A stay in a mental hospital puts one’s life in perspective. Twenty-eight days of intense counseling, multiple medicines with horrendous side effects, and the company of people who are as lost in their own worlds as you are in yours will change your priorities quickly. Time locked away from the rest of the world, especially family, will make or break your faith. For me, it affirmed for me that I did not have total control over my life, and that the fact that I thought I did was a terrible illusion that nearly cost me my sanity.
I have spent over twenty-five years hiding this part of my history, praying no one would ever find out that I had spent time in a mental hospital, mainly worried that people would consider me a fake Christian, one who talked about faith but did not practice it. I worried that people would think me “crazy,” because Americans don’t have a good understanding of mental illness as a disease.
They often see it as an inner characteristic of the person, rather than as some type of imbalance in the brain caused by different stimuli. Christians tend to view mental illness as proof of demon possession, with the person needing to have an exorcism to rid them of the demon or demons. So, understandably I wanted to keep this previously shameful part to myself hidden from others outside of my family. So, why address it today in a blog post for possibly the whole world to read? One word: Freedom.
The act of worrying and fearing being found out and considered a fake or dangerous is a form of prison in itself. Too much energy is expended trying to present an image of perfection and total control. As you move among people, you are careful to stay somewhat aloof, so that you do not accidentally give away your most precious secrets that may change how people perceive you and their desire to be around you.
But, as I prayed this morning, the title you see came to me, and I thought at first, “Ain’t no way, Lord!” (Yes, it’s bad English, but it fits so well!) But, here I am sitting down to write, opening the shackles of shame and guilt that have kept me bound for over twenty-five years. The key that sets me free is in Psalm 27: 1-2, wherein I am reminded, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? ”
I started to work one morning, but I was unable to get on the bus or train to take me to work because of an intense fear. I have wrote before of the panic attacks I had that became so crippling that I could not function. When I walked home, I called my employee assistance program, and I told them what was happening. They sent me to a facility to be evaluated. I thought it was a regular medical clinic, but it was a in-patient mental health facility.
The psychiatrist advised me that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and that I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had to be hospitalized to find a combination of drugs to stop the panic attacks. I did not know what that meant, not realizing she meant that I was being put in a locked part of the facility without the freedom to come and go as I pleased, or that my family would have to be searched each time they visited me.
I was so ashamed as I sat in my room, trying to see myself in a mirror that had no glass, but some kind of reflecting material. I cried, mostly from fear and humiliation. Of course, patients could not have glass, because of the possibility of suicide. I continued to cry all that first day, even as they tried to soothe me. All I could think of was that I was “crazy!” That just could not be right! I worked every day and I made As in my college courses, so I could not be insane.
Like most people, I misunderstood what insanity meant, and the need for a better word to express what people were experiencing. I only had reference from the media, especially old movies, and from church people, who would think I was demon-possessed and would want to pray the demon away. So, I made sure my family only said that I was in the “hospital,” hoping people would think something was physically wrong, which is true. “Just don’t tell them I am in the crazy house!”
For the first ten days, the doctors tried different medicines and counseling to stop the panic attacks. The other patients and I had lots of group therapy. Other people seemed to be responding to their treatments, but I was not getting better. I had panic attacks every hour, and sometimes they seemed continuous. Then, one day, the doctor told me that my mothering of the other patients was retarding my own recovery.
I have always been a rescuer. I know the pain of abandonment and rejection from parents and people around you, of being beaten and hurt by people you thought loved you, and of being seen as an outsider, being bullied daily in school. So, I have a seemingly natural tendency to want to love others, to tell them that they are valuable and of worth because God made only one of them.
I wanted to hold them, as I had wanted to be held as a child, and I wanted to kiss their hurts away, as I had needed as a teenager put in the hospital for seven days by a guy I thought loved me. But, the doctors said that I was not helping them, I was enabling them, so I had to let go of mothering and start taking care of myself.
After 8 more days of much counseling to understand why I needed to be seen as invaluable to everyone around me, in addition to the many different medicines meant to balance the chemicals in my brain, the doctor declared that I was ready to go home. But, I was still having the panic attacks, and I chose not to tell the doctors. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get beyond the locked doors. But, what happened was that within one day of being at home, I was back again.
Over the next ten days, I really worked hard, eating a lot of good food, because there was every kind of comfort food you could think you wanted: ice cream, popcorn, cookies, chocolate bars, and three huge meals a day. I gained 20 pounds in 28 days! But, I also spent those last days listening, really listening to the doctors.
I finally talked about my anger at the world, especially my rage at my parents who left us with aunts who beat us unmercifully, and the men who had hurt me when I thought they loved me. Then, I cried the tears that would not come for 26 days, unless I was listening to someone else tell their stories.
I finally admitted that I was angry with God for not protecting me better, and I found that lightning does not strike you for railing at God. He knows already the anger and hurts, but God also knows that until we open our mouths and release the hurts, anger, rage, and humiliations that are stored in our hearts to a degree that our brains become chemically unbalanced, freedom, forgiveness, and fearlessness cannot be achieved. Confession is truly good for the soul!
So, I talked and I forgave. I listened to myself and I let go of the need to be in control of all things. When I left the facility the second time, I was truly ready to go home. That was twenty-five years ago. Do I still struggle today? Yes. I still have to remind myself that not everyone is going to like me, or my preaching, or my teaching style, or my choices in books, songs, and other media that keep me entertained. I also tell my husband that he is the luckiest man in the world to have me as his wife, because I am priceless, one of a kind.
Some days, I still have to make myself leave home, because I feel safe there away from anyone who may insult me, discriminate against me, bully me, reject me, or say hurtful things about me. I have to realize that I do not have to fear anyone, because “the Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer” (2 Samuel 22:2). It is my faith in God to comfort and keep me with His strong right hand that frees me today to let go of this secret that has held me bound in a prison of my own making.
The shackles are open and I am free to be me. Now you know the story. I no longer will hide away in shame or guilt, but in the freedom that was paid for me at the Cross at Calvary by Jesus Christ my Lord. Take me as I am, with my history that defines the person I am today. If I had never endured those 28 days, I do not think that I would be alive today, and I know that my faith would not be as strong and certain. Because of those 28 long days and nights, I can live the way the apostle Paul requested in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6:
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.
Be comforted today. Whatever you are hiding to protect yourself from others, consider letting it go. Know that I am rooting for you! Yeah, stopping mothering others is easier said than done, but I am much better now at letting people deal with their issues and just being there to listen, not giving advice unless the Holy Spirit prompts me to do so. Like Christ Tomlin says, “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free!” May God bless you with spiritual, financial, and physical health in 2018!