It’s my privilege to share the inspiring story of a friend of mine, Dee, who shares her journey with a mental illness. As a service provider of mental health, I am honored she is sharing her story. We need to understand the shame that goes with mental illness.
Thank you, Dee, for sharing your story.
I’ve been in the hospital. Again. And as much as I’ve preached the whole “bipolar is just a chemical imbalance, much like diabetes” gospel to others, I felt very much ashamed at having “come to this” once again.
Let’s be honest, psych ward hospitalization is far different experience from the average patient who finds him/herself in the hospital. There’s the stripping, for one. The stripping of earthly goods, shoes, purse, jewelry, belts, shoelaces, all potential means of self-harm are removed along with cellphones and any other electronic devices. Even the phone for patients’ use in the hallway had a scant 6 inch cord connecting the handset to the base. The assumption of harm to self or others is inescapable. Of course, there’s the literal stripping, the strip search in front of two nurses that ensures you’re not bringing contraband into the ward.
Then there are the emotional “strippings,” feelings of shame, guilt and worthlessness. I can honestly say I’ve never felt so vulnerable as the first night of being confined in a psych ward. Even the name “psych ward” presents a societal image of either buffoonery or horror. And this time my stay had the awful specter of ECT, electro convulsive therapy, or shock treatment, hovering menacingly over it.
I was terrified and ashamed and feeling guilty.
I was terrified of what was wrong with me this time and what it might take to restore my balance.
I was ashamed that I hadn’t been able to “keep it together”again and
I felt guilty that I was burdening my family with the worry and fear of another hospitalization.
But these were only my earliest impressions of my most recent hospitalization. In the days that followed the intake, my meds were radically changed, high blood pressure was diagnosed and treated, and sleep, so elusive at home, returned. Coupled with the meds, there were regular opportunities for group therapy sessions, where we were educated further on our conditions and encouraged to express our feelings about them. Among the eleven or so patients who cycled into and out of the ward during my eight-day stay, three were homeless and eight had substance abuse issues along with their mental illness. Several were in trouble with the law and there was one young man who had no idea he was ill at all and couldn’t understand why he was there.
Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so bad about my own setback.
I had the full support of my family, daily phone calls and regular visits on the appointed days (Tuesdays and Thursdays). Most of my fellow patients had no visitors their entire time on the ward which I found appalling. I mentioned the groups we attended; they were (with the meds) the single most important part of my time in the hospital. When sharing my shame with a therapist named Jim, he led me to examine what exactly I was ashamed of.My family was fearful and worried for me because they love me, he pointed out gently. He also reminded me that I was worried and fearful for them, and none of them were in the hospital. Worrying, he explained, is what we do when we care.
With the shame gone, so was the guilt.
My illness is not my fault, it’s not of my choosing. What do I have to feel guilty about? The ward that felt so ominous at first by day three felt comforting, nurturing and safe. Thank God for the excellent program in place in this small rural county to treat mental illness sufferers. When the time came to go home, I felt some trepidation. Could I continue to be well at home without the intensive care I had received in the hospital?
And of course, I have been fine, because while my family may lack therapeutic knowledge, they are each experts in loving. All in all, this negative experience has yielded mostly positive results. My meds are better suited to my current needs, I’m back on track with my therapist and psychiatrist and my family has reaffirmed to me that not everything about me is flawed.
I must be doing something right to garner this much pure affection and I feel blessed.