Day 10

Day 10 of 100, intentional, reflective steps.

Often when we pass the homeless our internal radar says “addict” or “mentally ill.” We shake our head, mentally make the sign of the cross and fling a “bless them” prayer out the car window. There is a sneaky, haughty, subconscious voice in me that has made a “them” category in my brain.

I comfort myself with the idea that I have always been accepting ofthe mentally ill.  I have advocated for “their” meds and therapy. I have tried  to be non-judgemental.  Until I was the one who was facing a diagnosis. The mirror of self realization is like a 360 dressing room mirrors in the fluorescent light of judgment. Horrifying. The instant it dawned on me that I was struggling with mental illness, self imposed judgment began swirling around me like Hitchock’s birds.

Where once learning disorders, depression/anxiety and addictions were completely unacceptable to talk about, it has now become open forum. However, when you tag  anybody with “mental illness”  fear, judgment and feelings of superiority/insuperiority enter the picture.  The truth is depression and anxiety are mental illnesses. Some can be treated with exercise, food choices, less caffeine, etc. However, some is chemical and needs medication, just like all other medical illnesses.

My challenge has been this. Shame. I feel shameful admitting that I need a team of professionals to keep me on the level. Even though I know accepting the help of others does not diminish me as a person at all I feel shame. In fact admitting the complexities of my illness does not diminish me either. I am like so many others that I love and deeply respect, on a journey of health and wholeness. My goal? To walk this journey on a road paved with gratitude for all those who walk with me and those who help me stay on the path. Less judgment. More gratitude.

Side lesson: I am attempting to acknowledge myself and others by their personhood before their ailment. “A baby with Down’s Syndrome” rather than “that downs syndrome baby.” “Jill has mental illness/depression” rather than “Jill is mentally ill.”  Words matter.

Day 1

Day 1 of 100 intentional, reflective steps

One year ago today I was in a psychiatric hospital after a major breakdown. Don’t be too quick to judge; it felt like one minute my world was in order and the next doctors were asking if I felt i had any special powers or heard voices.  

They took my shoelaces, string from my running shorts, leg razor, privacy and dignity.  For months doctors evaluated my mental health. Multiple “methodologies” were used to help me get in touch with my inner child; Equine therapy with ancient horses, a ropes courses, art therapy, yoga, tai chi, meditation, brain wave analysis, light therapy, spiritual reflection and countless hours of talk therapy. While the institution is paid good money to help its clients find a more beautiful life, they do that by shedding light on the ugly parts of ourselves. It was tortuous. What more could I expect from a $10,000 a week “hotel” that refused us caffeine past 8 a.m. and no sugar? Ever. (Sugar and caffeine are drugs kids. Might as well be shooting up or smoking crack.) 

We were cut off from the outside world except through an occasional call made through circa 1970’s phones and the United States Postal Service. There was no music, save the shitty Zen pan flute whining from a sad little sound box hiding behind ancient magazines and crusty modeling clay in the art room. It was surreal and I felt like I was drowning. Every day. Diagnosis were made, medication prescribed and after two long months I was set free to bless the world with my newly enlightened self.

Now I can barely remember my former life. After a long year back at home of therapy and treatment I can finally go into public again but only under the following conditions. The crowds must be small, nobody should touch me uninvited and there should be no startling noises like fireworks, sneezing or birds chirping.  Also, I must have earplugs and quick access to total batman cave stillness and silence. I am still sad, my relationships feel hollow, I spend most of my time by myself and my personhood has been stripped of all the trappings that used to make it seem festive; accomplishments, jobs, accolades, crowds, influence, etc. Therapy has taught me to pay attention to my own needs and feelings. So now I live with anxiety and depression that rolls in and out like the ocean in high tide.

My emotions are held together by pharmaceuticals, 2-4 appointments a week with doctors and therapists, spilled coffee, stubbornness and prayer. To make this a more weighty matter, pun intended, the drugs have contributed to a fifty pound gain, mostly in my ass. I am basically a yellow, round, sad faced emoji In yoga pants. I’m lost.

So, I’ve decided to voluntarily prioritize myself. To come to a place where you are forced to focus on yourself is a tragedy. To chose to is a gift. 

In the next 100 days there are many momentous occasions; A trip to Chicago for work and some play, my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my oldest child’s wedding, the second anniversary of my sister’s death, and New Years Day. Each event, each day gives me opportunity to ignore my inner dialogue, my prayerful conversations and my basic needs or to wallow in my pain and loss. More importantly, it gives me opportunity to see how God will reveal himself  and sustain me as I fight not to regain what I have lost but rather explore the future.

One day/one step at a time for one hundred days.