Mental health disorders are difficult. They are journeys with long paths, paths that curve in many directions. The greatest gifts my journey brought me were true loved ones, strength, my voice, and the honor of working beside Veterans (they take me under their wings and treat me like one of their own). So now I give you the opportunity to speak up. Speak loudly and without shame.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”
But there is one feeling that’s unnecessary: the loneliness, and in my time supporting my wife, I’ve never felt more lonely. In times of crisis we tend to wall ourselves away from each other because we’re too afraid to talk about what we’re experiencing. In all of my internet searching, it felt like I was the first husband who had to take his wife to the psych ward, because no one out there was talking or writing about it.
I’m in no way ashamed of having most likely inherited this condition any more than a cancer patient has with their condition. Someday people will see those who struggle against biochemical imbalances that manifest to suicide as a much more severe battle than almost any other illness.
Love has kept me alive, on some level, surviving. The kind words and warm hugs and genuine concern from people that love me has kept me holding on by a string all these years. I can imagine that without multiple interjections at just the right moment, I wouldn’t be here. But unfortunately, love from others hasn’t been a strong enough power to make me want to thrive. It wasn’t until I had tools that I could master and manipulate that I began to want to try a little bit harder to do more than survive. Before, I just stuck around for the people that love me, feeling obligated to stay alive to thank them for their unwavering love. I figured I didn’t want to disappoint them anymore, so I would try each day to continue. But now, I get up for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and live for my family and loved ones too. But for once, I live for me as well.
Stigma exists. Two out of three people who are affected by mental illness don’t seek help or treatment. The day I received treatment was the day I took my first step towards recovery. Although some days I tend to take a step back, I know I will wake up the next morning and take two steps forward.
On the bright side, although I continue to cycle through depression, mania and mixed states, for the last year I have been consistenly happier than I can ever remember and am very optimistic about what the future holds. I have rediscovered my spiritual beliefs, made significant positive improvement in family relations which have been horribly, but not irrevocably damaged.
This has been a classic American Tragedy and I hope my experiences educate, and, hopefully, help someone else who is struggling. Even If no one reads this, it has been very helpful to publicly acknowledge my condition and continue to move forward with my life.