Four hospitalizations in twelve months = high risk. However, I had a remarkable eight month stretch of (mostly) health, of positive coping. I started a Masters’ of Marriage and Family Therapy program and completed the three classes I took with high marks. The highest grades I’ve ever earned, actually. That’s got to count for something . . . sure, I had episodes of depression and hypomania, but I managed.
But then I crashed. After spring semester ended, I became agitated and anxious and soon enough, depressed. I spent twelve days at Good Samaritan Hospital/Mission Oaks inpatient unit in May. I came out irate with God and disgusted with myself. I had cut deeply enough to require stitches. Two weeks later, I was back. But the fourth hospitalization was actually encouraging. I didn’t come out angry at myself or angry at God/the universe. I came out determined. Determined to live life in a way that my commitment to and love for people and life would be louder than the voices of depression, anxiety, self-harm, doubt, and agitation. Determined, that is, not to go back to the hospital. Determined, as Leslie RN said, to trust G/god/the universe, love people, and show up. Determined to reach out, as Tracy RN suggested, and to put a person between the emotion and the action. Determined, as Shery RN pointed out that I need to, to figure out how to honor my soul and what it needs, to not medicate away its needs.
I also came out terrified. You see, after a total of 58 days in the hospital, I knew the nurses and they knew me. The inpatient psychiatrist, who has a habit of saying provocative (and irritating) things, had even become someone I was grateful to see. They were my support group during the eighteen day June hospitalization. Tracy RN, Shery RN, Christine B RN, Christine C RN, Leslie RN, Laura LPT, Dr. Hirsch MD. They asked hard questions. They listened. They paid attention. They shared what they observed. They encouraged me to go to the Trying to Say “God” conference. To keep writing.
I was desperately lonely the day after I was discharged. And heartbroken. Will I ever see them again? Probably not. Dr. Hirsch was right: the hospital is a safe place for me. I am immediately surrounded by people I can trust. The real world isn’t like that. Mine isn’t, anyway. And in that discrepancy lies my challenge: to create a world in which I can reach out and find not just a soft place to land, but support. People who will say things that make me think. People who will respond rather than react when I’m feeling out of control. Who will say, let’s get a beer or a coffee or go on a walk, when I say that I feel like hurting myself, rather than threatening or shoulding me or carting me off to the hospital right away.
Because those thoughts won’t ever be washed away, no matter how much ketamine and naltrexone and lithium I take. My brain is melancholic by nature, and we live in a sad, frightening, dark world. The ketamine will space me out for an hour, and it will perk me up once the dissociative side-effects have worn off, but it won’t stop my mind from spinning lies of my worthlessness when the county mental health supervisor talks down to me. The naltrexone will slow the agitation and compulsiveness that leads to self-harm, but it won’t erase the desires completely. The lithium will, to an extent, curb the extremes of my mood swings; I shouldn’t become violently hypomanic while on it. But it’s not magic. Brain and body chemistry are powerful.
That is what I have learned from my last eighteen days in the hospital and four days with Sick Pilgrims at a writers’/literary conference: I need people. Yeah, after twenty-six-odd years on this planet, you’d think I’d know that, but I’m a slow learner. I don’t need the county’s 24-7 support. I need to learn to pick up the phone and make a phone call when in crisis. No. Before crisis. I need to make people a part of my life when I’m semi-stable. Because mental health is fragile. And I’ll have better luck staying out of the hospital if I reach out when I am well AND when I am not, than if I wait, as I am wont to do, until I have been suicidal for days.
So, thank you, readers. Simply by reading, you are being a support. By dipping your pinky toe into the mosquito-infested swamp of mental illness, by interacting with me, you are offering me a hand. And for that, I am grateful.