As you know from previous posts, I have struggled with mental illness most of my life. I have had periods of ups and downs and in-betweens. Since December 2012, struggles have greatly arisen, coming to head and persisting, and the last year and a half of my life has been quite a fight. As I sit here tonight, I cannot help but recall “what started it all.” My mind is ruminating and perseverating, and perhaps sharing the story will quiet my thoughts.
Finals had just ended. A couple of days before I had knocked my ceramic lamp from the end table, shattering it, jagged pieces splayed everywhere across the wood floor. I was tired, too tired to make any attempt to clean, and haphazardly brushed the pieces to the side. Over the course of the term, I had been deteriorating – and quickly. I was forced to leave my volunteer position at the campus Women’s Resource Center due to my declining state, and I barely completed my classes. With the completion of finals I felt a sense of relief, but also a sense of trepidation. School had given me purpose, something to consistently strive for and look forward to. Finals had removed all of what had been keeping me going. A night or two after I broke the ceramic lamp – which I never cleaned up – the jagged pieces began to look enticing. I had cut before, but it had been over a year and a half since I had done so. I made several shallow cuts on my leg and then the next one was deeper, into the fat. I was shocked and panicked. There was blood, and I grabbed the first item – a shirt – to staunch the flow. I ran into the hallway of the dorm to find my neighbor, and of luck, she was there, just returning from walking her dog. She calmed my hysterics, patched me up, and she and I and two other residents sat in the hall for over an hour chatting and conversing, which worked to calm my raging moods.
Bandaged up, I spent the next day or two going through the motions, but still deteriorating quickly. About two nights later, I cracked. It was late, and I went to my neighbor’s room and pled for help, for something to relieve the pain. We decided to call the Campus Police and let them know we had a psychiatric crisis. They were going to call an ambulance, but I adamantly insisted that I be driven in the police car to the hospital. The idea of riding in an ambulance was quite terrifying at the moment. They conceded and agreed to come to the dorm and get me. I returned to my apartment to grab my belongings and began to check the level of water in my cat’s bowl, whether the burners were off on the stove, etc. until my neighbor gently ushered me out, interrupting my obsessive behavior.
The Campus Police arrived, wearing purple latex gloves. At the time I could not comprehend why they would don gloves, but later thinking enlightened me that that they really had no idea what sort of situation they were stepping into. They searched my bag and led me to the police car. Once in the car came the questions . . . height, hair color, etc. The other officer took a statement from my neighbor. “Wanna talk about it?” the officer asked, and all I could do was shake my head no.
I was driven to the OHSU Emergency Department and walked in – no, was escorted in – by the two officers as the entire waiting room watched. I cowered in humiliation. Luckily I was taken back immediately. I was searched for sharp items or other potentially harmful items and led to a room furnished with a mat on the floor, stuffed chairs, and complete with a camera. My clothes and belongings were confiscated, and I donned paper scrubs. I spent the first several hours crying uncontrollably and speaking intermittently with psychiatrists, pharmacy techs, and lab assistants. Once the decision was made for admission to the psychiatric ward, I finally collapsed into sleep. I was awoken early in the morning, only several hours after finally succumbing to sleep, to be informed I was being transferred to another psychiatric hospital in the area called Cedar Hills. They wrapped me in a blanket, protecting me from the chilly December weather, and escorted me to a police-type car and drove me to the facility. Upon arrival I immediately began intake, which involved – in all humility – stripping down to nothing more than my skin to check for and document marks and scars. So began my journey, my revolving door, of the psych hospitalizations I have been experiencing for the past year and a half.
I earnestly wish I could say I have improved from this point, but four more hospitalizations and 38 ECTs contradict this notion. I want so badly to get better – to be well – but the struggle is unrelenting. I am continuing to fight; I am committed to fight, and I vow, with difficulty, to not give up. There are bright days interspersed with the dark ones, and I pray for the arrival and multiplication of these days. I believe that sharing stories is important because not only is it cathartic and empowering, it raises awareness of mental illness and the experiences of those afflicted. Stories should not be hidden and shrouded, shameful tales, but rather used as mechanisms of education. If there is anything I can hope to do in my life, it is to share my story, educate others, and raise awareness. Hiding mental illness hurts the sufferer, yes, but it also hurts society, as it loses a vital component that provides betterment and a strong bolster to the infrastructure of our social fabric.