Through a 12-step program, I tried coping with my new, clean life. But I was still consumed with self-loathing, insecurities, imaginary judgments, and panic attacks. At the same time, I had lofty thoughts and philosophies, grand plans and delusions. I was right back in the kind of spiraling bipolar episode I’d been bandaging for more than seven years.
I arrived at the state hospital not as a novice any longer, but with approximately five years of direct clinical work under my belt as a psychiatric social worker. I had worked with families with issues involving mental illness and / or substance abuse related problems in a variety of contexts. However, I also realized very quickly that I was far from an expert in my field, and that there was much to learn in order to better assist my patients.
So what does it feel like to be included? It’s a rich, rewarding connection. Inclusion feels like the kind of acceptance that I dream about, where I can just be the best version of me and have that be all right.
The hard part is remembering that I’m included. I can’t always do that and I don’t always trust it. Negative symptoms tend to scrunch all that insider- ness into a ball and toss it in the wastebasket.
I was taught to be a good provider, work hard, and things will work themselves out. I struggled with my emotions as a youth, and teenager, and wasn’t quite sure which emotions were appropriate, and which were not. I realize now, that all emotions are to be valued and given equal weight, when they arise, something I think I always knew, but didn’t acknowledge until I was in my 50’s. I was forced to acknowledge in 2012.
After years with my previous therapist, it is strange navigating a new therapeutic relationship. Firstly, it stings a little, breaking up with an old therapist. My internalized shame told me that I hadn’t tried hard enough. My shame told me I was unfixable. My shame told me my trauma was too ugly to be examined. I know, intellectually, that these things aren’t true, but trauma loves shame. Secondly, working with someone new comes with its own set of baggage. It is always a little bit unnerving, unzipping yourself and showing a relative stranger all your complicated clockwork parts: your past, your broken pieces, your hurts and bruises.
Law enforcement agents do have the right to protect themselves from “imminent” violence aimed directly at them. However, I have to believe, in my clinical opinion, that much more mental health education and training, including role-playing exercises, need to occur to greatly enhance their ability to manage these events more effectively. It’s impossible to expect all to become mental health experts, but their overall responses can improve through this enhanced educative experience across all law enforcement in the country.
The illness I have does not define me, I define it. I was always afraid to go out and do the things I loved, but one thing I was not afraid of was work. I worked 25yrs with the illness and I worked as a Truck Driver. I took my meds everyday and went to work. I got Married and had 3 Boys along the way.
Learning about stigma, and how a person’s perceptions and attitudes toward someone with a mental illness is the biggest barrier towards them receiving proper treatment, deeply concerned me and lead me to seriously question how I could help make a change. I believe that my years of daily experience of what it is like to live with someone suffering from a mental illness and my passion for helping others obtain proper care have put me in a unique position to show compassion and make a lasting impact for those suffering from and indirectly effected by this issue.
I am independent and free. If you could take anything from this story let it be this, be proactive about what you want and how you feel when it comes to a mental illness. Depression is real and although others may mock you or say its not don’t let that bring you down even more. Find the strength within to fight.