The process of accepting that I have a mental illness started with a painful beginning, the summer’s usual wall of fatigue before planning for the fall in church life. In that milieu, I entered a bout with deep grief upon the 2nd anniversary of my hysterectomy and subsequent beginning of menopause, a situation exasperated by a pastoral care situation that needed attention while I was lost in my grief. A grief that triggered all other griefs, including leaving other jobs and difficult situations I had to manage. All of a sudden I was having suicidal thoughts. What do you do?
The reality of the situation comes crashing down when the ER personnel whispers around you “Is that her?” because when someone comes in to the ER with a psychological concern, there are special protocols to keep you and them safe. Each time I was hospitalized the intake nurse started with “You are a strong person for coming here.” The first time I hoped it would be true. The second time I knew it was true that I was strong for coming to the hospital, since last time I came I ended up with an unexpected mental illness diagnosis that needed to be managed. But I also wondered, the second time going through the ER, if I really was strong since I had to come back.
I had yet to learn how to live with a mental illness, despite 5 weeks of intensive outpatient therapy after the first hospitalization. Learning to live with mental illness meant discovering some of my own patterns and cycles, and when to ask for help. It was mind-blowing to learn that suicidal thoughts are a symptom of the illness. And when they show up, it’s time to get to the hospital, for minimally the meds will need to be changed.
I continue to work with my therapist, my psychiatrist (who helps me navigate the dozens of meds that might help), and the medical team that puts me through the paces for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). I meet with a support group weekly and am making new friends from the hospital and the group. And yet I still feel like reality has not yet settled in. When will I feel comfortable with myself again?