I am a person who lives with a mental illness.
I write this today to show some of the real stories in the midst of my mental illness. It is not vague. They are short glimpses in the midst of pain and "craziness". Maybe by me sharing some of my hidden moments, you may be able to have a little understanding of the places a person's mind can go. Maybe also, you may be able to think of some ways that a person like me could be helped. Depression and other mental illnesses are not something to be ignored or pushed out of the way. They are real and need to be talked about.
During high school, I got to a point where I was sad most of the time. I didn’t share my feelings with my family. I made mixed tapes of songs about Jesus holding me. I hated sleep, and tried to stay up as late as I could. I figured what was the point? I felt like I was a fraud, that what was inside of me was different than the smart, good Christian girl that everyone thought I was on the outside. I felt that I didn’t really know how to live in the world, and even one time imagined a heavy light fixture in the church falling on me and crushing me. I didn’t know that these were signs of depression and that I could have used help. Later in college I was told that someone in my family had depression and they were taking medication for it. I thought to myself, “That is what was wrong with me. I had it first.”
Even a “strong” Christian with a great background can get depressed and have a mental illness.
I became a Christian when I was four. I went to church, Sunday school, and a Christian school when I was growing up. My family were all Christians. I was shown the love of Jesus. I became a leader in my high school youth group at church. During my college years I volunteered playing the piano for church services in nursing homes. I helped lead in a few Christian youth programs, and also played the piano in a college worship band and sang in the choir. The most spiritual thing that I felt I did was to go to a Bible College and study International Ministries for my degree. I went on mission trips in Canada, the US, and England, then I went to Kenya as a missionary for a year to tell people about Jesus. After returning to the US, I, who had served God all my life, became clinically depressed and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I didn't know that it was not my fault.
How do you know what feeling bad means?
The first time I went to see a counselor, he asked me how I felt. I said, “Bad.” He wanted to know what that meant. I said, “Bad.” I did not know how to express the complexity of what bad could be. He actually had to write on a white board all the different feelings that bad could be. Here are some examples: angry, anxious, ashamed, cautious, confused, depressed, disappointed, disgusted, embarrassed, enraged, exasperated, exhausted, frightened, frustrated, grieved, guilty, hurt, lonely, miserable, overwhelmed, pained, puzzled, regretful, sad, stupid, suspicious, withdrawn, and more. If only I could have learned these ways of expressing my feelings along with what I learned in school, I may have been better able to understand and get through what I was going through.
I was going to be a best selling author and a famous artist.
Mania can make a person have grandiose thinking. This is what happened to me and one of the reasons why I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. One example of this grandiose thinking is when I came up with an idea that I was going to start making art. I don’t remember what kind of art it was going to be, but whatever it was it was instantly going to be world famous. The truth was I had not done any art for maybe ten years, but I truly believed that it would happen, until the next day when my mind was back in reality. Another time something similar happened, this time I had a great idea for writing a book about missionaries and their experiences. I planned it all out in my head for hours as I lay in bed. I was convinced that it would immediately be a best seller and reach number one on the charts. At that point I had done no writing. Again, the next morning I was embarrassed by my grandiose thoughts. Mania will do that.
At one point, all I had in the refrigerator was ketchup and a loaf of bread that didn’t rise.
True. I was afraid. My anxiety was so strong that the only time I left the house was to go to counseling. I slowly ate everything that I had for food in the house. My anxiety would not let me go to the store. In fact the only human interaction that I had besides counseling was a friend that came over to check on me. He saw that I was extremely depressed and shut up in my house. He asked if I needed any food and said that his wife could take me grocery shopping. I was so ashamed that I said I was ok even though truly I was not. I do not even remember how I got food to keep me going. I think sometimes people don't need to just ask what they can do, but to think of something and just do it.
It is hard to search the internet for how to kill yourself.
When I was had suicidal ideation, I wanted to find out all the ways a person could kill themselves and what the process would be like. I found out that this is very hard to do. The first things that come up when you try to search ways to kill yourself are ways to get help. This angered me at the time, but I am thankful for that now and know it saves lives.
I didn't cut myself to try to get attention.
Some people think that a person cuts themselves to try to get attention. Not so for me. You may not think that anyone needs to be able to cut themselves, but for a person who is in debilitation mental anguish like I was, knowing there was a way out available (suicide) brought the comfort that was needed. I felt hopeless so often that death was always on my mind. When the pain would become too great, I would cut myself as a reminder that there could be a way out. Also, the act of cutting caused an intense physical pain that took my mind off the even more intense mental pain, at least for a moment. I didn’t know how else to find relief. I had not yet learned other skills to cope with the depths of despair. That came later.
Is a partial truth the truth?
Depression, bipolar, self-injury, and my need to be secretive about it caused me to do things that I normally would not have done. One thing was that I told partial truths. I thought that because what I said was truth that I was still being honorable. As I Christian, I did't want to lie so I found a way around it and rationalized what I was doing. When asked how I was doing, I would just ask the person right back how they were without answering. When asked if I had eaten anything, I would say that I had eaten even if it was only one bite of something. When my doctor asked if I had cut myself, I would just say that I had not cut my wrist, when in fact I had cut myself in another spot. Who would have thought that I would get to that level of shame and destructive behavior that I would do what I could to keep it going.
Poison control sent a police officer to my door.
I wanted to die and thought that taking pills would be an easy way to do it, hopefully without pain. I did not want to do it partway though. What if I didn’t take enough pills? What would happen? So I called Poison Control and made up that my friend took pills, and I wanted to know if she would need help. The gal on the phone knew what I was asking for though, then I acted like everything was ok and hung up. Not too much longer, there was a knock at my door. It was a police officer checking to see if I was planning on killing myself. I was scared that he would take me to the hospital so I said everything was ok. He went on his way, and I was left in my misery. Obviously, I was not ok.
The edge of the train platform seemed the safest.
During my time of depression, I found comfort in the thought of the closeness of death. For a while I was afraid to take the step to kill myself so I just put myself in positions where something could cause my death accidentally. One of those things was to stand in the yellow zone right on the edge of the light rail train platform when if was coming by. I was inches from it as it went past and could feel the breeze on my face. I thought that God might decide then to cause me to fall, and then I would have a quick ending. It was not to be so.
Once I decided to kill myself and made an attempt, a shift happened in my mind, and I have never seen life the same way again.
I can try to explain this, but really only someone who has made this decision and acted on it can understand. I am not afraid to die. I may be afraid of the possible pain in the process, but death and leaving this earth will be a welcome thing for me. This would not be a thought if I didn’t know that I will be going to be with Jesus when I die. This world does have beauty from God, but it is also a place full of sin and evil. For a long time I wanted out. I brought myself to death, and by his help Jesus brought me back into living. The literal reason that I am alive is because Jesus is my life. I am alive so that Jesus will work through me to do as he pleases. That is what my life is about. I wait and walk forward to see how Jesus will do this.
The silence about mental health and the stigma against it caused me to be ashamed to talk about my depression and made my depression last a lot longer.
This is why I talk openly about my depression and mental illness today. I don’t just tell the easy things to hear, but also the painful ugly parts. Mental illness is real. Real people deal with it. We need to be able to talk about it and create understanding around it. There was help for me in all my pain and confusion. Medical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual help. Maybe more people will be able to get help sooner if others know not to be afraid, but to point those people that are struggling to places to get help. I would have had a lot less fear and shame and maybe even never gotten to the place that I wanted to kill myself if I knew that people understood my pain and tried to help me. We all need love. Especially the love from the Lord God.