The Ugly Name

Okay.  This one’s a toughie.  It’s got an ugly name:  Mental Illness.

I have wrestled with the idea of how to write this for quite a while now and have never really been sure if it is “time” or not.  Looking on it, like the foreign object it is, I realize that there is no optimum time to let loose.  It’s scary.  I gotta let it go so please, bear with me, as I muddle through this muck.

I have found, in general, that anytime anyone is in the hospital it’s not a good thing.  Unless you are:
a. Having a baby (which really isn’t a whole lot of fun in and of itself…the baby makes it all worth it–of course.)

or

2. Having breast augmentation.  (Which I haven’t seen in my hospital, so that just leaves us letter “a”.  Again, yay for babies!)
So, needless to say, hospitals generally can be ruled out of “It’s-my-favorite-place-in-the-whole-world-to-be” category.  Unless you like that sort of thing.  I guess.

I have also found that a hospital stay can be especially dreary if you are there to be treated for something that can’t be x-rayed or seen with the naked eye.  Which is EXACTLY what mental illness is.   Though I have tried to work this through quietly, by myself, I realize that it is time for me to share with you the fact that I am mentally ill.  (Suspicion’s confirmed?)

My depression is no big news.  What you may be surprised to learn (as I was) is that for those diagnosed with depression or bi-polar or other some-such brain disorder, they are also diagnosed as mentally ill.  So, that is me.

I admitted myself into the hospital on a spring day in 2009, after a breakdown which left me suicidal and unable to return to my little family.  It was after the infamous trip to Oregon (see earlier post) that my brain decided it had been given enough and wasn’t going to take any more.  My husband and I went to the emergency room and after time waiting and talking with personnel, it was decided that I would be admitted to the Psych ward.  I don’t think I realized the extent of my illness until I heard the social worker ask Jason what his thoughts were.  He responded with a simple “I want my wife back.”  Never have any words struck me with such force as that sweet and painfully concise sentence.  I had been missing; missing from my own life and from the lives of my family.  To hear it put into words was something terrible and sad. But no matter how sad it was, it was what I needed to hear.

Thus began my experience in the Psych ward.

No shoelaces, no glass. No bobby pins, no tweezers.  Everything that could be used to harm myself or another was taken from my possession.  I had to take the cord out of my hoodie and leave my shoes and other belongings at the nurses station.  We were under observation 24 hours a day and were accounted for at 15 minute intervals around the clock.  Medication was kept in locked steel drawers behind wired glass and given through a small window from a nurse who documented everything. Prison.

I have read in the scriptures when Christ talks about “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”  As I sat in the common area at a table by myself, dressed in a hospital gown and avoiding all eye contact from anyone that would even glance my way, the tears fell.  They fell openly and freely and unabashedly. It was while the tears were flowing that my heart started to break.  This heart-break was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, only I didn’t recognize it.  Whatever shred of composure I was trying to maintain, kept me from fully feeling what it was in me that I would encounter while I was to be there.

It was during the many talks with nurses and caregivers and the answering of questions that I had someone say to me:  “You are mentally ill.  Depression is a mental illness.”   Again, that feeling in my chest.  Again the tears came.  There was sorrow and anguish.  “This couldn’t be!   This just couldn’t be me!  I don’t belong here!”  I repeated those words over and over again as the realization rang through my brain that I was now classified with those “scary” types–the people who no one really likes to think about.  I was mentally ill.   A crazy.  A loon.  All of the unkind things that I have ever heard or spoke about someone who is “mental” was now suddenly true of me.  “How did I get here?  How could I get out of here?  What did I do to deserve this?  Why?”  were the words I repeated to Jason that night when he came to visit me for a brief 10 minutes.  Short of begging him to take me out of that place, there was nothing I could really say that I hadn’t been saying to myself internally since my hospital stay began.  Again, my heart tore open.  My sorrow was full to overflowing.  I had never felt so broken and forsaken.

It was a long evening.  I was given medication to calm me and help me sleep.  I can remember laying in my bed and feeling as if I could just roll over towards the wall and die.

Upon waking, I began to understand what it was I had been feeling the day before.  As I sat in the chair in my room and looked down the five stories to the pedestrians and the traffic below, for the first time I recognized that my heart was broken.  Good and truly broken.  I looked at the grass trying to green up from the long winter  and the trees shooting out their buds and pondered something else.  Christ was there, in that ugly place, walking the halls and taking note of his brothers and sisters.  He had come to do what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  He had come to help heal. Along with the medical attention and the work of the staff, Jesus Christ was there to fix those places deep inside each of us that none of us knew existed.  Yet at the same time, His touch and his grace which go far beyond any medical miracles, were there to comfort us and mourn with us at the loss of those things that couldn’t be replaced.  I left my room that morning to attend my first of many counseling sessions, and at last felt…hope.  The hope that had abandoned me so many miles before I came to this place.   Hope had come for me.

During the next 3 days, I spent time with others in the ward, we discussed our problems and listened to each other.  I learned that my problems were small in comparison to some and that I would gladly keep them all for myself if it meant I could avoid going through what others were suffering.  There was a mother who was having Electric Shock Therapy and who was beginning to forget chunks of her life because of it.  There were those who had attempted suicide, those who were bottomed out in depression after their mania subsided and those who had to be on 24 hour surveillance because they were in such dire straits.  There were those who had no one to visit them and home to go to as well as those who had the same visitors night after night.  Old and young, male and female.  We were all in it together.  We sat next to one another in counseling sessions and at mealtime.  We did crafts together and laughed and cried together.  We became close without knowing last names and details about each others lives.  I watched new patients come in, arriving in the same state of mind I did, and I watched old patients go home and leave me behind.  I was living an emotional roller-coaster.   My heart, still broken, was beginning to change.  I wanted to get better.

On the 4th day as I talked with my Psychiatrist, I told him what a good day it would be for me to go home.  You see, it was March 20th.  The first day of spring.  The world was waking from it’s slumber and bringing forth life.  He agreed.  That day, I went home and promptly had an anxiety attack.  Baby steps, you know.

And now?  Now it’s been 16 months since the spring day I came home from the Psych ward.  It has been a long uphill battle and at times it has felt as if I was backsliding and pulling everyone with me.  I have learned and changed and grown in even the most unnoticeable of ways.  I take my medication faithfully and have learned to deal with and recognize what I will be fighting against  the rest of my life.  Mental illness.  I still don’t fully embrace it and most of the time I don’t like it.  But at least I’m not an enemy to myself anymore.  I don’t know that I will ever approach someone and introduce myself as mentally ill, because I won’t let it define who I am.  But I have now walked the path of others and have come to know my Savior and His mercies better.  For that I am most grateful.

I am able to laugh as I once did and be just as rambunctious as ever.  I feel and taste the joy in life again but best of all–the VERY best of all–my husband has his wife back.

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14 thoughts on “The Ugly Name

  1. I just have to tell you how much I appreciated what you wrote about your experience with depression. I can relate on so many levels. My father is, I strongly suspect, bi-polar and I have been diagnosed with “clinical depression” – whatever that is and have been on anti-depressants since high school. I thought seriously about suicide for most of my late teen years and then again about ten years ago after finding myself in a brutally unhealthy marriage. I, like you, thought that I was doing irrepairable harm to my two precious babies and that they would be immensely less messed up if I was out of the picture. I had developed a place and time to carry everything out but then one day just before I was planning on ending it all, I was making sandwiches for my kids – something I’d done a million times before – when I had a little epiphany. I realized that if I wasn’t here, no one would know that Tyler liked his peanut butter with honey and that Emily liked hers with jam and that Tyler liked his cut into squares but Emily liked hers cut into triangles. Such seemingly insignificant information but important to them. I knew right at that moment that while I was far from being the kind of mother I felt I should be and wanted to be, I was the only one who could ever be their mommy, who would know what songs they liked to be sung at night and in what order they liked them sung, which blanket they had to have and which one they could do without. Long story short, I got help to get healthier, my husband got healthier, and well, I’m still here. Anyway, I am grateful to you for being strong enough to write what you do and sharing with others your beautiful gift with words. I’m sure your openness will bless the lives of more people than you’ll ever know. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

    • I love it when the seemingly insignificant suddenly becomes the priceless. The smallest things can change our lives. I am so glad that you are in a better place! Hugs to you for what you have been through (and triumphed over!) and for your kind words!

  2. Nina says:

    You are such a good writer. When I read through that post, I could imagine the awful trial that must have bee! It seems that most people I know (including myself) have suffered from some type of “mental illness” at some level. It is inspiring to hear of the strength you have had to push through the challenges. Thanks for being so open. 🙂

  3. Vanessa S. says:

    This post hast meant more to me than you can imagine. Actually not, I know you know what I’m feeling. I’ve been counting my time lately as, “it’s been two weeks since I left the psych ward”. Yes, I was in the psych ward. I know exactly how that feels. I love what you said about your heart breaking, and the Savior being there to help you through it. I have never hit this low, and I’ve been trying to make myself get up on my own. I haven’t included Him lately. I think I’m bitter still. Your post helped me realize that being angry, or frustrated that this is my challenge will only delay my getting on with my life.

    I too have two beautiful little girls that need me. They miss their mommy. They have a mother at home right now, but I want to give them their mommy back.

    Thank you again for sharing this.

    • Vanessa, it’s been a long, hard road. It’s only been very recently that I have felt like myself–more comfortable in my own skin, I guess you could say.

      I had to try really, REALLY hard to not become cynical and even now I still have days when I catch my mind caught up in cynicism. While I was going through it, there were many times I shut the Savior out both knowingly and ignorantly. The times when I allowed Him in were sweet and comforting…it’s almost as if a part of me simply asked Him to be on the other side when I came out of it. In the state of mind I was in, I found it overwhelming most of the time to think about spiritual things when I couldn’t even get a grasp on the temporal stuff.

      It’s hard but you can do it! Now is the time to grit your teeth and cry as much as you want. Find an outlet. For me, it was writing. It was my therapy (still is!). When you feel down, roll with it. Be sad. Let it out. When you’re content, be content. Let your mind go through the seas of emotion. It’s okay to feel what you are feeling–don’t try and talk it away. And oh, my sister, cry. Cry and let it out. Just remember He will be there to wipe away the tears.

      Hang in there, I wish you the best. If you need anyone to brain dump on, you can dump on me!

  4. Brigitte Todd says:

    Thank you Jen for being you. Thank you for having the courage to share your experience with us.

    I was diagnosed with post partum depression after having a miscarriage between my two oldest children. I remember at the time trying to figure out why I had felt that was time to have another child when I ended up losing that baby. Looking back now, I feel that Heavenly Father put me in a place where I would hit bottom and he put people in my path that got me in to see a doctor. Depression is a huge genetic problem in my family. I was so determined to be A “Bowers” (my maiden name) who didn’t struggle with mental illness. We can trace it back at least four generations and I wonder what my grandmother’s life would of been like had she been living now with the blessing of medicine and other forms of therapy. Would she had still had to have shock therapy? Would she had gone back to being the same mother she was after her 6th child was born? My father, being her oldest son, told me he waited his whole life for his mother to snap out of it. In truth his mother died when he was 12 instead of when he was in his 50’s.

    I, like you, didn’t realize the extent of what had happened until my husband said (after a period of time of taking medicine) that I was again the person he knew before we had our first child. I was stunned yet deep down I know he was right. I have also seen the changes in my husband as he had to humble himself to take medicine.

    I recall reading an excerpt from one of Michael McClean’s book about his experience with mental illness. I can’t find his exact words but what he realized was how Heavenly Father inspired the doctors to develop medicine so his prayers would be answered before he uttered them. I truly believe that. I envision one day the Savior healing me just as he healed all those who were sick as recorded in 3 Nephi.

    So for now, I keep going, watching my children for possible signs in them of a similar struggle and try to hear the Spirit tell me that someone needs me to share my story with them so they won’t feel so alone, shunned from a “normal” world. You have done that for me today Jen, as well as all those who have posted on here. It goes to show we don’t truly know the heartache in someone else’s life but feel blessed when they show the courage to share it with us, praying that we’ll have compassion and patience. And we do.

    • Thanks for your kind words Brigitte. I am continually amazed at the number of people who have contacted me and told me of their similar struggles—people I never would have guessed in a million years. Just goes to show we’re all in the same boat.

      So glad you are doing better! Keep on keeping on!

  5. I realized I hadn’t read this post. Wow. You are an amazing writer (and woman!) and felt the intensity of what you have gone through as I read this. Would love you to come visit our group sometime … Finding Hope (for women experiencing depression). Let me know if you might be interested.

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