Imagine lying down in the middle of a forest in complete darkness. There’s no exit within miles of your view and you’re unsure of which way to go to find the road out. Suddenly, the forest begins to go up in flames, and you notice your legs are broken and you are unable to get up and move—let alone move. Familiar faces flash around you, encouraging you to get up and go. “There’s a way out this way,” they say. You’re plagued with so much pain to the point that it’s paralyzing. You consider lying there and succumbing to the fire. Memories of beautiful times in your life float in and out of your consciousness, followed by the dread that you are not stronger than your pain. Self-doubt creeps in and you’ve convinced yourself this is it, this is the end. People show up in an attempt to lift and carry you as far as they can, but they grow tired and have to put you down. They tell you that you must do the rest on your own.
This is the best way I can describe what living with and suffering from mental illness is like.
Mental illness has typically gone against the grain in my intellectual understanding of medicine. There are no lab values or radiologic studies that quantify the diagnosis or prognosis. Unlike having a terminal cancer diagnosis and sitting across from a physician being told, “I’m sorry, we’ve seemed to maximize our options and it’s in my best opinion that we now focus on your comfort and quality of life,” we (the mentally-ill patient) usually find ourselves sitting across from a physician who hasn’t exhausted their treatment options. Instead, what they’re really saying is, “I feel I’ve run out of options and I am too uncomfortable to continue on.” The trial and error of treatment is exhausting and daunting, and no two single patients respond similarly even with the same diagnosis.
In the past year, I’ve lived some of the darkest days I’ve ever known. The fire surrounded me so profoundly that I felt a hopelessness that can push one to their own end. I’ve tried to explain to my closest friends in those moments that for me there is suddenly no regard for the people in my life that matter most.
It’s simple: I am suffering and I need this to end because I am exhausted.
I’ve landed myself in the hospital three times, which is an unpleasant and emotional experience. There are no tests to further explain symptomology. There’s no cell phone to reach out to your loved ones for a beacon of hope in a desperate time. It’s a quiet place with loud thoughts. I get overwhelmed with memories of being handcuffed and placed in a police car after a suicide attempt, crying on the bathroom floor, a failed relationship, and the days I truly saw no future. But there were endearing moments, too. Moments that shined a bit of light in my corner and gave me the ability to stand and see glimmers of hope.
I’ll never forget the psychiatrist who changed the trajectory of my treatment and led me to a place of healing. Although I was not convinced upon our initial conversation, he told me that he thought perhaps we had not been treating me correctly and that I had Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and needed intense trauma treatment. From that day, it was a turbulent ride until I finally went to residential treatment for trauma and addiction.
As I began to speak about the trauma throughout the course of my life, I realized I was completely unaware of the things that had been stored in my body for years. All it took to open my heart and surrender to my diagnosis was my primary therapist saying, “This is not your fault.” I’ll admit I was not granted relief upon unearthing these wounds. In fact, I had to feel quite worse before I could feel some peace. It was the hardest 45 days of my life.
Looking back, I am often overwhelmed by the magnitude of effort and money it has taken to keep myself alive to see a new day. I sometimes question if it was and is worth it for just one person… But that’s the disease speaking, continuing its effort to convince me that I am unworthy and hopeless. But I am worthy and I am hopeful that my darkest days are behind me while still conscious of the fact that I will have to walk this path of recovery for a long time.
You’re more than your pain, more than what happened. You are strong enough to heal from the heavy you carry. 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].