"One of the greatest lies ever told is that there's no power in vulnerability."
If ever there was a moment in my life where I have needed power … to push through, to overcome, to keep going, it is now. So, with that in mind, it seems that the sharing of this story – of my story – is rooted in my own selfishness. Feel free to continue reading, to take this journey with me but, by all means, please do not feel compelled.
One year ago tomorrow, January 12, I found myself somewhere I never thought I would be – the Behavioral Health unit of a local hospital. Now, for those not in the know on the politically correct terminology I just used to describe this fine type of medical unit, I'll help you out – it was a Psych ward. Yup, a legitimate "what the movies always show it as" psych ward – complete with a loud rec room, every 20 minute room checks, awful hospital gowns, and my room consisting of nothing but a bed bolted to the floor.
Now, I'm completely aware of the bias I have, given the situation I found myself in, but I remind myself and anyone else who decided to keep reading, that this is my story, and I will tell it how I viewed it, how it seemed to me. To me, there could be no more horrible place to find myself. Me – the person who had spent most of her life afraid of someone knowing how I really felt – the person who learned to become a great listener to anyone who needed it not only because my years of observance had taught me to love people but also because the fear of having to talk about myself with any depth was more than I could stand – the person who wanted nothing more in my life than to be normal – here I was, in what society had always taught me was practically the least normal place I could be.
How had I allowed myself to get this low? How had I gotten myself here? How do I get out? More importantly, how do I get out with giving away the least information about myself and letting the least amount of people know? I was horrified. I was ashamed. I wanted nothing more than the earth to swallow me whole so I would never again have to face the outside world. In one quick moment, I was changed, altered, different, and thinking about living in any kind of world as this new me was not a thought I wanted to ponder. I was also angry, angrier than I had ever before felt. Who were these ridiculous psychiatrists, nurses, social workers? Coming in and asking me deep personal questions about if I had tried to end my life and if I understood that the amount of pills I took was reckless. I had hardly shared the depth of my pain with myself, which is what got me where I was, let alone sharing with complete strangers who I felt only wanted one thing – to medicate me and throw away the key.
Yes, in looking at it now, it was an attempt to end my life but what it really was to me, and what I want more than anything through the sharing of this story is for this point to be understood - it was a way to end the pain of my life. When I did what I did I wasn't thinking I want my life over, I was thinking – I haven't slept for 3 days, my mind wont shut off, I can't stand for one more second to feel the bottomless pit of agony I was feeling. It was as if my emotions were all controlled by a wide array of faucets and all emotions were turned off except agony, which had been turned on full blast; and in my haste to turn the faucet off, I broke the handle, there was no stopping it. So, I took pills and kept taking them because sleep wasn't coming. I knew physically how I had gotten in the hospital but what I was unable to do was understand it all.
I had found myself the victim of abuse in my childhood and had kept that incident locked up tight for 15 years. The event was bad enough for my emotional health over that time but it was in the secret keeping that the most damage occurred. This was exactly the kind of thing the doctors wanted me to talk about, however, it was exactly the kind of thing I would never let them hear. I did what I had to do to get out. Now, there are probably many people who have benefitted from the doctors and workers of a facility like this, I was not one of them. It was the worst place for me. I have never felt more alone in all of my existence, and I have never felt more devalued as a human being than I did on that unit. I felt that of the maybe 30 people (doctors, nurses, clinicians, etc.) I met during my four days there, only two treated me like a human being; only two looked at me as a person just like themselves, not a diagnosis or someone with "mental illness". I will forever be grateful for those two people.
I share this not in hopes that pity or sympathy will be felt for me but that the stigma that comes from struggling mentally or emotionally, will be broken. In sharing this story I am no longer allowing myself to cower in the corners of shame, terrified that I will be found a fraud. Guess what? We all have parts of ourselves that are fraudulent and hypocritical, that’s what makes us human. What I learned from my time with the other patients on that unit is that there aren't "normal" people and people with mental illness but that we are all just people; people who experience life and humanity in very different ways and will face very different challenges as a result.
This past year hasn't been easy for me, just like I know it hasn't been easy for millions of other people. Will I continue to struggle at times? Yes. Will I win triumphantly on some days and lose miserably on others? Yes. So will you. So will the millions of other people on this planet. So, I return to my selfish motives. I write this for me. I write this so that on those days where I have miserably lost, I can read over my own words and find the power I will desperately need, the power I hope I gained in being vulnerable.