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Somehow, It Always Gets Better

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Somehow, it always gets better. Not perfect. Not completely well. Not miraculous. But better.

Despite how negative I may feel, I remind myself many times a day, even when my depression tells me the opposite (It is the great liar!), somehow it always gets better.

I have some history here. While studying in a seminary in Fall, 1992, I began to feel quite not like myself… Even to this day, I can’t say how, but I noticed what I now describe as a thick, slow-moving fog settling in over what had been nearly a charmed life. A good education. A great job. A supportive family. Well respected by peers and teachers/mentors alike. Scholarships. Leadership positions. Life had been good.

But in a period of no more than three weeks and with little warning, I was reduced to long bouts of crying. No appetite. I couldn’t concentrate on classwork or prayer life. My life, as I knew it, was changing drastically and with the gift of hindsight, would never be the same. I withdrew from the seminary, although I did a great job of a cover-up, for no one saw the issues listed above.

Since that time, some 26 years later, I have been hospitalized eight times in psychiatric hospitals, have been on many antidepressants and anxiety medications — some have worked for a year or two, then not — have had a couple of series of ECT treatments, and had been working with therapists in the spring of 1984. I have sat on a hospital bed in the hallway of an ER for 36 hours, waiting for a bed to open in a psychiatric unit for inpatient admission. Most recently, I even was a resident in a skilled nursing home for three years, my psychiatric medications so piled up over time that I could not walk steadily without a walker and so confused I was diagnosed, after a lengthy battery of neurological testing, with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Life was lonely, confusing, and at 51 years of age, it seemed to hold little promise or purpose.

And then in May 2015, I got a very unusual “gift.” A UTI the nursing home couldn’t get under control sent me to a local hospital. While there, without my consent or knowledge, I was “dc’d” (discontinued) on many medications, some psychiatric and others for physical ailments such as IBS and chronic back pain from surgery in 2013. I was returned to the nursing care center and I began to feel “weird” — I can’t find a better word for it. I knew something was going on. It was a very dark time. After about two weeks from the hospitalization, I asked a nurse to see a list of the meds I was being given, for there looked like a smaller number in the pill cup I was given up to four times a day. I couldn’t believe it. The lithium was gone. All my IBS meds were gone, explaining why I had severe bouts of diarrhea. Several other meds were gone. I was going through a serious bout of withdrawal, but it was at that point that I found my feet and my voice. I worked hard with PT to shed the walker and by mid-June 2015 I no longer needed it to be safe while walking and was removed from the “fall risk” category. I was able to shed the catheter I wore 24/7, for slowly my bladder began working as it should. I really found my voice while trying to work with the psychiatrist who visited/was assigned to the nursing home. After a couple of meetings several weeks apart, when he could not remember my name nor the meds I was taking, I “fired” him. I went out of the nursing home care personnel (which, in Ohio, is one of the patient rights) and found a very helpful therapist. By July 2015, I began working with a young but very knowledgeable psychiatrist at the same center; we continue to work together to this day. By late August, backed by a surprised but supportive nursing team, I called for a “family care conference” where the resident has the ability to ask for a medical review and discussion with family members and senior nursing home staff to discuss any issue having to do between the resident, care, and the facility. I told my surprised mother and one of my brothers present at that meeting that I wanted out. This setting was no longer medically appropriate or necessary for me. The medical staff backed up the hard work I had done on myself (and continue today), the role the local mental health facility was playing in my recovery, and my “steely determination” to open a new chapter in my life’s book. Nearly on my own and after several months, on March 1, 2016, I was discharged from the skilled nursing facility and moved into an independent apartment, my current “Home Sweet Home,” in a local senior apartment village who will consider folks not old enough for “senior” but with a documented disability (I call it my “different ability”) — which I have — on a case-by-case basis. I got in and made it!

Nearly two and a half years later, I have blossomed with my new-found freedom. Earlier this year, I got a puppy, a Wire Fox Terrier named him Oliver. He is one of the most remarkable assets in my life. He has given me a new purpose, a reason to get up in the morning when I’d rather lie in bed and plenty of walking exercise. It’s been amazing to me to know that if I make a bad decision or don’t continue the hard but necessary work at the same mental health clinic, that I have a best friend who is dependent on me for his care and well being. Oliver has been the best augment to therapy and medication as I learn to live with major depressive disorder, noncombat PTSD, GAD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

I’ve learned through life but especially since May 2015 that life gets better. That is but one of my personal mantras daily but especially when there are really tough days because those still come. I am in a DBT therapy group which meets every Friday for an hour and a half. I have found help and more hope using DBT skills, especially “radical acceptance.” I have learned that one of the most life-altering principles is actually quite easy to write: E + R = O. The “E”vent plus my “R”eaction equals my “O”utcome. Not everything, good or bad, is under my control, but the way I react to it and how it influences my life is largely 100% up to me. That is sobering and difficult sometimes because for me it is easier to blame someone else or play the victim. No longer! Both of those approaches in dealing with nearly every aspect of my life leads down a dark ally where good things do not usually happen. They oftentimes get worse. It always gets better when I stand up for myself. It always gets better when I make what I call “the next best thing” — a personal reflection on the choices I have available to take and which is going to have the best outcome. It always gets better making and keeping appointments, taking my medication when and how they are prescribed. It always gets better when I surround myself with honest, quality people and not get caught up in other people’s drama. If I so choose, I can make/have plenty of my own! It always gets better when I start my day with a spiritual or inspirational reading or topic and then try to better my life that day by challenging myself to live that principle. It always gets better when I “radically accept” that some family members were much more content when I was in a nursing home and thus played no role in my care because there it was all taken care of (they thought) and they were able to “wring their hands” of any help or assistance I might need from time to time. It is sad, but life is better when I finally make the decision that a family member or friend is not only not on board with me but is actually dragging me down and I have to let them go. I am a team player by nature; life has taught me that not everyone is meant to be on my team. I release them with peace and no ill-will because when I do these kinds of things, it always gets better.

Getty image by traveliving.

Originally published: July 19, 2019
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