As I sat in the waiting room of my doctor’s office tonight, the first hand of the clock indicating the commencement of my third hour spent waiting my turn on the sofa, the door to the back swung open, and I overheard, without much effort really, an anxiety-ridden mother speak intensely about her teenage son who has bipolar disorder (who only moments earlier had dashed for the exit the first chance handed to him).

And I realized something: I was one of the lucky ones. I forget, from time to time, the illness that creeps in the back of my mind, awaiting any chance to break free and wreak havoc across my life. It listens to no one. Respects nothing, not even itself. And when it wants to trespass, it will. When it wants to cut the line, it will. It has no intent, no conscience, no means and really nothing to hold it back – that is, except for me. But I haven’t been all there. In the past, that is.

It’s extremely hard to fight something you didn’t realize existed in you. To not have a diagnosis. To not realize you needed a diagnosis because you don’t even see there’s something ailing you. God, life was pretty tortuous back then. I can’t even put it into words… really. I mean, I could try, but what word in the human language ever truly encompassed an emotion, a feeling?

If you could imagine… waking up in the morning, truly disgusted with who you are, demoting yourself to a “what you are,” then stepping outside, only to be greeted by people who are seemingly just as disgusted by you, repulsed even. And they look at you. They stare and they whisper. They laugh and they deride you. They tear your soul apart with their jagged, piercing eyes.

Hallucinations. A symptom of manic depression not all sufferers of the illness experience. Unfortunately, I have. Hallucinations don’t always come in the form of a ghostly figure standing in your doorway. They can come in taunts, in ceaseless whispers, in loud chatter rupturing the night. They will call you names, dig down deep into the greatest fears of your mind, and bring them out for all to see. Or at least, your mind has made you believe they’re there for all to see.

Bipolar disorder can destroy its host. It feasts off their fears, their doubts… turning a simple apprehension into full-fledged paranoia. It can eradicate any amount of sensibility or reasoning in a person’s mind. It clouds over every sense, every thought; every mode of perception is suddenly dominated by an alien force. It can turn your most favorite thing in the world sour, and will encase you in an ever-enclosing box, overrun by muddy water and vicious figments of your imagination. For me, bipolar disorder is intrusive, destructive and oh so capable of controlling every inch of you.

You may not want to give in to delusions. But you will. You may not want to fall into a dark, bottomless pit with the entire world crashing down upon you, but you will do that, too. Bipolar disorder will not ask you if it can stay. It will kick down the front door of your mind and stay there until some Godsend man or woman finds a cure. You must be careful. Even if you think you’re doing fine. Even if you believe with every inch of your soul you are finally free of this awful disease, one must be careful. And one must not test it or entice it to come out. But rather, treat it with care, and hope for the best.

I believe about 5.6 million adult Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and 14.8 million adult Americans will suffer from depression. People can spend their lives never reaching the point of stability I have come to reach today. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m healthy. But for so many others, they are years, (for some a lifetime), away from recovering from the crippling disease. It consumes lives. It rips families and friendships apart. Relationships are mangled by this illness.

I, myself, have severed many relationships because of my inability to believe I can redeem those two years of reckless, bizarre behavior that taint my past. It is a shame I carry with me until this day, even though I know it’s not my fault. My senior year of high school was lived by a brazen girl who was not me at all.

To get people to understand about this disease is hard. And the Hollywood version of any type of mental illness really aids none. I understand how difficult it may be for some to comprehend a group of people that are mostly labeled as “crazy,” but really, we are just a group of people, genuinely misunderstood, who at times have little hope for ourselves, little confidence in everything that we do. And for those of us, like me, who have “healed,” we live with the fear (that at times is more predominant than others) that it will come back.

It meaning the thing that destroyed our lives, sent us catapulting in a whirlwind of desperation to feel sane, anxiety, paranoia, emotions of grandeur that left us laughing one moment, then wanting to end our lives the next, delusional stupor and a constant, constant need to be anywhere but inside our heads.

When you have a mental illness, it can be as debilitating as any other type of illness out there. It consumes you completely. It takes over your body, your mind, your soul. It affects your moods, your emotions, your mentality. And when something has such omnipotent control over you, nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred. You may not be paralyzed from head to toe, but with an illness like manic depression hauling the reins on your mind, you might as well be.

I sometimes forget that my full recovery from my bipolar disorder episodes is something I should value. So many other people have a long ways to go. And I wish I could just give them hope, you know? And tell them, it’s all OK! Things will get better. They can get better. I promise! Your life might be pit of misery right now, but it can change. Please. Just know that. You know? I wish I could help…

***

Four years after I had written this piece, I had another relapse in 2012 — another mental break with reality. The delusions and hallucinations returned. You would think after having two previous breakdowns (one of which landed you in a psychiatric hospital) and knowing what I knew about bipolar disorder, I could spot another relapse coming a mile away. I’m saddened to say I couldn’t, and ’til this day I still marvel at my inability to see what was transpiring before me. I should have known, I always think to myself. How could I not have known? How could I let it happen again?  I thought I was so strong, but the disease broke me down again.

Some days (even now) it’s hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

But please know, after every relapse, is a chance to rebuild. A chance to stand up once more and fight back. We cannot let mental illness win. Life is too short and too precious. The road to recovery isn’t easy. I thought I was pretty much immune to breaking down again. I was wrong. But I am still alive and kicking. I have reached happiness once more. It can be a long, rough journey ahead of you, but the road to recovery is one worth taking. It won’t happen overnight, but it isn’t hopeless.  Surround yourself with people who care. Take your medication (if you choose to take medication). Go to therapy.  But most importantly, don’t give up. Don’t give up. You owe that much to yourself. You are stronger than you think. Do not let your mind make you think otherwise.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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I was diagnosed late in life — just three years ago, at age 44 — with bipolar disorder. I had suspected for most of my adulthood that something was greatly amiss in my mind, and bipolar often seemed to fit, but I was under the mistaken impression I could overcome the wiring in my brain by sheer tenacity. After a major manic episode followed by a spectacular spiral that ended with a suicide attempt, I began to seek much-needed treatment.

What follows is a list of things that may or may not be revelations to those who do not suffer from mental illness. It is my fond hope that it may help those who want to understand better the inner machinations of the bipolar brain.

1. I won’t always know what I need.

Do I need to be left alone? Or do I need company? More talking? Less talking? A therapy session? Medication adjustment? Time? Chocolate? Although most people might know exactly what they need and when, it is not the case for me. Often it’s trial and error to find out what will work during a particular depressive or manic episode. Patience is key.

2. I am a really, really good actor.

So good, in fact, I fool myself sometimes into thinking I’m not as sick as I am. My suicide attempt was an almost out-of-body experience. The days leading up to it I was faking happiness and well-being, so well I even fooled myself into denying I needed help. The whole time I was carrying out my plan, it was as though I was standing aside and watching from a distance. Encourage frequent and deep self-examination and regular psychiatric visits.

3. It’s a whole different world inside my brain from what I let on.

Sometimes the struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy requires every bit of energy I have. I don’t always have much left over for cooking and cleaning. Your patience and help is, as ever, appreciated more than you know.

4. I worry constantly that I passed my “sick” genetics onto my beloved children.

My eye is always on the lookout for symptoms in my own children that signal any dangerous mental aberrations. I grieve deeply that they are at an increased risk for inheriting bipolar disorder and depression because of me.

5. I worry I may neglect my own loved ones by my need to check out occasionally, and that they will wind up resenting me.

6. I worry that people will think I’m a fake.

Do I really have bipolar disorder, or is it just an excuse for acting crazy and getting away with it? Can I really not control some of my actions when I have a manic or depressive episode? Surely this is all just a ruse. These thoughts cause heaping loads of self-inflicted guilt, which nobody needs or wants. Reassurance is extremely important, and regular visits with a psychiatrist will help reinforce the truth that this is a disease that warrants careful management.

7. My heart is not bipolar, only my brain.

If you stick with me, I will love you passionately and eternally. My appreciation for you will increase exponentially when you bear with me during the difficult moments as I wrestle mightily with my disease, I am capable of deep and abiding affection. When I tell you I love you, don’t question my motives or sincerity, and I long to be accepted and loved in return, flaws and all.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Hey, Kiana, it’s me! Well, actually it’s you. It’s the older and slightly wiser you, four years into the future. I’m writing this to hopefully shed some light on how you’re feeling at this moment, and hopefully to help you in your future.

It’s 2013. You’re 19 years old. You’re attending Pierce College for lack of anything better to do. You’re not quite sure if you want to graduate, but you sure don’t want to sit around the house all day. You’re trying to juggle two jobs: one at Victoria’s Secret as a sales specialist, and the other at the school working as the lab technician. You love both jobs, which is great! You are still single, and you have your eye on this particular boy. Let me tell you now, don’t fall for it. That boy is nothing but trouble, trust me. 

I want to talk to you about these next few years. Right now, you’re in this weird place with your emotions and how you experience your everyday life. You’re struggling pretty badly right now, and it hurts to tell you it won’t start getting better anytime soon. I will tell you this, though: even if you don’t think so, there are so many people who love and care about you. Your best friend, your favorite professor, your family and some of your acquaintances care about you. They don’t like to see you hurting, even if they don’t necessarily say it. So, if not for you, be strong for them.

You’ve been taking different medicines left and right. You’ve mostly been taking anti-depressants which, if you haven’t already figured out, don’t really help you. You’ve had countless therapists and doctors tell you contradicting things about what they think is wrong with you. I know you want to know why you are the way you are, and why you feel the way you do, and no one is telling you anything different. Oh, you’re just really depressed, they say, we just have to keep raising the dosage of your medicine. Before you know it, you’re putting tons of pills in your body and making yourself think they are helping because you’re so desperate to feel better.

Let me save you the trouble, and another year of misdiagnoses. Are you ready?

You have bipolar disorder. Shocked? I know you are. You go back and forth with the mania and depressive stages of the disorder. Sometimes you switch from mania to depression and back to mania, all in the same day. Sometimes you experience depression for an extended period of time, almost lasting two months. One thing is for sure: you love the mania. You may not have known why you feel so creative, so energetic and invincible all the time. You never sleep, and you always want to write and listen to music and do anything that keeps you occupied. The only issue with the mania, as you have already come to find out, is the stupid (yes, stupid) decisions you can make while in it. You spend money carelessly (usually resulting in buyer’s remorse when you come down from cloud nine), your sex drive is at an all time high (I’m proud of you for controlling that, by the way). I could go on about a few different scenarios, but at this point I know everything is resonating with you.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the definition of bipolar disorder is: a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in moods, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. You experience the manic (high energy, no sleep, irritable) state and you also experience the depressive (low energy, loss of motivation, sad) state. Specifically for your case though, because everyone’s bipolar is different since it’s a spectrum, you experience a mixed state as well. The mixed state is just what it sounds like, a combination of the two, can be extremely dangerous. That’s usually the state that things like suicide and self-harm come in to play. You don’t want to start down that road, so get help if you’re feeling that way, OK?

Earlier I mentioned something about the medications you’ve been taking. Along with everyone else with bipolar, traditionally SSRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. You’re probably thinking, “Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me that?” Well, since diagnosing bipolar is so difficult, usually doctors will just try anti-depressants to see if anything changes. For you, though, it only made it worse. I know you like the mania, but you can’t live in that state forever. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for someone to tell you this. Better to hear it from yourself, right?

The experience you’ve had with bipolar is strictly from the media. For example, remember that one LifeTime movie you watched about that girl who supposedly had bipolar disorder? Guess what? That’s not bipolar. People with bipolar disorder don’t wake up one day, suddenly flip and decide to kill their husband because he didn’t do the dishes. Bipolar, along with any mental illness, is stigmatized and wrongly portrayed in the media. It causes those who have the illnesses to hide away, and feel ashamed of themselves because if they dare to say anything about it, the judgements flood in. You are so much more than your diagnosis, and once you realize that, you will become stronger and you will accept yourself.

I can’t wait for that day. Prepare yourself for these next few years, because you will need all the self-support you can muster. Your family and friends are by your side through it all. Stay strong, babe. You can do this.

With all the self-love,

Kiana

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


My daughter and I encountered an amazing champion the other day. I’ve been wanting to write about our experience, but I’m a little embarrassed we even needed her help. You see, my daughter has bipolar disorder. Normally she runs and jumps like most other children her age. But recently, one of the medications we’ve been giving her to stabilize her moods makes the right side of her body numb. The most noticeable part of this is that she walks with a limp. We’re trying to get rid of the offending drug, but since it will take awhile for the effects to lessen, she lives with the limp for now.

She’s pretty good about not letting the limp get in her way. I’ve noticed that it gets worse when she’s tired or has walked a lot. Knowing this, I was not surprised when she asked me if she could use an electric cart at Walmart on a recent shopping trip there. Since we hadn’t used one before, we asked the women at customer service if she could use one. I was polite and explained my child had a limp. After looking at us quizzically, both employees said no. They told us that the carts were only for adults.

Soon after, I was stopped by a Walmart employee. She had heard the whole exchange a few minutes previously. She felt that we were discriminated against. She informed me the carts were there for anyone who needed them. Then she confirmed this with her manager. I made sure to get the manager’s name so when we went back to get the cart, I could tell the women at customer service.

My daughter and I placed our order at the in-store McDonald’s and waited at the counter. The next thing I knew, our new hero was riding up on the cart. It wasn’t enough for her to tell us she felt we had been wronged. It wasn’t enough for her to confirm with the manager that my child was entitled to a cart. No, this kind and caring lady went further out of her way. She secured and brought the cart to my child.

My heart was singing at the actions of this compassionate woman. She didn’t need to hear our story. She believed us and wanted to make things right. Once we got our food, my daughter happily climbed aboard her new ride. Since my mom had had to use a cart like this in her later years, I knew how it operated. I gave my daughter a quick tutorial and we were off. My daughter was so happy to not have to worry about her leg slowing her down. I stayed close by her assisting her as needed while we shopped. At one point, the cart stopped working so we flagged down another employee who called guest services to bring another cart. I don’t think the employee who initially denied my child the cart was too happy to bring out a replacement cart. She did though.

When we were done with our shopping, guess who was waiting to ring us up? Yep, our new friend. While I was finishing paying for our purchases, I chatted a bit with our helper. I thanked her profusely as I explained why we needed the cart. She wished us well and sent us on our merry way. I’m not certain how long my daughter will have this limp. I hope it won’t be permanent. Whatever the case, I’m glad there our people like the employee at Walmart, who go out of their way to make sure my daughter has what she needs.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected act of kindness, big or small, that you’ve experienced or witnessed in an everyday place. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


My son Cole is a competitive swimmer and we attend a lot of swim meets, swim practices, etc. When you attend these events, you meet a lot of other swim parents, and typically the conversations result in questions about other children, including of course, “Does your other son swim?” A lot of swimmers are part of swim families, and all of the kids swim.

Well, not so much in our family. I mean, Bryce swims. He loves the water. Bryce is sensory-seeking – meaning he craves stimulation. Swimming, taking baths, jumping in waves in the ocean – all of those things fully stimulate your entire body. So, yes, Bryce loves to swim, but he is not a “swimmer” like Cole.

Of course, when you answer, “No, he doesn’t swim,” the next questions is always, “What does he do?” It’s not rude or even nosy. It’s just conversation and of course people think that when you have a son as into their sport as Cole your other son must also be into something. So, how do I answer? Sometimes I just say, well Bryce is a video game kid and not really a sports kid. But, I always think, do I need to explain more? Do I tell them that Bryce has tried to participate in sports but it’s so difficult for him? Do I share with them that Bryce has special needs. How do I explain it? Do I go into detail, or leave it at “special needs?” Do I say, Bryce has behavioral issues? That isn’t really correct. Do I say, Bryce is diagnosed with mental illness? Or, do I go into details.

Bryce is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, executive functioning disorder and has developmental delays. He is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. I mean sometimes I don’t even know what to say because the list is so long and the list can change.

Or, do I tell them, well we tried soccer when he was younger. But since Bryce didn’t understand how to play the game, got frustrated and had impulse control issues, he just ran into the other kids. We tried swimming. Bryce made it through two practices before he realized that you had to actually pay attention and swim back and forth in the lane over and over again. So that didn’t work. We tried diving. The description for diving said it was great for kids with ADHD. and it was at the same time as swim practice. Perfect, I thought. That was going really well until we wound up in the emergency room because Bryce got upset to the point where he wanted to kill himself (that is a whole other post). We recently tried an art class. And guess what? Bryce made it through half the class before he decided he didn’t want to do it. But, he calmly came and told me he wanted to leave. He didn’t scream, yell, call anyone names, hit anyone or throw anything. Success!

I know I do not need to tell anyone that Bryce is diagnosed with a mental illness or that he has developmental delays. Yet, many times I do. Why? To explain why it is that he plays a lot video games? Is that me feeling a need to not feel guilty? Probably a little. Is that our society expecting everyone these days to “do something.” Probably a little. It’s also just me telling about Bryce. That is who he is. I also do it because I want to stand up against stigma. I want people to know that it is OK to talk about mental illness. That I am not afraid to talk about it. And, when I do talk about it, other people talk about it. Maybe other people will get help for their child or find services. Because we have had success for Bryce and that is because we do get him help.

So, what does Bryce do? He loves video games, drawing, animals, stuffed animals, jumping on the trampoline and swimming. He loves swimming.

Follow this journey on Think of Happy Things.


“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” –Natalie Goldberg

About six months ago I voluntarily checked myself into a psychiatric hospital.

There’s a difference between telling people you suffer from a mental illness and telling people you have spent time in the hospital for said illness. The term “psychiatric hospital” is pretty much synonymous with the term “crazy house” to a good majority of people. We’ve seen “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” so we know what goes on there. People drooling in the corner. Doctors dragging patients to have lobotomies or to undergo electric shock treatments. Every space filled with someone muttering to themselves or yelling. All with that same “crazy” look in their eyes. We see what happens in television or on the big screen when someone is deemed inadequate to be in society. We’ve read about it. We’ve heard rumors about it. But we haven’t actually been in one.

I haven’t been able to write about my experience since I was discharged from the hospital. I’ve tried, but nothing has come out sounding right. I think it might be because I wasn’t ready to talk about it publicly. I was scared of how people might think of me. I’m candid about my major depression, bipolar and anxiety, but for some reason I couldn’t be candid with my hospitalization. I’m still scared to talk about it so publicly, but I think it needs to be done. While the stigma with mental illness seems to be improving a little bit, the stigma regarding psychiatric facilities does not. And so I’ve decided it’s time for me to write about it.

Six months ago I was suicidal, exhausted and terrified of not only myself, but of my life as well. Being alive was painful, and there was only one solution I could come up with to escape the pain. I had reached my breaking point. I’d come close countless times before, but nothing like this. I sat with my boyfriend at the time after two nights of crying uncontrollably in the fetal position on the floor, creating scars on my arms and running barefoot around the block. I sat on the couch with him and looking down at my hands nervously wrung together in my lap and told him I think I needed to call a doctor. I realized I was at the end of the shaky line I always teetered on, frightened to fall, and I was scared of what could happen next.

After finding the card on which my psychiatrist had carefully written all the emergency numbers I could call on the weekends or after hours when he wasn’t on-call, I made a phone call. I made a phone call that possibly saved my life.

“I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore. I just want to stop feeling this way.”

Pause

“I think you need to go to the hospital.”

“I think so too.”

“Do you trust yourself to drive to the ER?”

“No.”

“Is there someone who can drive you?”

“Yes.”

“I will give you an hour to get everything together. I will let them know you are coming. If you aren’t there in an hour I will send someone to come get you.”

I knew what she meant. That “someone” would be the police.

And then I was numb. In a monotone voice I told my boyfriend what she said. I didn’t know what she meant by “get everything together” so I just held my dog for awhile and told him I’d be back soon. And then my boyfriend drove us less than a mile to the hospital. Two of my best friends met us there. After waiting only a couple of minutes my name was called and I was escorted through a side door secured by an electronic lock. The nurse told me to remove all of my clothing and put on what can only be described as paper pajamas. She told me to give her my purse and my phone. I asked if I could give them to my friends and she escorted me back through the doors and out to them. It was then I realized what I had done. I realized she had to go with me out there because I could have decided to bolt. Change my mind and run out the sliding doors. What she didn’t realize is that I was too exhausted to do that. The thought didn’t even cross my mind.

She escorted me back through the secure door, and I started to cry. I was still numb, but I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t feel anything, but I couldn’t stop crying. I cried as they took vials of my blood and took my vitals. I cried as I lay on the hospital bed that gave me the creeps. I cried when my friends were allowed to come back, one at a time, to see me. I cried until I felt there was nothing left in me. And then I cried some more.

I cried, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel any emotion. I was too exhausted. So I just laid there. I lay there as my thoughts circled around and around. I lay there in a room with three other people in it, placed right in front of the doorway. No privacy because I had to have eyes on me at all times due to the nature of my visit. I spent two and a half days and two nights. After what were the longest almost three days of my life, a bed was finally open at the psychiatric hospital and I was going to be moved over there.

All I remember about the rest of that day was that it was raining. I remember it was raining and I was only wearing socks. It was raining, I was only wearing socks, and I had to walk across a parking lot. I had to walk through the ER parking lot where students, visitors, doctors and a variety of other people could see me. I remember pleading with God to not see anyone who knew me. And then I was taken onto a small bus with one other person. It was the guy who was in the hospital bed outside my room who snored so loudly, 24 hours a day — so loudly that I was worried someone would suffocate him with a pillow. I later found out he has schizophrenia and hadn’t slept in days because of the voices in his head. We sat in silence as we were driven a few blocks away to a back entrance and up to the inpatient side of the psychiatry hospital. I was taken to the third floor, and he was taken to the fourth floor. I remember being terrified that this third floor ward would be just like the psychiatric ER. I remember sitting at the end of the hall as they explained the rules and I filled out the intake papers. I was then showed to my room where I looked around at its empty walls, devoid of any sort of personality or evidence that another person was ever in there. I had nothing. The clothes I had on didn’t meet the requirements of allowable items on the ward. My shoes had laces and my shirt had buttons. So I sat there, in shock, in the paper pajamas I’d had on for three days in a body that had not been washed in four days and a mind that had been broken and twisted until it had become unrecognizable to its owner.

I was finally able to move to walk over to the phone available for patients and called my mom to tell her I needed a pillow, some clothes and my stuffed animal. And then I sat some more. I sat in my room until clean clothes arrived and then I was able to shower. A nurse stood outside the bathroom door while I showered. I was still on suicide watch. I stood under the stream of water, which I had made as hot as I could get it, hoping to scald my skin enough to feel something and to clean this reality off me.

By that time, our dinner had arrived. I sat at a table alone, feeling the same way you do the first day of camp when you don’t know anyone, so you sit down at a seat and hope someone cool will sit next to you. A girl with long brown hair sat down next to me. I remember thinking how beautiful she was and wondering why she was there. I quickly found out and learned pretty much every conversation on the hall would cover first things first: why you were there, what was wrong with you and what meds you were on. She told me she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. And she was coming down off methadone.

That night, I went to sleep feeling a little less frightened. When I woke up in the morning I felt disoriented and unsure of where I was. I dragged myself out of bed as the sun was coming up. There were a few other people already up and milling around or reading the newspaper or working on a puzzle. I sat in a chair, quiet, and watched the sunrise and thought I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I learned this is what mornings on the third floor felt like. A quiet understanding and silence as we bathed in the first warmth of the sun for the day.

Our days consisted of a structured schedule marked by meals, group therapy, meeting with our teams of doctors, visiting hours and talking. We all talked. Really talked. When there’s not much to do besides color, put together a puzzle or watch whatever the person who was in charge of the remote had put on, you talk. We talked about our past. We talked about what it felt like to have a mental illness. We talked about our fears, our hopes, things we had never breathed to another person. We became a family. A dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. I slowly began to feel something. Halfway through the week, a nurse took us out to the little patch of grass and garden behind the walls of the hospital. It was free time and the weather was warm for October. After throwing the football with a few of the guys, I laid in the grass with the girls. I felt the sunshine on my face for the first time in days. The talking felt lighter out there. It was understood that we didn’t have to talk. The silence was comfortable. We were disappointed when we had to go back inside for dinner, but we left feeling lighter, having gained a little hope for ourselves.

The night before I left, I sat up late with the people I had become closest with and I shared with them how frightened I was. How scared I was to leave the safety and controlled environment of the hospital. How scared I was that I wasn’t ready. And they understood. They understood and they gave me confidence. They gave me strength. The next morning I packed up my belongings I had been sent while there and the letters the other patients had written me. I put on shoes and marveled at how strange it was to feel something so solid around my feet after only wearing socks for a week. I hugged everyone goodbye and cried. I didn’t know if I’d ever see any of them again.

I signed my discharge papers and the doors closed on the third floor ward. I noticed every little noise, every little breeze, every little sensation. I held my dog tightly as he licked my face, and I didn’t mind his terrible breath at all. I rolled the window down and felt the wind and sun on my face, and for the first time in a very long time I was excited to be alive.

There are times when I regret my decision. I can’t lie about that. I hate that I feel that way. That I feel as if the experience has ruined my professional life. That if I hadn’t been honest about why I was absent, things would be so different. It’s unsettling to know that in places where there needs to be less transparency and more discussions about mental illnesses, there is none. And worst of all, it’s not understood. I hate that I’ve had to learn I can’t be honest with everyone about it, which makes me feel ashamed of who I am. Even though it’s not something I chose.

Most of the time though, I am grateful of my decision. I don’t know if I would be here to typing this if I hadn’t made the decision to commit myself. I feel grateful I did, and that it was the first step of many in gaining control over the disease that has controlled important parts of my life for so long.

Follow this journey on Twenties in Ruin.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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