From the Psych Unit to Becoming a Therapist

By Ariel GantFebruary 17, 2021

This piece mentions the topic of suicide. Please use your discretion.

Depression is not simply sadness, the inability to experience pleasure, or irritability.

Depression is stumbling through a heavy fog, so dense I cannot see my own feet.

Depression is walking an unending journey in the blistering heat, barefoot, with nothing to quench my thirst.  I do not know my destination, or thus if it is even worth it.

Depression is blinding numbness, an inability to feel or create or believe that anything ever matters.

Depression is mourning—mourning the life you imagined, the one you’re not even sure exists outside the stories of your loved ones.

Depression is a nagging itch, from which I cannot find relief.

Depression is bone-deep exhaustion that cannot be overcome with a nap or even a week’s worth of sleep.

Depression is a lie so complex, it cannot be unraveled.  What is “truth,” after all?

Depression is the thorn in my flesh.

Mania is my soul on fire.

Mania is believing, for once, that I am not only worth it, I am magical.

Mania is sound in color.

Mania is feeling everything so very deeply, that it gives life itself meaning.

Mania is getting paid at 5:00 and being broke by 5:30.

Mania is ALL THE GOOD IDEAS.  Let’s complete ALL THE PROJECTS!

Mania steals my sense of credibility.  I must defend my every choice.

Mania makes life feel worth living… Until it doesn’t anymore.

But mood cycling? Cycling reminds me why I don’t give up. Cycling reminds me life is not all flowers and rainbows. Cycling reminds me what is real; that life is fleeting. Cycling is the nature of bipolar: always changing.

I’ve typically been a fairly good student—on the honor roll, a peer buddy, active in clubs, and friendly with most anyone. I couldn’t wait for college to arrive so I could get out of the house, build my own life, and study the things that interested me. But then depression got deeper and longer and darker. I ended up failing most of my classes and missing a trip abroad to a bucket-list location due to my mental health. I re-engaged in self-harm, made reckless choices, slept every minute I could, and tried to avoid the tears that I couldn’t stop from flowing freely. At the time, I was in therapy, seeking medication, and trying to use my very small support system.  Nothing was helping, and the suicidal thoughts kept building. It got to the point where I didn’t think I could control them any longer.

One afternoon, I found myself sitting on my bed in a room I share with my best friend and roommate in our tiny home, talking to my dog. I had just ditched my therapist, quit taking my medication (Jesus had healed me, I proclaimed!), and despair was boundless. I had a huge assignment due the next day for a professor who mentored me, and while I didn’t want to disappoint her, I could not get myself out of bed to write the paper.

I don’t remember the conversation I was having with Levi, my dog, but I do remember knowing I couldn’t do this anymore. It was all too much. I was too tired, too depressed, too lonely, too dysfunctional, too emotional, too numb, too much of a disappointment, too stressed, too overwhelmed to carry on. I didn’t know how, for sure, but I knew what I had to do: when my friend went to work, I would skip class and end my life. No backing out; not this time.

My friend tells me she knew I was in trouble when she overheard me telling my dog goodbye. He had been the one thing that had kept me going in recent years. The day is mostly a blur, but she eventually coaxed me into going to the hospital for an evaluation for inpatient hospitalization. I do recall walking up to the desk, asking why I needed to be seen, and stammering “I don’t want to be alive anymore.” They quickly ushered me back to a locked wing of the emergency department.

I laid in the tiny bed, feeling so small and overwhelmed, unsure of what was going to happen next. Another friend, who had accompanied us to ensure I got there safely, sat on the bed with me. We made plans to go back to my house following the evaluation and have a movie marathon. Finally, something to look forward to!

The clinician came in and asked my friends to leave while she did the evaluation. When she asked what was going on, the words slid out of my mouth like melted butter. “I’m going to die tonight,” I said, looking down at my arms.

“How?” the woman asked kindly.

“I don’t care. I’ll harm myself. I’ll down some pills. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to die tonight.”

She smiled sweetly and left the room.

Time passed like molasses in the emergency department, and sometime later, they announced I was going “upstairs.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “I’m going home and having a movie marathon!” I was frantic. I can’t stay. I have to go home—I have plans! And so ensued my five-day stay in the psychiatric unit.

I was lucky—I had friends, pastors, and professors visit (with my permission). Their visits brought about moments of honesty and vulnerability. None of them knew I had struggled so deeply, they said. Accountability followed. Diagnoses followed. More therapy and doctors and appointments followed. But what was most lucky was I finally got the help I needed. I was connected with a psychiatrist who, after 10 years of trying medications with little to no success, found a combination that worked for me. By autumn, I’d ceased self-injuring, been consistently taking my medication, and followed through with all of the doctors’ recommendations. For the first time in my life, I was genuinely thrilled to be alive. It’s not that I didn’t still struggle—there’s no magic pill for bipolar disorder. I continue to have my ups and downs, but they’re no longer as severe. I know if I miss my medication, there are serious consequences, so I make it a top priority to always take it consistently.

Growing up, my parents thought it unfortunate to be dependent on medication. It took a long time for me to let go of that belief and the belief that Jesus would just heal me if only I believed enough. Maybe Jesus was healing me—through that small handful of pills I swallow every morning. Or maybe I had to accept the fact that my body needed some help to make it livable. Like a diabetic needs insulin, I too need my medication regimen to function properly. And while it took years for me to come to terms with this, I eventually landed on this: I’d rather have to take a few pills every day and be able to manage my life than to live in such agony that I want to end it all.

I’ll also be forever grateful to the friends who saw my need and intervened. I’m truly glad I didn’t end my life that night. As cliche as it may seem, it does get better or at least easier.

Today, I’m a therapist myself. But I still see my own personal therapist—because life is tough, and so am I.

Your diagnosis is not the end of your story. You are capable of living with bipolar disorder. Healing is still possible. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].

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Comments (7)

  1. Liesel Chivington

    Wow! Thank you Ariel. This struck a major chord and resonated with me. I am glad to hear stories like yours as it reminds me I am not alone in my experience.

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  2. Sandra

    Thank You for sharing your story.. I live with bi-polar and PTSD.. I have not had the success of returning to school.. I too want to return to school to be a therapist..I do continue to see my own therapist

    Reply  |  
  3. Ann

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your self. I am glad you’re here!!🥰

    Reply  |  
  4. Kaitlin R

    Good for you Ariel! Being a “wounded healer” is where it’s at! I’ve had my fair share of mental health issues and I’m currently in school to become a counselor and art therapist. It’s heartening to go from a patient in the psych unit to a professional on the psych unit. I think it’s ironic and motivational that my birth parents met as patients in a psych hospital and here I am getting my degree to work in one 🙂 Keep up the good work!

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  5. david Ntalamu

    I am very much impacted by your compelling tales about your life in connection with bipolar complexities, I am glad that you have highlighted the most key point, “you need to help yourself by keep up with your medication routine”. Often time fellows who are living with this special gifted blessing known as bipolar disorder, they tends to take a time figured out the best alternative options to suit their lifestyle. Don’t give me wrong it is the most toughest thing to someone who is living with bipolar can ever figure it out. Due to the fact that trials and errors are always seemed to overwhelming the reasoning ability, so does the consciousness of the bipolar fellows?. By the way I have been living with this special gifted maniac thorn for numbers of years, I have been knocked out often time by it, I have been brought to the lowest of the pit by it, I have been going through shame and humiliation, so does disgracefully every now and then, but anyway, There is also a lots of victories in midst of this temporal distress life of living with bipolar. I give great gratitude to the lord of host for sustaining my life, for give me courage and guts to fight back on this bipolar everyday , so does a wonderfully teams of family, friends, doctors and therapist? who have added a great values of some sort to some extent in terms of their prayers, advises, gossip, financial help, entertaining and aspire and comfort me every now and then. Well to make a long story short, I would like to toss out couples of helping tips to anyone who is living with bipolar disorder.
    (1) Being alone isn’t meaning that your lonely.
    As far as this bipolar is concerned it is one of the sickness that tends to bring a lots of being alone, so there is need for bipolar fellows to train yourself and understanding that your not alone, neither lonely. it is a process but by the will of God surely you can make it happen.
    (2) There is plenty of help out there just go and get it.
    Since bipolar fellows have a lifestyle of being alone and some time someone may felt being lonely, once again you have to adopt a new traits by having appreciation in the midst of the bipolar. For instance apart from praying and Reading bible or any of your favorite book every now and then, you can get yourself a diary and every now then you write a nice appreciation paragraph about the way God have been your helper of the helpless, about a wonders family that God have given you, about a nice pet that you have that you can walk by sometime, you can watch a movie with your pet any time you want ect, so more than that you have to do yourself a favor and maintained your medication life style and stay away from triggering variables that may intensify the sickness.,the best help out there for yourself is to figure the triggering variables and combat them by all means necessary.
    (3) Your can still be contentment in the midst of bipolar.
    living with bipolar is like chewing challenges and tons of measurable feelings as snacks, every day, so maintaining happiness, smiles and laugh it can be a bit challenge some time, however, with God help all things are possible, and you have got to find the way to be happy by love yourself, if necessary self fish a bit and mostly, find a way you can keep up with light exercise and being prayers worrier to your life style.Don’t just sit out there thinking that someone have to come and give you happiness from above, there is no happiness magic pills for fellows who are living with bipolar, so just keep trying new good habits and you will soon find your pattern that bring smile on your face.
    (4) Life is full of opportunity for you just a matter of time.
    Fellows with bipolar we are living with swinging moods, its tough and tenders but in the midst of it there are plenty of blessings, so don’t afraid to count your blessings and live your life. Don’t try to please every one around, just be humble before God and he shall provides, don’t dare thinking that there is no single opportunity with fellows who living with bipolar, There are trillion of platform and ask your creator who have created you with the weak vessels in the first place then he shall reasons with you, how to better yourself and your life opportunity. For references go over and meditates on the scripture James 1:5.. I wishes you all the best and enjoy your life.

    Reply  |  
  6. Nomee

    Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  7. Lala Rieux

    Thank you for sharing your lived experience, because I too, struggle with Severe Anxiety & Depression. It becomes to much. But with Grace, humbleness & patience, it does get better. I am “Feeling It To Heal It” & “Exposure Therapy” to turn my rain clouds into rainbows.

    Reply  |  
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