The first time I allowed myself to get a psychological evaluation at a hospital was one of the most normalizing experiences of my life. I have a mental illness, and I decided to take myself off of my medication without really working with my doctor on it. Why did I do that? Because the stigma was too great, and I truly felt that if the society I lived in could not accept that I needed to take medication and see therapists for the abuse I sustained when I was a little girl… I could not accept myself either.
Have you ever seen “Silver Linings Playbook”? Spoiler alert: Bradley Cooper’s character stops taking his medication because he does not feel accepted for having bipolar disorder… and obviously he gets worse. The Catch 22 is pretty terrible for those with mental illness. Although I did tell my doctor, I know now that I should have worked with my doctor in gradually lowering myself off my medication instead of trying to get off “cold turkey.” But again, I did this because I did not feel accepted for sustaining emotional trauma from my past, and I desperately wanted to be accepted. I felt fine for about a month… but then the sense of extreme fear and panic attacks slowly and painfully returned. Negative thoughts of low self-worth began to haunt me, and I began to isolate myself… in fear that I would not be accepted and I would be told to “get over it.” Because… you know… abuse is so easy to “get over.” To offer a better perspective, think about this. If depression and anxiety were easy to get over… therapists wouldn’t exist, mental health facilities wouldn’t exist, and people would be able to be happy instantly. Because we are not able to change our emotions at the flick of a switch, whether you have a mental illness or not, this makes therapists and psychiatrists a necessity in society.
One day I had a particularly bad panic attack and decided to go with my boyfriend to the emergency room to see if they could prescribe me an anti-anxiety medication. I cannot tell you the gratitude I felt toward the kind nurses and doctors who not only accepted that I had a mental illness… but made me feel that it made sense that I sustained emotional trauma from my past. They made me feel normal… something I hadn’t felt for a long time. One of my biggest fears is being isolated from others if anyone found out I had a mental illness, and thus I isolated myself, but these doctors and nurses were very understanding and I could tell sincerely wanted me to feel better. If it wasn’t for the kindness of the doctor I spoke to, I may not have decided to stay overnight and get evaluated by a team of psychiatrists and psychologists. I was also very scared to put my mental health in the hands of complete strangers, but the doctor I spoke to helped me realize that these strangers are a team of professionals who want to help me actualize my goal of obtaining a more positive outlook on life, and help me overcome my fear of being abused again.
Do you know what is the best part staying a couple days in a mental health facility? It is not being stigmatized for having a mental illness. In a psych ward, no matter who you are, everyone is equal. Allow me to explain this. Everyone in a psych ward is vulnerable and sensitive to each other, because we are openly sharing what we perceive is the very worst part of ourselves in the slightest hope that we can find comfort and support in each other, and learn to live again. How often can you say that you learned and benefitted from a complete, random stranger?
For example, I met an elderly woman in the ward, I would say in her late 60s, with at least one now-adult daughter. Her husband brought her in to the psych ward because of extreme anxiety. She heard voices, hallucinated, and was adamantly convinced that she was a bad mother and wife to the point of physically shaking and crying. She had extreme difficulty controlling her negative thoughts and often voiced her thoughts, which included berating herself by telling others how much of a bad person she was. Would you like to know how much of a bad person she was? She felt that if she relaxed a little and took care of herself that was wrong, her duty as a wife and mother was to only take care of her husband and child. Her selflessness helped me realize the importance of taking care of your own well-being. As Bell Hooks stated, “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” And this is what it is to have a mental illness. Most people with a mental illness are not violent or scary, they are simply people who feel that they have such a severely flawed character that they are “bad” and do not deserve “good.” These people tend to do things to without being fully aware… such as stay in an abusive relationship, become an alcoholic, or self-mutilate, among other things. When you do not see the worth in yourself, you tend to put your self-worth into the hands of others, who may not take such good care of it. This is never good, who can know your self-worth better than yourself? And this can result in a downward spiral, unless help is obtained. These were all truths I knew somewhere deep down, but when I first went to the emergency room I couldn’t see that. All I felt was the stigma associated with mental illness, which kept me from reaching out for help. It is really only through communicating and having others understand that I am more than my mental illness that I can rise above it. It is also important to realize that no one should be made guilty, coerced, or harassed to get over their mental illness… that’s not how a healthy relationship works.bcmon
“It’s common to reject or punish yourself when you’ve been rejected by others. When you experience disappointment from the way your family or others treat you, that’s the time to take special care of yourself. What are you doing to nurture yourself? What are you doing to protect yourself? Find a healthy way to express your pain.” — Christina Enevoldsen
I would like to dedicate this blog to my dear friend Anonymous, an abuse victim I met in the ward. It is not easy being a victim of abuse, not only because you were abused, but because we live in a society that does not want to hear about it. This makes it extremely difficult to get help. You are doing the right thing by admitting you need help and staying in the ward, even if others don’t understand. Your abuser is doing the wrong thing by not getting help and hurting people instead. It will get easier, and there are many people like me who understand. Things will get easier with time and you will be able to smile and feel good about yourself. There are people out there who will love you the way you deserve to be loved, and who will support you while you are going through this time of pain. Believe me. I know.