I woke up, looked in the mirror, and, although the face was the same, something was different. I did not feel like myself. It seemed as though, sometime during the night, I had become separated from myself. Felt as though my mind had become a foreign country, and I did not speak the language there. It was so scary, but I couldn’t tell anyone, mainly because who would believe me and would they put me in a mental institution if they did?
So, I kept quiet. I went to work, and I did my job, all the time feeling as though I was floating above and looking down as someone else lived my life. I went to class, but I did not participate in the discussions, afraid that I would end up telling them what was happening. At home, the terror at the thought of remaining this way was so great that I started to cry, uncontrollably. And because I was never someone who cried, my fear deepened at the thought that I might never feel normal again.
This went on for more than nearly two weeks, and then, as I crossed the quad at the universsity one day between classes, I saw a sign for the Counseling Center, and it guaranteed complete confidentiality, but in small print, it said that was the case except in cases where you may be a danger to yourself or others. I did not think that I was a danger to anyone. After all, I was functioning and no one seemed to be able to tell that I had left my body, so I did not consider myself dangerous to anyone.
I walked in and filled out the paperwork, relating on paper what was happening and how I felt completely alien to my body, as though I was two people living in one body, and one of them I did not know. I gave the form to the young student who was behind the desk, and she took it through the closed doors. Immediately, a woman came out and asked me to come with her. When she closed the door to her office, she asked me to tell her again what was happening.
With tears falling down my face, I related my fear that I had lost my mind, and that I was going to be put in a mental institution. I told her that it seemed that my mind had become a foreign country and that I did not know how to make it back to normal. She asked me about my life, and I told her that I worked forty hours a week, took 15 hours of course work (3 classes) and I meant to make As in all of them, and I volunteered at a shelter for women and children fleeing abusive relationships at least 20 hours a week. I still had one teenager at home, so my life was pretty full.
She told me that it was too much, and that because of the level of stress I was enduring, I was experiencing dissociation. My body was sending me a message that I was on the precipice of a nervous breakdown. She told me to drop one of the classes, but I explained to her that I was only one semester from earning the President’s Honor Award for making straight As for six consecutive semesters, so I could not drop a course.
She warned me that if I did not change something in my life, what I feared would happen. She gave me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, and she told me that I needed to re-evaluate how I found my value and worth. But, it had always been in my being smart and willing to help that people liked me, and I was not about to lose the admiration and love that I had fought so hard to get.
So, she told me to take the medication and really think about changing. Just knowing that I was not going to be admitted to a mental institution was enough for me. I did not change my ways, needing the adoration of others, so I went on as I was. The panic attacks came next, and they became so severe and persistent that I constantly thought I was dying.
The semester ended, I got my As in each course,and I earned the President’s Honor Award, which meant walking across a stage and being seen by everyone as someone smart and capable. It meant I would no longer be rendered invisible, but I would come to be respected and known. But, it turned out not to be worth it.
My mind finally gave way, and I found myself locked in a mental health facility, unable to see my children or even have the freedom to make my own decisions. The psychiatrist whom I was asssigned finally found after 28 long, boring, painful days a mixture of drugs to stop the panic attacks and the deprssion. Over those days we talked about my need for the approval of others. She gave me one great piece of advice for when I returned to finish my degree: B’s are good! It was a hard lesson to learn.
Today, I work hard to teach others that you have to let go of the need for the approval of others and find your sense of value and worth in other ways. When I had a student who wanted me to explain why they earned a 98 or 99 instead of 100, I would tell them to let it go, because that type of stress will lead to physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion.
All those days in the hospital also gave me time to get to know God again, whom I had put aside. I simply had no time for reading the Bible or praying. Philippians 4 became a balm to my mind and soul, and Verse 7 states, And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So, in that hospital room, I learned to lean and depend on Jesus Christ for my approval, and not on people or winning awards. It is not worth losing your mind to please others, who probably never even noticed me.
Even on this blog, while it is so good to get “likes” and followers, I know that I must be careful to not begin to see my value and worth in the numbers. We must know that we have worth and wonderful worth, whether we have many or a few followers or no followers at all. What we each add to the knowledge base is more important than numbers. After all, for us, this is God’s work, meant to inspire, encourage, and bring hope to others.
If you are feeling overwhelmed today and like your mind is a foreign entity that you cannot control, then look at your life and ask yourself why are all the things on your to-do list so important to you to complete. The answers may surprise you, but they may also save your sanity. The body and mind can only do so much, and then they have to find ways to help you survive. So, let some things go, and keep moving forward.