months I can hold on to, no matter what, that show me the hope of what recovery looks like.  In some ways, looking back, the whole experience and the weeks surrounding it seem surreal.  Yet, in many ways, that period forms an inextricable part of who I am now.

In both positive and negative ways, the experience of hospitalization lingers with me. Visiting a geriatric rehab center and waiting for the receptionist to press a button to allow me out through the secured doors leaves me vaguely anxious, wondering illogically for a split second whether or not I am still confined to the psychiatric wing.  Pens hold a special significance now, since they were banned from the wing.  I don’t like pencils as much as I once did.  I take a unique delight in wearing drawstrings.  Puzzles soothe my mind.  I like being able to shut people out, not having to respond to knocks on the shower door or a flashlight shown in my face every half hour at night.  On the other hand, I’m so much healthier now, with a medication that works and which isn’t causing adverse reactions, and dismissal from counseling.  I learned who my true friends were, and experienced unconditional love and support.  Without that week, it would have taken much longer to stabilize me and find the solutions I needed, if I even made it that long.

Sometimes I find the phrase, “When I was in the hospital…” springing to my mind and being halted by my lips, unsure where or how to go from there.  How much of my story, the parts that shaped me and defined me and kept me alive, can I allow to flow freely?  So much of it seems dammed up by the people around me, their expectations, and their unspoken rules for me in the weeks and months following my hospitalization.  No one needs to say it directly for me to hear as long as you pretend this never happened, we can all continue as normal. I don’t think the people around me recognize how formative this experience has been, that it is part of who I am now.

So I am celebrating here.  For me, this six month anniversary feels like a victory. Even if I have done nothing else commemorative and no one else knows, I know that this date has significance for me.

Posted in Uncategorized

Try to Remember: Suicide Prevention

September 30.  Suicide Prevention Month is drawing to a close.  Awareness campaigns are wrapping up.  For most, the focus on suicide prevention is over for another year… if they ever really focused on it to begin with.

But for many, suicide prevention is not something that can be packed up at the end of a month, set aside for another year.  For many, suicide prevention is a constant companion.  We live with it, cherish it, cling to it.

I am in recovery.  Yet even for me, suicide prevention is an ever-present concept.  I know how important it is, how easily the wirings of my brain can misfire and turn against me.  I know suicidal ideation is not simply a plague of the weak, but of anyone with the misfortune of being attacked by the body’s most complex organ, whose functionality we expect and rely on the most.

I will never be able to set aside my personal attention on suicide prevention at the end of an arbitrary division of time.  This month of focus and awareness is ending, but please keep in mind that those around you who are suffering and fighting do not have the option to pack it away for another year.  They need the support of those around them as much on the 1st of October as they do on the 30th of September.

Start conversations.  Educate yourself on symptoms, warning signs, and resources.  Reach out to your friends and family.  Let the people around you know that you are a safe and non-judgmental listening ear and follow through on that promise.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, please seek help!  You can text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 at any time for free and confidential help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255).

Posted in Songs for encouragement

Just Be Held

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on…

The words resonated through me in the midst of my depression.  I felt like I couldn’t hold on and the pressure to be strong was too much, but I didn’t dare give in to the rest I needed.  I didn’t understand how this could be God’s plan for me.

…So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held…

God spoke to me through music.  One night, I ended up listening to “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns.  The line “Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place” became the anthem of my fight, a source of hope when I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

…And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands…

Though at the time I could not see it, God gave me the strength to trust; and here I am today.  I see the beauty God has made out of the ashes of my life, and I’m trying to share that.

The ashes are dancing.

 

Past, Present, Future: Hopeful Thoughts

Five months ago, I was hospitalized.  I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t keep food down, and was experiencing extreme suicidal thoughts.

But today?  Today I am halfway through my second week as a professional in my field.  I am a college graduate, despite it all.  I have my joy back.  I love what I do.  My faith in God is my guiding light.  I discovered some true friends throughout it all who are still there for me, and I have a loving family supporting me as I move into the future.

Recovery is possible.  Hope is real. ♥