Healing, How?—My Personal Story

“Lighthouse”
painting by me
2013

If you’ve been reading this blog this year, you might have seen me mention my own healing early spring this year and might have wondered from what I had found healing and what had helped me heal. 

I want to share this story because maybe you’ve had a similar experience or are going through something like this now or know someone who is.

*

It was the very beginning of March, spring hadn’t yet begun and the world was experiencing the pandemic. I hadn’t known about this pandemic yet as I hadn’t read the news, but I had been experiencing deep suffering of my own. I was gradually losing my ability to experience much of any emotion, joy, pleasure, or enjoyment in anything I did. I was speaking very little to very few people, I wasn’t writing poetry or anything at all, or enjoying music although I still listened to it anyway. For awhile, I considered I might be clinically depressed, but I wasn’t sure if I was because I was still getting out of bed everyday and taking care of myself without fighting to do so, my house was still clean, and I was keeping up with any other everyday responsibilities, but as the time went on, I gradually wasn’t finding any meaning or enjoyment in waking each day even if I was still doing it. 

I had experience with mental health struggles before. I had been unwell and then well again. But this time, I believed I would never feel better again as after the last time I was unwell (in 2014), I really didn’t consistently feel free or like the person I felt I was within as well as my outer behavior. I believed my past self wasn’t really me and that it was my fate to live this joyless way until the time I was meant to die. While I personally didn’t try to commit suicide or want to, I began to hope it wouldn’t be long until that time whenever it was because of this joyless way that I believed would never get better.

I had been seeing a doctor. He had seen me worse before than I was in those recent times. I didn’t feel he meant for me to suffer, but I don’t believe he had the knowledge to know how to help me. I felt I was taking medication that was wrong for me from what I was experiencing for awhile and wanted a change, but he told me there were no better options than that one. He was warm and kind in the way he spoke to me as he had been as my doctor for awhile, so I believed for a good amount of time because I felt he was kind and trusted him that he was right about that. But kindness as a person and knowledge as a doctor aren’t always exactly the same thing.

After awhile, I tried to change doctors, and I was able to but there was a waiting time of many months. It was close to just about that time this March that I didn’t have to wait much longer for the appointment, but I began not sleeping regularly as I had suffered with in the past. And so I had become more imbalanced until in a confused state, I needed to be brought to the emergency room.

I had become significantly better after being admitted to McLean hospital in just a couple of days, had improved overnight with medicine, and had continued to improve very quickly. 

What helped? The correct medicine for my personal condition, my decision once stabilized to attend different groups while I was there, and that helped me regain my personal interests that were part of those groups and I had believed I’d never enjoy again, along with learning more about different kinds of wellness practices I had been familiar with like meditation, yoga, nutrition, fitness, and artistic forms of expression in the groups. This healing also involved realizing I’d had unhealthy dietary habits from not eating enough calories, which had caused me to be underweight as a health concern, and so from the doctors addressing the mental instability first and taking me off the medication I had been taking and giving me medication that was better for me, I had quickly lost the behavior I had with eating, which the doctors felt might have been a negative reaction to that original medicine, and I was eating the different meals there.

So with the medicine, groups, talking with other patients, and meals, I was happier, enjoying myself, more confident, talking more, had a better sense of my own spirituality, and from speaking with a dietician there before I went home, she confirmed with me some ideas I had of what I might eat when I was home and gave me some advice on how to eat enough while also eating healthily. The better nutrition and advice allowed me to find physical healing, too in some time after I was back home from a couple of issues I’d had from the lack of calories.

In the hospital, one of the groups I went to was for writing, so I wrote drafts of a couple of new poems there as I hadn’t written poetry in a long time before that. I started meditating daily there as I had before, this time at night before bed, and my roommate was interested in it as well, so we would meditate together and that helped remind me why I had begun meditating when I first began the practice in the past. She had also told me they had yoga mats at the hospital and had gotten one for herself and me. When she asked and I told her I had practiced yoga for awhile, she wanted to learn from me. While I was at the hospital, I lead a couple of short yoga classes I had planned with her and a couple of others who had been interested in yoga and wanted to practice it, too. Seeing them happy after the sessions made me want to teach yoga when I was back home.

I have been grateful to the doctors for helping me to be able to be well and have a better sense of self, and I also believe while I had still been praying in my depressed state, whether I had chosen to pray or or not or was able to, I think I still would’ve found healing. I realize it was still important for me to go to the hospital at that time and to be there participating in the groups, and the doctors there had to have the knowledge to be able to help me. Personally, I believe that prayer is powerful, that God can inspire doctors to have the desire to attain knowledge to help others, and also that suffering people don’t have to feel like they can only sit and pray and hope the divine will someday choose to reach down a hand and heal them—that it’s good to seek human help. There is a quote that says, “God has no hands or feet on this earth but our own,” and I found healing from the kindness and acts of others including the doctors, staff, and other patients at the hospital. I believe in miracles and mysteries, too. I also know unacceptably too many people don’t have a medical option, and that each person’s condition and treatment needs are different, but the focus of this is a personal story of what has helped me.

So, what was wrong? The doctors at McLean believed it was bipolar disorder and catatonia. I hadn’t heard the word “catatonia” or known what it was. 

The doctors believed a mood imbalance first, such as depression, can bring out mild catatonia, and that mild catatonia can cause a kind of numbness like not talking much or having a response in conversation, and then as it worsens, to not sleep. With all this and lack of sleep, delusional thoughts and confusion can come. With bipolar disorder and catatonia, I learned, it’s important to manage major mood imbalances, such as depression or mania, to prevent catatonic symptoms and confusion from coming.

In an advanced state of catatonia, a person doesn’t move, talk, eat, or drink. It isn’t that the person is actively choosing not to do these things.

In 2014, I almost died from that as I wasn’t getting the proper treatment for catatonia and wasn’t eating or drinking. The hospitals I first went to weren’t equipped to treat me with fluids when I needed them, so I had to be sent to a med-psych hospital like MassGeneral in Boston to get the fluids. It was getting close, but space became available at MassGeneral at just the right time, and I was able to be admitted there in October 2014, was stabilized, and back home around this time that year. Looking back, I can see I wasn’t meant to die then and am grateful for that now; it had taken time to realize that.

Part of wellness for me had been medicine, which took me out of the catatonic state, and it had also been a a spiritual change within, nutrition, holistic health practices like yoga and meditation, being happy with myself as a person, reconnecting with my interests, and also communication with and support from others while letting go of the shame of talking about my own mental health experiences if I want to, which took some time even after I was well. I don’t think anyone should be expected to do the same unless they want to. The last part of my stay at McLean this March had been during the time when the coronavirus quarantine started, so there were no visitors allowed at the hospital at that time. Being able to be okay there without visitors allowed me to feel independence in myself and connection with other people outside my family and familiar surroundings, which helped give me confidence, too.

Since then, I have revisited authors and artists whose writings and art I have connected with now and had in the past. For example, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf may have had had bipolar disorder although the medical treatment and diagnoses at that time hadn’t been the same as today. In writing through email with a friend I met at the hospital, I realized, too, that artists with mental illness had and have created wonderful art out of their ability to feel a great range of emotions, including sorrow, joy, and love. 

In recently reading Virginia Woolf’s short stories, an author I had enjoyed in the past, I wrote in a post lightly that I sensed a sisterly kind of connection with her through her fiction and had written that if we were born around the same time we probably would’ve been friends, and that it probably would’ve been better that she was born in my time period because of medical advancements. In reading a letter she wrote to her husband, I could also sense the pain and personal guilt she experienced about feeling like a burden because of her mental health struggles, which she wrote about before she ended her life. 

I thought then that the feeling of the lack of understanding and shame from others and oneself surrounding suffering from a mental health condition is worse than the condition itself. And it isn’t a person’s fault for having a mental health condition. It is also helpful to practice, although for me it wasn’t enough for someone else to tell me to do so and took time, to feel and know your own self value even if you feel upset if someone doesn’t understand what you’re experiencing or gives you criticism for it, and also to talk with those who are supportive. It is good to have seen over time, a change of more understanding and compassion towards people with mental health conditions, seeing that more people are noticing that everyone has some kind of struggle or limitation, and that we can help and support each other. I believe change takes time, but it also takes a decision, and a decision doesn’t always take so much time. 

*

I have experienced healing from a combination of Western medicine, holistic health practices like yoga and meditation, along with my spiritual beliefs and practices, so I don’t think any of these have to be excluded for anyone who doesn’t wish them to be.

After feeling the wonderful relief of healing in many ways, I had moments of instability when I was back home, so it wasn’t a single healing experience and then everything’s all perfect. I make mistakes, I’ve been able to apologize and forgive myself as well as feel closer in general to love and forgiveness, concepts that I focused on in the past but were more intangible for me then. I had learned of a small imbalance medically after a routine check after that time and had an adjustment made. I want to add that when receiving medical treatment, when possible, it is helpful to check your levels over time (for me, it was after six months) even if your doctor doesn’t mention it.

Finally, a recent reconnection with a friend made me realize I don’t have to be ashamed of mental health conditions and don’t have to avoid using the word “crazy” if I don’t want to and around someone who is okay with it. People can use the idea of a mental health condition against others to express that they are inferior or helpless because of that, whether they intentionally mean to hurt them or not, so I would not use the word “crazy” to hurt others or myself or with a person who didn’t feel comfortable with that. 

I don’t mind that some of what I did and said while unwell, for example, in 2014 was funny. While I don’t remember this, I had thought then a girl around my age in the hospital with me, maybe a year younger than I was, was my daughter and had told her this, and was trying to look after her as if I was her mother. It is funny to think about now even if I don’t remember the experience and it was funny to those around me then, including her. So yes, I enjoy friends talking with me lightly saying that they like me because I’m crazy and they’re crazy, too, and it has been refreshing to laugh in this way.

I hope by sharing this story maybe you or someone you know might find inspiration, information, or even just lightness or amusement about mental health, medicine and holistic health practices, creativity, spirituality, and healing.

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