A follow-up to my birthday uncelebrated post.
If I had it to do over again, I’d get help sooner. If it got as far as suicide watch in the ER, I’d agree to voluntary commitment, and accept the psychiatrist’s invitation to “go upstairs” the psych ward. The way I was doing things wasn’t working. My medication wasn’t working. Hospitalization would have been helpful. So, why did I refuse? I wasn’t in immediate danger, and I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect in the psych ward.
I was also concerned about how people would react if I was “hospitalized.” I mean, that’s only for crazy people, right?!? I’m not crazy!
There are many reasons we choose to not get help, not the least of which is stigma.
I don’t want to be seen as less-than. I don’t want people to feel awkward around me, or pity me. I don’t want them to be afraid of me.
I spent too much of my childhood and young adulthood feeling like I just didn’t fit anywhere, that there was something off in me so I could never be quite like “normal” people… Throw in, Did you hear that she was in the loony bin?!? I heard she…
People can be cruel. And insensitive. Mostly we’re just ignorant. And we’re typically unsure of what to do with things we don’t understand.
I get it. I don’t understand my brain, either. It doesn’t make any sense that I can so completely forget that there is good, and believe there is no hope. It feels like no one could ever understand, and no one could ever truly love me.
What I Learned from My Birthday Uncelebrated:
People Care. Another vulnerable and exposed moment of my suicide-watch birthday was finding out a friend called while I was missing in the woods. She was at work with other women I know. At least one of those women was a Christians who doesn’t understand depression, who doesn’t accept the concept of chemical imbalance. But do you know what those women did? First, they prayed. And they did what the Body of Christ sometimes fails to do when someone is mentally ill versus physically ill. They put some meals and thoughtful things together for my family. And for me. However they may have felt about my mess and the turmoil it created in my home that morning, they demonstrated love. I was grateful.
I am Loved. The friend who called in the midst of my husband’s desperation. The friend who looked me in the eye in the midst of mine. My husband. They’re all still here. I don’t have to wonder (but sometimes I do, because it’s one of my anxious flaws) if they love me. Because they’ve shown me they do. I can rely on them to stick by me through the worst. Because they have. And I know that God loves me. A new friend recently suggested I read Ezekiel 16, verses 1-14 in particular. My first run-through I was caught up in the judgment. But I went back. And something clicked. I’ll tell you about it sometime. God LOVES me. ME. It’s an ugly-beautiful passage. And I’m an ugly-beautiful beautiful woman. Imperfect, but loved perfectly.
No One Can Read My Mind. My husband knew I was struggling. For days. But didn’t make a phone call until THAT morning, when I was on a tentative upswing. Changes in behavior in a depressive, or manic, episode can be scary for people who love you and understand that what seems like a positive change can be the exact opposite. A hopeless person who has settled on a plan for suicide will typically have an upswing in mood. The difficult decision has been made, and relief from the relentless suffering is in sight. My husband and friend needed to make a judgment call: was I actually ready to accept help? or had I decided to put an end to myself?
If you’re ever put into a situation like that, you need to make the SAFEST choice for your loved one.
Read my husband’s perspective on my suicide-watch birthday. It was harder for him than you realized.
What my worst birthday reinforced
I’m willing to risk being judged by people who don’t understand in hope that their perspective will soften, so they don’t further harm others who suffer. I don’t really care what they think about me, but I care deeply about how they treat you. I’m growing thicker skin when it comes to people judging my relationship with God by my struggle with mental illness. I don’t have anything to prove to them. God loves me. His grace has brought me this far. Some people will never understand.
Faith doesn’t guarantee mental health. You can never be fully healthy without faith, but having it doesn’t mean you’ll always be healthy. No matter what anyone says. If you don’t believe me, use the lens of what you know about the symptoms of depression, and look at various accounts of people’s lives in the Bible. You’re going to find some depressed prophets and psalmists. If you expect to find God slapping them upside the head and saying, Snap out of it! you’ll be disappointed.
What I hope you learn from my experience:
Be Your Own Advocate: Like my husband couldn’t read my mind, the people around you can’t read yours. Don’t expect them to. If you need help you have to tell someone. Just because certain people aren’t giving you what you think you need doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you, or that they don’t love you. There’s a good chance they don’t know what you want. There’s also a good chance they’re not equipped to give you all you need. If you’re considering harming or killing yourself, tell someone. If it’s a friend or family member, let them support you as you seek help from a professional. If you’re in treatment and you’re slipping, be honest. Something needs to be adjusted.
If you are in crisis and having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also click the link and use Click to Chat. Either way, you will be connected to a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselor, anytime 24/7.
Accept Help. When we’re depressed (or anxious, or manic), you and I aren’t the best judge of what’s good for us. There are things we want that we don’t really need. And things we need that we look for in the wrong places. Our friends, family, and significant others sometimes give us more than we realize when our brains are going sideways. We’re so focused on what we lack that we miss what we have. And sometimes when people reach out, we refuse to take their outstretched hand for any number of wrong-headed reasons. If someone suggests something helpful, never dismiss it out of hand. If someone wants to help you with some heavy lifting, shift your load; don’t grasp it tighter. And remember, our loved ones aren’t professionals, and we need professionals (even if your loved one is a professional, you need someone less personally involved).
Suicidal depression, severe anxiety, and mania are not the psychological equivalent of a sliver or a bruise. They require a higher level of care than Mom’s kiss on the forehead or Coach’s “Walk it off!”
Don’t Give Up. There really is light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know how long it will take for you to get far enough to see it, and you may even get run down by a train shining false daylight before you find the true light, but you won’t always be stuck in the dark. You may have to deal with med changes and adjustments. You may have to endure some painful excavation in therapy, and difficult changes in the way you do things. You may lose friends. Things may get worse before they get better. But they will get better. And you will be stronger. You may not believe it right not, but people care and you are loved.
Some days the next breath is the best you can manage. But you won’t be stuck there forever. Tomorrow, or the next day, you’ll have more energy. Then, take the next step to establish a pattern of healthy habits.
Mental illness is my reality, but it doesn’t define me:
Who am I? Living My Identity in Christ
Hypomanic Redemption: Grace is Bigger
Proclaiming Truth: What I Have I Give
Fearfully and Wonderfully Broken
Lies We Believe
Homesick at Home
Six Tips to Do More than Just Survive the Holidays
Six Things to Do when You Don’t Want to Do Anything
For a good Biblical examination of depression that contains examples of how God dealt with various of His depressed servants, check out Light in the Darkness: Finding Hope in the Shadow of Depression.