In 1993 I suffered severe clinical depression. It took years to find the “…and that’s good because” of that illness. At the time I felt ashamed of my inability to be happy. I was surrounded by all the trappings intended to make for a joyful life. I had–and still have–two beautiful, healthy kids. My son was thirteen at the time, my daughter was ten. I lived an affluent life in a gated country club community. Fancy cars, fancy clothes, fancy travel.
But I couldn’t stop crying. No one knew I was so ill. I was the master of slapping on a smile and faking happiness. Sure, there were signs that old friends would have recognized, but we’d moved away from old friends shortly before the illness began. New friends commented on how much weight I was losing and how good I was looking. Ultimately I became concentration camp skeletal.
I was suicidal.
Each day I would fake being happy mommy long enough to see my kids off to school. Then I would crawl onto the bed and curl up in a fetal position. I made it my rule to stay on the bed, reasoning if I got off I might actually make a fatal choice. When they arrived home I resumed that odd grin until they went to bed at night.
Finally it became abundantly clear I needed to be hospitalized. Upon arrival my photo was taken. The result showed a shrunken woman, hollow cheeks, sorrowful eyes. Yet she was wearing a strange toothy grin.
Shoelaces were confiscated, as were make-up mirrors and any other items possibly used to inflict harm upon ourselves. All medications were put under lock and key.
My first night I had a nurse seated by my bed throughout the night to make sure I didn’t suicide. The following morning I was awakened by frightening, deafening pounding from the room next door. Anger management class. The pounding was rubber bats against pillowed chair seats.
The following three weeks were a series of classes.
Anger management–I did my fair share of pounding. I found it was very therapeutic.
Art therapy–I used only black pens. Sometimes I slammed the pens so hard the felt tips were ruined, other times were weak little scribbles.
Group Discussions–Patients were seated in a circle and would take turns discussing our feelings. I had long since forgotten how to feel my feelings. I was unable to feel joy, only just learning to feel rage. My feelings were stuffed. Piled on top of them was a boatload of pain. One man never opened his eyes. I wondered how he navigated the hallways. I have since tried his technique and now understand how it is a brilliant coping skill. One more way to keep the world out: Just don’t see it.
Sing-a-longs–These were led by a jolly guitar playing minister. All the songs were Christian. I remember one, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Private counseling– One on one with very gentle psychologists.
The patients included a long distance truck driver, John, who blamed himself for his son’s death. John had given his son a new car. Days later his son was killed in that car trying to beat a train.
Laura, who was committed for a mandatory three days. She had attempted suicide following an affair with her boss. The boss rejected her. Her Jehovah’s witness family shunned her.
Doris, who had run away from an abusive home at thirteen. By fifteen she had given birth to a baby who died shortly thereafter. She was anger personified, often skipping classes or, if she did come, she flounced into the room with a scowl and contributed nothing.
One woman, whose name I have long since forgotten, had to spend her first night in a padded room. Her hands were wrapped tightly so she couldn’t scratch herself. A camera on the wall recorded every movement to a television posted at the nurses station.
She was suicidal over the loss of her teenage son. Each visiting day her husband and pre-teen daughter would come. Dad would spend time with his wife while the daughter would sit, stricken and alone, in the visitors area. My heart broke for that young girl. She must have felt she alone wasn’t a loveable enough child to make her parents happy.
For years I experienced intense shame about having been in a mental health hospital. It was embarrassing to have become crazy.
Now I’m coming to the “this is good because….” part of my clinical depression journey.
The mental health hospital I was committed to had two treatment options. One option looked to me like a nut-hut crazy madhouse. The other choice was based on a spiritual Christian model. I now understand my nightmare hospital experience was the first step toward my journey to belief in a higher power.
That three-week experience–two weeks in-patient, one week out—was a turning point in my life. Sure, there were still miles and miles to go before I learned to trust my higher power and live the life I now have–A life filled with abundance beyond anything I could have believed possible back in 1993.
There were years of therapy following my hospitalization. Robin, my skilled psychologist, gently guided. She taught me assertiveness skills and how recognize my feelings. She told me to close my eyes and imagine situations from several sides. Following each assessment I was to take stock of my physical self. Were my shoulders tight? Was my breathing shallow? My body’s tension, or lack thereof would give me answers my mind couldn’t manage.
Eventually I made the most important wellness choice–leaving my twenty-eight year marriage. Which led me back to church, back to prayer and back to simply breathing in and out. I learned to be quiet. I learned to trust that God put me here for a reason. I don’t know the reason. I don’t have to. I just have to say, “Hey God, put a neon light over the door you want me to walk through.”
And God always does.