At what point do you say to yourself, “I need help”? And how many times do you say it before you actually reach out? Do you wait to hang by a single thread? Or do you wait for that last thread to start tearing before someone else tells you to grab on for dear life because you’ll end up at the bottom, dead?
Well, we’ll all end up as putrid corpses. One day the braided threads of our lives, as we know them now, will unravel. But you get my drift.
For years I’d been telling myself, “Mouse, you seriously need help”. I went on screaming it even, but never knew how to ask for help, never knew how to vocalize my pain unless it was lashing out in fits of rage, banging my head against walls or locking myself in a room to tear at my skin. It wasn’t until the spring of 2008 that I finally got the professional help I so desperately needed.
That spring I had fallen into the depths of another depression. Fueled by heartbreak, I spiraled down to a point where no one could avoid the fact any longer. No one could pretend that I was okay. I could barely make it to class, barely sleep, barely speak. For several weeks in March, April and May, my brother kept finding me passed out, drunk on the bathroom floor, usually with some sort of self-inflicted wound that I tried to hide. It wasn’t until two of those nights, when he found me on the ground, with my hands and knuckles bloodied up beside a pair of porcelain cherubs that he finally asked me to “please get help P”.
I had smashed the cherubs to shards. Their pieces spread about me on the ground–a leg here, a butt and an arm there–not just on one occasion, but evidently two nights in a row. Yep, there were enough cherubs in the house for a two-night-smash-a-thon. Apparently, I was in a dissociative state and was going on about how these cherubs needed to die like me, how I was “Sick of them all! I had to do it. Had to kill them!” All night, I had seen them in motion, there floating above the window sill talking in the voice of my mother, making grotesque facial expression, yelling at me, mocking me–mocking my “miserable” existence until I just smashed them to bits. I shut them up for good, leaving my hands cut up from the fight.
This was a battle I’d endured for years, a battle I could no longer hide or run from.
When my brother found me there lying bruised and hopeless, I was no longer just the “problematic sister,” the “dramatic” and “negative” one. I was no longer “Miss Shotgun” as my parents had dubbed me for my raging outbursts. I became the sister than needed help. I became a genuine concern, and maybe that’s what I wanted but didn’t know how to vocalize the words, “Help, I’m struggling here.” I became the daughter that “might have to be hospitalized” as my mother put it. Actually, what she really said was, “Ay Dios mío! Esta niña la vamos a tener que llevar a el manicomio!” (Google’s poor translation of that is: Oh my God! This girl’s going to have to take the asylum.)
That morning, my brother called a psychiatric clinic that is run by a local university. They told him that they wouldn’t admit me involuntarily unless I was a direct harm to myself or others. He said I wasn’t; he didn’t fully grasp the depth of my despair, but he knew I wasn’t right. He pleaded for me to call the clinic, and that very day I agreed to schedule an appointment. That’s when my journey into the “mental health system” began.
I had no idea what to expect when I went into the clinic. I’d been interested in psychology for years; I even got into psych courses with the second highest grade in college. I’d feverishly read about depression and bipolar disorder and a myriad of other mental disorders/mental health issues for years. In fact, I suspected I had bipolar of some kind though I quickly rejected the notion.
Going into a clinic for “mental health problems” is scary. It’s not the same feeling I had all those times I had to run to the hospital after a broken bone or an inpatient stay after yet another orthopedic surgery. This was on a completely different level. It was terrifying to grasp at the core of my problems like this. Head on.
How do you even begin to describe so many years of inner turmoil? How could you be expected to open up to someone you just met, someone you barely know?
At first it was difficult. It was terrifying. It was painful. It still is at times. I sat there with trembling hands, not knowing how to answer the questions the psychiatrist asked me.
I was quickly–too quickly– diagnosed as having bipolar II (BP) and put on a line of medications starting with Seroquel. For a period of three months, I tried several of these concoctions. Eventually, I asked to get into therapy. I simply had a feeling that therapy was what I needed most.
In order for therapy to be effective (as effective as possible), you have to be ready for the therapeutic process. It doesn’t always feel helpful. Sometimes, it isn’t. There are a lot of factors that go into getting good therapy, and being ready is one of them. What do I mean by being ready? I mean being willing to take someone’s hand so they can pull you up some. It’s willing to accept your current situation. It’s willingness and a craving for change. It isn’t just needing help. It is knowing and wanting it. That’s a difficult thing for a suicidal drunk fighting little fat, naked baby angels on the bathroom and kitchen floors in the middle of the night. How could I want help when all I was thinking of was jumping off a bridge and taking those cherubs down with me? I obviously wasn’t ready then, but like most things in life, being ready is a process.
It takes time, even when time is exactly what we don’t feel we have.
I went through a series of four therapists from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2011. I would quit for a while then would return. I was in a revolving door of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists at my university. I even walked out (or rolled out) on one and slammed the wall with my fist on my way out. They all had their different methods, educational backgrounds, styles and personalities. They each had their opinions of what my “condition” was and what I needed to work on most. But again, you have to be ready to crack open that door into the darkest room of your mind. You don’t have to swing the door open right away. That’ll be letting in too much light after being stuck there in the dark for ages. But it is necessary to let in some of that light in order to find some form of stability, some semblance of a life worth living.
A fellow blogger here on Canvas, Angel Fractured, wrote an interesting post (“Interactions With Mental Health Professionals”) about her journey with therapists and psychiatrists. Though different from my own, I could see similar patterns taking shape between our experiences with mental health professionals. I had focused on different issues of my life with each therapist. But it wasn’t until 2010, when I saw my fourth therapist, a doctoral student about my age, that I finally got the best type of treatment I could get with my wanting resources.
With this young therapist, I had finally come across the kind of treatment that was most helpful to me, to my type of mental distress. The young therapist introduced me to dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and placed me in intense cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me restructure my “maladaptive” thinking patterns and behaviors as well as my automatic thoughts that were often “distorted” and harmful. In other words, she taught me practical ways to realistically even out my black and white thinking, to sooth myself, to tolerate my distress, to communicate more effectively, etc.
From the fall of 2010 to this spring, 2012, I saw the young therapist on a (mostly) weekly basis. I had made a drastic improvement. As it turns out, she had diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder (BPD, or Emotional Dysregulation as it’s now called) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Looking back, I realize this is partly why the type of treatment she chose worked so well for me. She had outlined the core of my dysfunctions–my “symptoms” or patterns of thought and behavior that are also seen in others like me. It wasn’t just talk therapy; it was intense learning. It was life coaching. In fact, around this time last year, we’d discussed approaching an end to therapy as I would no longer need it, at least not as intensively.
Then I fell again.
Last year, as Christmas approached, I fell into another downward spiral. I was back in that dark mental room with the door shut. This year has been one of the roughest. I didn’t think I’d make it out of spring alive. To make matters worse, my young therapist left to another city in April and I was left without a lifeline.
The thing about mental disorders is that as much as some family members and/or friends may want to or try to help (if we’re lucky with supportive family and friends), they often don’t know how to help. Those around us don’t understand or know how to approach the problem, and sometimes, they end up making it worse. They can only do so much before they fall in too.
For someone with a severe mental condition/illness, a lot of support is necessary to begin “recovery”. We need more support than the average person, and the catch twenty-two is we often don’t get much of it, if any. This is especially the case for those with BPD because we can push others away and tend to destroy any support network we might have. After over a dozen calls, voice messages, an overdose, emails and waiting lists, I got myself back in therapy. It took nearly three months to find my way back into the university’s psychological services clinic. I still see a psychiatrist from the community clinic on the side, but I know how to advocate for myself better.
This time I was ready. I am ready. And I’m trying my best to get all the help I can find. Now that I’ve discovered my diagnosis, I have a new road map to my core problems. I know what to ask for now; I know what works and what doesn’t work; and most importantly, I know how to seek professional help. It took four years, but I can finally ask for it and not be engulfed by shame.
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