***Disclaimer: This involves some rough, deep words and visualizations that I don’t recommend a child reading. Also, I am not a licensed professional, so please keep in mind as need be while reading, as basic scientific concepts are explained for context only…***
“The first episode”….
My battle with mental illness has been quite the journey, to say the least. But a battle is only a battle with a victor and a victim. With the grace of God, He has equipped and blessed me with opportunities to be the victor in the battle with mental illness that He Himself already won–I just have to continue to walk in His victory. Knowing that the battle is already won just makes the journey that much more promising and that much less painful. Let’s be honest, those of you whom struggle with mental illness (to any degree) or know someone who does, know that the struggle is indeed, REAL. But ultimately, we get to choose, victor or victim? I continually choose victory every day, sometimes hour by hour and other days minute by minute. With a long, seemingly never-ending and impossible fight, I chose and choose to win the battle–no matter how many times a day my brain tells me “I can’t do it.” That’s where the lies start. In our brain. In our thoughts. But the thoughts are merely thoughts until we allow them to manifest into full-blown active thoughts that cause destructive and unhealthy emotions, behaviors, and symptoms of intensified mental illness(es).
As I mentioned, my battle with mental illness has been nothing short of what I thought to be “impossible.” Though I know, anything is possible with God, I surely wasn’t convinced of this throughout this journey, but I now truly and whole-heartedly am confident that anything is possible to overcome through God’s strength because He is all-knowing and always present to intercede in the deepest of deep struggles.
Being vulnerable isn’t one of my strengths for sure, but God is definitely working in me to hopefully work through someone else fighting the same fight. Being vulnerable releases the pain versus staying “stuck” in numbness which voids the positive and negative emotions that lead an individual to seek their purpose on this Earth. With that said, if you truly think about it, everyone struggles with a form of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, at one point or another in their lives whether it be from a loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, divorce, loss of a job, etc. Loss is a significant trigger for mental illness and it can be the ‘beginning’ of our mental illness journey. What I mean by that is, when we are predisposed to mental illness, more simply, is when we are genetically more susceptible to a certain mental illness because our parents/family and other factors that may be passed down to us–genetically speaking, that is. Besides genetically, we may also be more susceptible to mental illness due to harmful, unstable or traumatic experiences during our childhood and years that are crucial to our development. All this to say, that mental illness is a lot more common than we can imagine and is so much more stigmatized causing individuals to commit suicide before they are known to be struggling or feel there is no hope left. With that said, being able to fully embrace our vulnerability is necessary, not comfortable, but the willingness is required to find the path to recovery. I have been told countless times from family and others not to share my struggles because people would judge me or think of me differently, but today, God has shown me that my struggle and testimony is someone else’s victory, so here it goes….
Just for a brief history of my childhood, I grew up in what therapists call “a trauma-inducing” environment which likely triggered mental illness. Knowing that mental illness is partly biological in my family, it is also certain that my environment had exacerbated the onset of mine. Lightly speaking, I grew up witnessing a lot of emotional, physical and mental abuse and sometimes domestic violence by my father to my mother. My dad always seemed to be angry and distached from our family. It always seemed like he was in another world, but I realize now he was struggling with his own demons. When I was punished as a kid, it often involved physical punishment which was pretty painful and caused me to still fear my dad to this day. Certainly not a healthy type of relationship. My therapists have agreed that he may struggle with narcissistic personality disorder which seems to be so fitting from the experiences as a child. I remember very vividly the day he brought over his mistress and he began threatening my mom and was physically abusive. I will spare you the details, but it landed him in jail and was a very messy couple of years and beyond for everyone…this broke our family and me more than I knew at the time…
Fast forward about 10 years…
My journey seemed to have “started” when I was a third year in college at UCLA. It was spring quarter, I was under a tremendous amount of stress and a significant relationship that I was in for nearly 7 years ended abruptly. This would be what the psychiatrists would call “the first episode” that I now know as a determining “trigger” to my mental illness and journey with various diagnoses, treatments, hospitals, doctors, medications, therapists, and more. I recall sitting in my physics lecture feeling really “fuzzy.” This feeling is really difficult to describe, but I will try my best. Those of you whom know what it is like to feel off with this sort of ‘brain fog’ almost like nothing makes sense, you feel like you are in space–outer space that is–and life is just kind of happening around you. Physically present, but not mentally. It is a really frightening experience especially when I didn’t know what was happening before as I had never felt anything like it before. Just for visuals and a clearer picture of what was occurring, my stomach was in knots, I was sweating, my hands were shaky and I had this instant urge to just scream at the top of my lungs. Thank God I was in a lecture hall and could rationalize that it would have been irrational to do so. Had I have not been in a lecture hall, I think I would have lost it. Little did I know, this wouldn’t be the last time.
What seemed to be a temporary situation turned into sensations that convincingly felt as if there were no way out and that there was this sort of ‘darkness’ or ‘dark, rain cloud’ above, beside and beneath me–in all directions–that I could not escape as much as I tried to ignore or avoid it. What on earth just happened? It was 2012. I was ‘living life’ as a 20 year old, pre-med college student at my dream school, UCLA, and I suddenly became my own worst nightmare filled with anger, hatred, and deep sadness. Not just the sadness that we feel when we stub our toe, not just the sadness we feel when our family pet dies, not even the sadness we feel when a loved one passes, but a sadness that ended with one solution–DEATH. At this point, I didn’t know whether to be angry at others or hate myself for having these intense emotions, but this would be the first time that I would struggle with suicidal ideation. These thoughts would soon turn into active suicidal plans and several suicidal attempts that were merely a cry for help and a longing desire to escape from the cards life dealt to me. Speaking of help, I was never someone that could ask for help or even receive it. Why you may ask? Pride may be a good explanation, but let me defend myself a little bit. I grew up in a single-mother household and witnessed some traumatic events, so at a very young age I learned to fend for myself. By that I mean, fend for my mother and little brother, in which I took on a motherly role somewhere around the age of six years old. I still desire to protect my family and others from the inner turmoil I couldn’t run from. But, this is where freedom began. I had come to realize I cannot control anyone’s destiny. I definitely couldn’t see that then, not even a year ago, but as I write this I feel so much peace in knowing this. All by the grace of God.
Now let’s dive into what really was happening (again, this was not apparent at the time nor even a year ago, but through psychotherapy I have learned what this all meant). I apologize in advance for the details and graphics, but I do believe it shall serve a purpose for at least one reading this today…..As a third year in college, this forced me to drop out of classes the same day, move back home with my mom, and embark on a journey that I would later be so grateful for as I could have ended my life for something so temporary. I was told by several people that committing suicide is the most selfish act you can do, but to the sufferer it is NOT. I truly thought I was making those around me miserable and causing more pain on them than within, but that was completely false. Again, a lie that my brain was telling me. It was not reality. I had to do so many reality checks and still to this day when my mind plays tricks on me and tries to get me to go down the rabbit trail I have to call it back and say, “This is just my mind, it doesn’t have to control me.”
Those of you who have known me awhile, know that I hide my struggles very well. My ever-smiling image hides so much pain, anger, resentment, regret, depression, fear…you name it I’ve felt it! Again, might be a pride thing. But it has served its purpose as a defense mechanism to not let most people in. If I protected myself and put my emotions in bubble wrap then there was no way of getting hurt, right? WRONG. Completely distancing myself from everyone, my best friends, my family, my community and even my mom and brother led me unto the road of darkness that was only a one way street without return. No dead end. No “this is not a through street.” Just an ongoing path to sheer destruction. But hey, when life gives you lemons, made lemonade? HAHA. This struggle would last nearly a whole year, almost 365 days that is, to spending most my time in bed, not wanting to eat, sleeping 16-18 hours a day or not sleeping at all, no exercise, no contact with family or friends, and mostly a painful fight with finding a plan to end my life. Not a day, not even an hour went by that I didn’t research a way for guaranteed suicide. As difficult as this is to write, it is even more painful to think that I was in a place of considering this as the only option for a way out. What I didn’t consider at the time was that most of the individuals that write these excerpts on how to “successfully commit suicide” are those that have survived. Obviously, Christina. Not so obvious at the time. And I didn’t consider the fact that just because someone wrote it doesn’t mean it is guaranteed for me. God has a plan. And that certainly wasn’t His plan for my life, but this journey surely would become a part of my testimony. Anyway, I tried to plan everything out, but the most appealing seemed to be overdosing. I would wait for no one to be home. I would lock at the doors. I would make it quick and painless. But deep inside, I could rationalize with myself that if I was successful I would hope that someone would find me. That is when I realized I didn’t TRULY want to die, I wanted what was inside of me to DIE. But how could I do that? I couldn’t replace my brain, I couldn’t trade places with another human, I couldn’t escape it without fighting the fight in front of me. I didn’t have the tools, the coping skills, nor the wisdom to utilize in this battle. I also hadn’t accepted Christ into my heart, so I didn’t even have His armor for the battle He already won. But I did have family that loved me unconditionally, friends and a community that was praying for me, and little did I know God was pursuing me gently but persistently even though I was not pursuing Him. However, it wouldn’t be until my “second episode” of mental illness that I would accept God as my Lord and savior.
As I mentioned, this first battle lasted nearly a year and the battlefield was gnarly, let me tell you. Hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and let me just say, life hasn’t been easy. I have witnessed a lot of trauma and I would later learn that this was the root and trigger of my struggle with mental illness. Due to my suicidal thoughts and actions, my family ended up taking me to the emergency room without a clue of what to do or expect. I had admitted to them that I had tried to overdose several times with various pills and medications, without succession. After an evaluation in the ER and great attempts by the physicians to convince me to stop saying this, lawfully they had to take my threats seriously and order a hold, which I learned is an involuntary hold with 72- hour observation in a psychiatric facility. But, I was numb. I didn’t care. I didn’t feel scared nor relieved. I just felt nothing at all. I don’t know which is scarier, but it is certainly terrifying to not feel anything at all. As I lay in the ER, after 5 hours, I was strapped to a gurney without my consent and wheeled away into an ambulance. I still have the vision of my mom screaming and begging the professionals to let me go. But this was out of everyone’s control. I made my choices and this was the result. The worst, best thing that ever happened to me. It was about a 30 minute ambulance ride, strapped down, next to a handsome medic, HAHA, who sat there staring at me in confusion. What was he thinking? With watery eyes, he said to me, “No one on this earth is worth your life. Not even you. You are safe and you will get better.” As much as I wanted to cry I couldn’t, but that statement would carry me through the next 72 hours and for the rest of my life. This ride was so uncomfortable because I don’t know about you, but being strapped down, told where and what I am going to do, eat, sleep and more for the next 72 hours is not something I ever wanted to do. I could feel the Jack n the Box monster tacos that I had about 6 hours prior, moving from side to side in my belly, making me want to vomit. I held on to them as much as I could and luckily everything else that was going on including this gorgeous medic completely distracted me. Well that was positive. And then, within what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was there. There. A county facility. A psychiatric ward.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my only knowledge of what a psychiatric ward/facility is like, really skewed my perception as I had only really seen movies and images of one. I imagined people to be banging their hands against walls, being strapped to beds, handcuffed, violent, and so on. I thought I was going to be put into a straight jacket and put into isolation without food and water for days. With that in mind, my mom followed the ambulance and when they wheeled me out of the vehicle, they let my mom kiss me goodbye and wheeled me away. I could hear my mom crying the most desperate cry I’ve ever heard her cry and I knew it then how much my mom meant to me and how grateful I was to be alive. It hit me. Whatever I would endure in the next 72 hours had no influence on my mom’s unconditional love my mom had for me. A mother’s love that could not be explained but only shown. With a broken heart, I was wheeled up to double doors, the medic swiped his card, and bam…I heard screaming, banging, cursing and more. I was unstrapped and told to go into a bathroom, mind you that looked like a prison room, asked to change into scrubs which also looked like a prison uniform, and was strip searched like a criminal. So humiliating and mortifying. They explained to me what contraband was and how I was to follow it. I could not have anything with strings, wires (including a bra) and nothing that could be used to injure oneself or another. For someone that had never been in trouble with the law, I was beside myself. Once I was changed into my new outfit for the next three days, I was walked through what the woman called the “acute, crisis floor” but was told I was less severe than that and I would be staying on the “high functioning, minimal security floor.” Oh great, it’s confirmed I’m a ‘crazy’ criminal that will be forgotten and thrown a bone every few days. I don’t like the word crazy, I think it is derogatory, as even the most severe mentally ill patients are people too. By the way, I forgot to mention. It was now 3:00 in the morning. It had been a long night, a night that was still not over. I instantly regretted my words of confirming I wanted to commit suicide as I instantly knew this place was not for me. I wasn’t “that” crazy. But was I? I certainly was in a dark place and this would be the confirmation and safety I needed. I met with several different therapists who said they were doing an intake before showing me to my room where I would sleep. An intake? Why does an intake take hours? Who knows…I was already too far in. I was already a prisoner to my own mind. And now, literally speaking. I was in what seemed to be an “upgraded prison.”
The several therapists diagnosed me with several depression and generalized anxiety (which would be my first mental health diagnoses) and told me that they would observe me throughout my stay to see if I showed symptoms as anything more severe. When I say depression, I’m not talking about the kind that lasts a day and then you are back to “normal” (whatever ‘normal’ actually means), I’m talking about the depression that lasts at least two weeks, maybe months, maybe even years. The depression that makes you isolate, feel the utmost despair like you have no purpose, continuous and uncontrollable crying or the lack thereof, no appetite, sleeping too much or not enough, this longing for a hole to be filled within your soul that can’t be filled, guilt, shame, maybe self-harm, maybe turn to drugs and alcohol, maybe distance yourself from friends and family, maybe think of suicide or maybe even make a plan. This is what is referred to as clinical depression. This of course, needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional. And by anxiety I don’t mean the ‘normal’ anxious feelings that come and go to usual life stressors. The anxiety I speak of is that constant “knot-in-your stomach” type of feeling, that gut-wrenching nervousness, the inability to self-soothe or relax, the GI effects, the heartburn, the racing thoughts, the pacing, the sweaty palms, the shivers or hot flashes, and so much more that last consistently for a week or more and that interfere with your daily life functioning. Instantly I was given medications, which I attempted to refuse, but something told me (GOD) to be obedient and just “pay my time.” I took the numerous pills, had a flashback of the pills I tried to take, and just asked to be shown to my room. This floor was quiet. I could hear someone snoring down the hall, but it seemed much more promising than the other floor I entered during my initial intake. I was shown to my room where there was another female sleeping in the bed next to mine, and given a schedule for the next day. My room was clean, the bed was made, there was a little window, and I had “my own side.” I learned that the lights would be turned on at 7am. That meant I would have about 2 hours to sleep. GREAT! Another sleepless night. I was told the drugs would likely knock me out for a long time and if they didn’t I could come back for more doses. Medicine mill. How wonderful. I decided to take it for what it was. At least I had a clean, hospital bed to sleep in. A pillow to lay my head. And nurses that were so kind. Making sure I was comfortable and safe. This didn’t feel like jail after all and certainly wasn’t anything like the movies I had seen. Certainly wasn’t what my mom told me it was going to be. She told me I would be locked up and thrown into a seclusion room only to go “crazier.” I finally rest my head and tried to count myself to sleep. I just couldn’t. Not even a few minutes of shut eye, before lights were on and the first call for coffee and breakfast. I hesitated to react because I was so exhausted. I laid there and tossed and turned acting like I was asleep. The nurse came in and requested that I at least get up to get and then I could go back to sleep. She even helped me get out of bed and walk down the hall with me to get me breakfast. Patients were walking around like zombies, I could only imagine what I looked like being awake for more than 24 hours and completely drugged. I felt drunk and high at the same time. Crossfaded I think it’s called, lol? I’ve learned a lot of “lingo” throughout this journey.
I could hardly eat, but I managed to hold down a few bites of bread and scrambled eggs. Surely didn’t taste like prison food. Not that I know what prison food tastes like, but I imagine not so appetizing after watching many seasons of Orange is the New Black. Shortly after, the nurse told me I could go back to my room but it would be great if I participated in groups. Groups? What is this? A retirement home? She explained it was art therapy, group therapy, chemical dependency groups, and connections with other patients whom were experiencing similar struggles. I looked around as uncomfortable as ever. Some of the in-patients looked like they had just come from jail, which they did. Some of them looked “normal.” Others showed obvious signs and and scars of their suicide attempts. I felt stupid. Pills, I thought? There were homeless folks, divorced, abused, inmates, and so on. There were people there that had overdosed on over 100 pills, were found unconscious and had their stomaches pumped, and I was complaining about my struggles. But this put everything into perspective. I had nothing left but to feel grateful. Surely this wasn’t a resort. It wasn’t a beach front hotel. But it was a start to a healthier and more promising future that was a new path with endless opportunities ahead. Despite the bars on the windows, locked down unit without any access to outside, and armed security guards I chose to imagine the beach and a new journey. During my stay, I forced myself to see images like the beach above. Tranquility. Peace. Abundance. Love. Broken chains. Freedom. GOD. His creations.
Using guided imagery, visualizations, meditation, prayer, and many more coping skills I learned in the hospital I started to feel an ounce of relief. Certainly I wasn’t healed yet, but there was hope for the first time in several months. The thoughts were still there but they were passive. This was HUGE. I was taught various forms of therapy including community and connection with patients of similar struggles some much more severe and others less critical crisis, but we all shared one goal. To regain hope.
I recall an older woman approaching me in the wee hours of the night as I paced the halls during yet another sleepless night. She said to me, “You are beautiful. Why is someone like you in here? You don’t belong here.” I was offended and flattered at the same time. I didn’t know how to respond. It reminded me of the many doctors that had said to me, “You don’t look depressed” or “You don’t even have it that bad compared to other patients I see” during outpatient visits that would fuel my anger. What does someone who is depressed look like anyway? We all are different and we all look and appear differently. I didn’t know how to take this, but she explained many of them had been sent from jail as they tried to commit suicide in their cells or they were picked up by policemen and involuntarily committed because they were found blacked out on the street from heroine, cocaine, meth, alcohol, overdose and other illicit substances. My world started to shrink. I wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have it so bad. I needed to be grateful. I was scared but I was so blessed and she reminded me that I needed to embrace my life. Not everyone had what I had. I quickly observed that this was a county facility, by the grace of God, it was clean and well-kept, but more importantly it was a place where I completely unplugged from the world’s hurt, anger, distress, crisis and confusion and truly was able to focus on the present moment. Second by second. It felt as though the days seemed like half of a decade, but it actually flew by. My family and friends visited me throughout the day. Brought me encouragement, love, positivity, hope and prayer. It was so difficult to watch my loved ones and the hurt on their face to see me in such an environment but I reassured them I was safe and after a long time–HAPPY. I finally could feel again. What a relief to have my emotions back. It was as if that rain cloud had drifted. It was certainly still there, but the sun had slightly broken through the clouds, figuratively speaking. I imagined clear skies, an ocean breeze, freedom, crisp air, and the view of a never ending ocean of waves. It brought me back to reality to learn how to truly live in the moment. This sounds great and dandy, but we all know how hard it is to live in the present. It is possible. I know it! I’ve lived it! Even at my worst, it was and still is possible. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
I participated in all of the groups, started to complete my activities of daily living (ADLs) and noticed a big shift in my mood. Was it the medication? Was it the hospital? Was it the fear? Was it the nurses? It was ME! I was letting go of the shackles that bound me and walking towards freedom of no longer being a slave to fear. This would be an ongoing journey, that even today on somedays I struggle with, but it would be the beginning to the end of the “first episode” and so the onset of so much hope. After 72 hours, my mom had begged to have me released, but oddly enough, I almost wanted to stay. I gained a support system, I gained community, and I had a “safe zone” in which was a space where I could be me. At my very lowest. They took me just as I was. No judgment. No condemnation. Just love and support. I was not ready to go back into the world, but I no longer was in a crisis that required constant observation. I can’t lie, I was ready to not have a nurse follow me around and write down some notes every fifteen minutes for their documentation. I also wasn’t going to miss the bathrooms without locks or privacy. I wasn’t going to miss the hard beds and flat pillows. But I was so grateful for the help. It changed my world, forever.
This followed another six months of weekly therapy, continued medication and a whole lot of self-care and learning how to receive. Being truly filled with positivity and ‘good vibes.’ 🙂 I did enroll back in school, finished my bachelor’s program within a year, and I found a great job within UCLA after graduation. God turned it all around for me. This too shall pass.
“The second episode”….
The year was 2015. I was just beginning the Master’s of Entry Level Clinical Nursing program at UCLA during the first, fall quarter. Again, I thought I was living my dream. Returned to my dream school, attending a graduate school program, and finally came to a decision of how to pursue medicine. But again, this time, within 9 weeks, that journey ended. All because of an instant “attack” of severe depression and anxiety….all over again! I was blindsided. There were definitely early warning signs, but I was so caught up in being a nursing student, which is not easy, that I let the signs escape me. I also let them get the best of me without actually knowing what was coming! After being able to identify what was happening, it almost seemed too late.
Within days, I went from 0 to 100. I couldn’t get out of bed, I had no desire to pursue my education, I couldn’t eat, I wanted to sleep all day and then….those thoughts. Those ‘crazy’ thoughts returned with a vengeance. Lucky me! NOT! Right away, I noticed them. I rationalized that they were just thoughts, but instantaneously I urged to complete them again. I thought I had already dealt with this. I thought I was “cured.” I thought I paid my dues…why is it happening again? I asked that question so many times. But, God, has a purpose for everything. He makes beauty from ashes. I was less than ashes, I was dust withering away by the day. I couldn’t see beyond the dark cloud again, this time there was rain, thunder, lightening and darkness, figuratively speaking, that is. The suicidal thoughts worsened and the intent strengthened. I still knew for certain that I didn’t have the guts to do it, but it sure was tempting. I even planned when I would do it while my roommate was at school, but I couldn’t fathom the effect it would have on my family and friends. How devastated they would be. How broken my mom would be. That shrieking cry replayed in my mind from the episode before. I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do that to my dear mother who has scarified everything to give me a good life. This stopped me in my tracks. But, needless to say, the thoughts became so overwhelming that I couldn’t care for myself. I didn’t shower. I didn’t brush my teeth. I didn’t go outside for months. I wouldn’t eat unless someone fed me. Again, I was at my lowest. This time my biggest fear was having to be hospitalized again. Unfortunately, within a few weeks I packed up my belongings and moved home once again. I was at the point at which I could not tease apart reality from irrationality. This is where things became complicated. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to the hospital, but something had to give. Time was just passing me by and I continued to ask myself what I had done to deserve such a punishment. I was living a life I dreamed of escaping, but I learned before there was no escaping it.
By His grace alone, within six months, I was back up and running after finding a successful treatment plan with my treatment team. I wanted out so bad. I remember one night, calling out to God. Of course I believed in God, but I hadn’t accepted Him into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I begged Him to take me out of this misery, to just take me off this earth and place me somewhere that I wouldn’t suffer any longer. I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew suicide wasn’t the answer. This too shall pass. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I would repeat that mantra over and over again. I learned that from my first hospitalization and it stuck with me. Although I wasn’t certain how this was going to end, but God did. He was already working it all out for me. He had it all planned out, all I had to do was surrender. I finally did on my hands and knees.
Between the night I called out to Him and a trip to the Harvest Crusade–I was saved. The date was August 26th, 2016. I joined my best friend and her husband at the Harvest Crusade at the Angels Stadium. I had never been to a Christian church or event. What a sinner I was. Or so, I thought I was.
The beautiful crusade went on. Worship song after worship song. Closing my eyes, seeing this beam of bright light and not understanding what was about to happen. Crying like I’ve never cried before yet at the same time feeling peace within me that I’ve never felt before. At the end of the event, Pastor Greg Laurie gave everyone who hadn’t done so yet, the opportunity to bow their heads and close their eyes, leading in a prayer for anyone who wanted to commit their life to Christ. I felt that nudge. Yep, He was saying it was my time. I prayed the salvation prayer and accepted the Lord into my heart. Little did I know what this meant, but this was the beginning of eternity and the turning point of my entire life.
It was weird, I didn’t feel different. But, I was different. The Holy Spirit now lives inside of me, now and forever. It took me a few months to realize the freedom that I was walking in, not to mention how patiently the Lord was pursuing me to finally pursue Him. Who would pursue me so patiently without anything in return? NO ONE. The answer is no one, would or ever would. JUST HIM! With that, I finally was obedient and made the best decision of my life. This was the firm foundation my life would build upon. I am forever changed.
Although this episode took about a year to heal, this ending was very different. Very different. It was certain that I had the ultimate Warrior to go before me in any battle forthcoming. I was ready! In short, I did not return to nursing school, as the Lord had very different plans for me….
“The third, and God willing, the final episode”….
Oh boy…the toughest episode yet. God willing, the final and last episode. I don’t think it gets much worse than this.
It began again…it was early January of 2018. I’m still on the road to recovery today, but this time there is complete healing. From the inside out, instead of the outside in. Again, all through the grace of God.
I would have never guessed that this season would end in four hospitalizations at various psychiatric hospitals. I thought I already “paid my dues” throughout the first and second episode. I thought I would never return as an inpatient, but surely, I was wrong. I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know who would go before me. Jesus!
I was 26 years old, “living it up” in San Diego, thinking that my life was surely on track. I had a career map planned out, I was working a desirable job in La Jolla with an outlook of the ocean. I was working with top-notch clinicians, physicians and researchers that were discovering state-of-the-art theories and evidence to contribute to medicine. Beautiful! I thought I was in control. HAHA, NOT! But oh boy, did I learn how to give the reigns back to the Lord, but a bit rougher this time. The triggers hit all at once. Between work issues and visiting urgent care for severe chest pain, I immediately was admitted to the emergency room pending results for a stroke due to what physicians thought were two blocks they discovered on my EKG. This blew doctors away. My age, somewhat athletic. Healthy otherwise. Two blocks. Thank God, these weren’t structural blocks but it took months to get cleared. Those triggers, I tell you. This time I didn’t catch the warning signs, they crept up slowly, but surely. The depression clouded over tenfold asking myself WHY?! But God has a plan not for harm, but to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I knew this going into it, so I had my armor on and knew that the battle was already won. I just had to stay on the battleground and allow God to do His good works that He promises to always do.
Out of work, I began to build yet another treatment team seeing them twice weekly for a few weeks to hopefully rid of the more severe symptoms. But there wasn’t a whole lot of success in that. It was recommended to me to try an intensive outpatient program (IOP) in which I would have a daily program three hours a day for 8-10 weeks by tapering down after a few weeks. It wasn’t a hospitalization, but I would attend a program within the hospital during this time. This included group therapy, learning coping skills, CBT, and various other forms of therapy and rebuilding. When I attended the assessment, it was determined that I may need more intensive care. This meant being hospitalized again. As an inpatient. This time it wouldn’t be involuntary, it was voluntary. I could leave the hospital at any time should I not like it. This sounded more hopeful, but I immediately was fearful of being “locked up again.” I don’t do well with being confined to spaces, if you couldn’t already tell. That lack of control in what is happening to me really sends me for a loop. But God is in control, right? Right. He already knew this was going to happen long ago. He knew exactly what I was going to do and say and He knew exactly what the professionals would do and say. God confirmed to me that this hospitalization was necessary. I again was not caring for myself, I wouldn’t go outside unless I absolutely had to, for a doctor’s appointment or something rather.
I knew I needed it. I didn’t stop it this time nor did I try to escape reality. I voluntarily committed myself to the hospital. It was nicer and better than I had ever imagined. Still not a resort, but definitely a few steps above what I knew from my previous experience. I was so blessed by the staff, the physicians and the therapists that handled my care. It was all GOD from the very beginning. The stay certainly wasn’t easy, I saw some pretty gnarly stuff. Some tragic stuff. Some things that made me angry. And again, I came to realize how good I have it. How truly blessed I am. I have a bed to sleep on, a roof over my head, a pillow on my bed (fluffy, too) and food in my fridge. The patients I stayed with did not have these things. They were mostly all homeless, in and out of jail, on house arrest, awaiting a sentence, or awaiting an assignment to a crisis house or detoxing from heavy drugs and alcohol. I was again reminded of how much I took for granted. During this stay, I trialed various different medications, several changes from day to day. I felt like an experiment. But unfortunately, this is how the mental health system works. Not one medication works the same for every patient, so I would have to trial and error different concoctions until something worked. That was hell. I had the most undesirable side effects. Tremors. Sweating. GI issues. Weight gain and weight loss. Decrease and increase of appetite. Drowsiness and insomnia. Headaches. Double vision. Stuttering. Most things on the Black Box warning label, you name it. I had it. Eleven days later, my psychiatric team found a concoction that worked for me and I was released. This too passed.
While I was an inpatient, I met so many people from various different walks of life. Some very educated, some not, some very wealthy, others homeless, some with a dream, others whom had given up on their dreams because of their battle with mental illness. I even met another female patient who was suffering from schizophrenia and hallucinations after being raped. I felt rage. Anger. Disappointment. Disgust. How could someone do that to such an innocent person? I didn’t know the story in its entirety, but I surely did know that she didn’t deserve it.
Early on during my stay, I realized that my purpose in the hospital was beyond just my own healing. But, to bring healing to those suffering like me. God called me to share the Gospel with several fellow patients and tell them the Good News. I was obedient! The mother of the female patient whom was raped thanked me for “sharing God’s hope and love” with her daughter. She was devastated and without hope, but she said she could see a glimpse of hope from the prayers I prayed over her and her daughter. While I certainly was being treated for my own mental health, God was working in and through me, for more than just my own desires of recovery. It is amazing how He works! I learned of various strategies and techniques, coping skills, therapy approaches, and various other tools to help me move forward. The light at the end of the tunnel started to seep through. I was released voluntarily after 11 days. 11 long days. This too passed.
After two weeks of returning to the IOP, I was re-admitted to the hospital. I had shared with a therapist in the program that a friend of mine called the police because I had told her “I wanted to die.” Again, the suicidal thoughts and actions returned. This time as a self-harming version through cutting. I will spare you the gruesome details, but what I will say is that I have the ‘battle’ scars left on my arm as a constant reminder that I AM ENOUGH and that I am a survivor! But, where did this come from? How do these things even come to the surface? I had never even thought of these things before, but in the depths of the illness I thought something had completely overtaken me. I honestly thought I was insane and was told that I would end up in “the looney bin.” Lots of really sarcastic and hurtful comments were made to me from various people, but it is okay, because this journey is for God’s glory. Not mine, Not theirs! Anyway, this hospital stay lasted 9 days. 9 days longer than anticipated. Another long time without internet, access to emails, my phone, real life, and my own home, shower, and things. But I realize, all those things, are just that. Things. Things of the world and not of God. I didn’t need any of those things to be happy. I didn’t need any of those things to be filled. Only that everlasting love came from the man above! During this hospitalization, another regimen was established and I started to get to know myself better. I was striping away layer by layer of this rotten onion that had long gone bad. I felt myself shedding my old layers and gaining the new ones. It is quite the humbling experience, let me tell you!!
Shortly after I completed the IOP and truly made some major environmental shifts in my life. Especially work. Knowing I had to return there triggered me again. I started to hear and see things that weren’t there. I started to have those delusions that appeared during the second episode. I thought people were following me. I was convinced that I committed a crime. I self-harmed again and there was a pretty hurtful gash on my arm. I was out of control. More than ever before. What was wrong with me? Why did I get better and then get so much worse after? What did I do to deserve this? I was so tired of fighting, tired of giving it my all. I began to question where is God even at? I knew this was my breaking point which would soon lead to my biggest breakthrough! This too passed.
Throughout my journey, I have received nearly every diagnosis in the book. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, hallucinations, delusional thinking, psychosis, OCD, perfectionism, and many more. Which one was actually right? Which one was true? Which one was incorrect? Different physician tell me different things. I came to realize it didn’t matter. Truly, those diagnoses were just labels. Labels to just get my insurance to pay the hospital and doctor for their time, but it didn’t define me! Whether I had depression or severe schizophrenia it truly didn’t matter. Knowing that mental illnesses ran in my family, it was apparent something of the sort was occurring, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. If God wasn’t done, I surely wasn’t either. Unfortunately due to a decrease in progress, I was re-hospitalized. Not again. But, I couldn’t fight back anymore, I didn’t have it in me, so I complied. It seemed as though I was going to be released, so I attempted to leave and was placed on a 5150 for attempting to leave an evaluation. I remember feeling so angry and that this was unjust. I even heard a nurse say, “Oh she’s just another psych patient.” What does that even mean? I was just another number? Another victim for getting meds pumped through me? That was for certain! This time at a different hospital, I faced some of the most severe patients. The ones that were actually scary to be around. At the other hospitals I didn’t encounter patients that were dangerous to others. They weren’t violent or harmful, but some at this hospital were. This terrified me, but I paid my 72 hours which was over rather quickly and got the heck out of there! Whew! My worst nightmare yet! But this too, passed. It’s almost over….
During summer, I was traveling and I was triggered several times that led me to my last and final hospitalization. This time I was out of state and began to hear and see things again. I was suddenly delusional and hallucinating all over again. Attempting to catch the soonest flight home, after several panic attacks at the airport, I was not permitted to fly in my current state and recommended that I go to the nearest ER. I was taken to the ER and it started all over again. I was completely out of my element. I was in another state, 5 hours from home. I agreed to be admitted to the ER. Immediately I was evaluated and pumped with drugs. I was told that I was administered a large dose of anti-anxiety meds and that I would be asleep for awhile. I don’t quite remember much after that other than a female medic escorting me and taking me to a county facility. I didn’t know where I was, how I got there, and who these people were. It was made very clear to me that I was safe and would be taken care of. That surely wasn’t believable. I felt like I was highly intoxicated and blacked out. I felt alone. Hundreds of miles from home, with no one. But I wasn’t alone. God was with me and always has been. When I arrived, I was told to change into the hospital clothes, I was given a big, thick blanket and assigned a big recliner and I fell asleep. The next thing I know a nurse tells me it is 7am and my family had arrived to discharge me. Thank you Jesus for such an amazing family. I knew this was my last hospitalization. God confirmed this in my darkest hour. He was the light and continues to be the light. I am still healing and will continue to heal throughout life’s journey! This too has passed.
It has become apparent to me that I have suffered severe childhood trauma and relational traumas that are deeply rooted. I pray that these traumas will lessen in effect over time. I know this is just the end of a beginning and I am so very blessed to be on the other side of it all. It has been nothing sort of terrifying and difficult but all things are possible through God! He healed me and He will heal you too! Know that you are never alone, even when the world tells you so! Even when a loved one tells you so! We are all here to serve a purpose and that will be done when we fully walk in the victory! You don’t have to fight the battle any longer. Surrender your struggles to the Lord and watch Him move you to victory. That is just the God we serve!!!
Why do I write all of this in the past tense? Because that is exactly what it is. It is my past. It is my story. My journey. My testimony. For His glory. For His child(ren) that need the hope. Today, I live for today. I live in the present. I’m not focused on the past and I’m not concerned about the future. For tomorrow will have its own worries. I wouldn’t have the hope I do now if it weren’t for the hurting. I wouldn’t have the breakthrough without the breakdown. This was my spiritual awakening which awoke His spirit within me and continues to burn bright every day! I’ve learned that allowing myself to be seen and known has delivered me and brought me to a place where I can practice gratitude and joy. That everlasting joy. That joy that He gives in abundance. I realized that when I stopped thinking about what I was thinking about and started to do what God has called me to do (which what I wasn’t doing) is when the spiritual awakening was ignited.
God Bless you and I hope this serves just as it is intended by the Lord. This is very difficult to share publicly as many have highly discouraged me to share, but I know when the Lord nudges, He nudges. So I am being obedient and pray that the person that needs this will also be obedient and read this and even share it. I pray that a community be developed here and endless people are set free. Chains be broken. No more slaves to fear nor mental illness! We are free. Free indeed.
You might ask, “How have I done it?” or “How do I continue to do it every day?” The answer is God. He does it. I just follow His lead. I also exercise at least 60 minutes a day (on a good week lol), attend frequent therapy, actively take medication, prayer, meditation, yoga, self-care, setting boundaries, etc. It is possible and it can be done. If you feel the nudge to ask about a relationship with God, maybe what it means, or how to get connected I strongly encourage you to contact me, post on the blog about it, or however you’d like to discuss it, I would be blessed to pray with you the salvation prayer! And even if you don’t or aren’t interested at the time, please still feel free to blog or contact me as needed! I’m here to help!
Whatever you do my friend, just don’t give up and don’t give in! Mental illness is a disease of the mind that can be cured like a physical illness that is a disease of the body. I don’t care what statistics say, but anything is possible. I believe that whole-heartedly! There is hope even in the darkest days of despair. The light will break through the dark clouds. This is not permanent. But it is a lifelong battle. You are loved. You are known. You are not alone. There is a least one person on this earth that you mean the world to guaranteed. You can’t win this battle alone, but growing in community and connecting with others of like-mindedness and similar struggles only makes it that much easier. It’s no easy win, but there is victory! Take it from me, who never thought I’d make it to the other side! But, I did and will continue to!
Please feel free to share with anyone whom may need the light. I can be contacted via email, text or call. You can also contact me by clicking on the “Contact” Tab and writing your message directly in the space provided. I am more than happy to assist in finding resources whether that be a therapist, psychiatrist or just community resources. I am also very happy to be there for you! Anything you share is confidential (unless of course you actively have a plan for suicide). If you choose to post on the blog, feel free to post anonymously, but I do encourage you to be known and communicate and connect freely without any shame in your game! Know that suffering with a mental illness does not make you “crazy or insane.” Mental health is just as important as physical health. I pray that this helps to remove stigma around mental illness, therapy, medications, and the taboo to even talk about the experiences and as severe as the ones I have shared. Feel free to communicate, connect and fellowship with others whom suffer or have a loved one suffering via the blog. Check out my “Beading Therapy” tab for further freedom and the “Resources” tab for mental health contacts. Remember, this too shall pass!