Mental Illness Cannot Contain Me

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By Shaley Hoogendoorn | Twitter: @shaleyhoogs 

Seven years ago I found myself in the emergency psych ward.

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1.

To me it was actually not all that surprising. I have struggled my whole life with depression and anxiety. I have very high highs and very low lows. So high and so low that often it’s hard to think straight and physically painful to exist.

Let me back up a little and tell you how I landed up in an open door padded room with surveillance and my husband Rob. The previous winter I had tried a new medication. Most of the winters of my adult life had been hijacked by darkness and my springs and summers blinding with light.

That spring my mind and body did the switch and I was on rapid fire. All of a sudden I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS! ALL THE TIME! I had the best ideas ever … well, mostly the best ideas ever. Unfortunately there are the rapid thoughts and crippling physically anxiety that those comes with.

I distinctly remember an attack in the toothpaste aisle in Superstore.

Let me take a little walk through my thoughts. It goes a little something like this:

OK, focus Shaley. You are getting toothpaste. You are getting toothpaste for … I can’t remember … Rob or the girls? I wonder if it for the girls. I haven’t taken them to the dentist lately. I haven’t even watched them brush their teeth. We so don’t remember to floss. I bet our teeth are rotting. I bet they will fall out and we will all have dentures. That would be terrible but kinda funny bit mostly terrible. How am I going to tell doctor Kevin? How can I avoid him? He goes to our church. Church. Wow I’m exhausted from teaching vacation bible school. I wonder if the kids remember any of my teaching. I wonder if I look crazy up there preaching and singing and dancing. I probably do. I probably look ridiculous. Do I really care? I hope the parents didn’t hear me singing at the top of my lungs. #funnynotfunny. I saw my friend there and I bet she is mad because I haven’t called her. I am a crappy friend. Man, I suck at a lot of things. I hate cooking. Cleaning is lame.

I spend a lot of money. How selfish am I? Just look at at my cart. Do we need everything in it? I think so. Yes. No. I don’t know!!!! That’s it. I am putting everything back. No. No. No. I need to get toothpaste. Seriously I can’t remember the brand. I should get Colgate, Sensodyne, Crest, watermelon or maybe that cheap no name brand. That will save money. But I think it might be gross and if it is gross no one will use it and back to the rotting teeth. I don’t know what to do. What do I get? Maybe I should put everything back and get no name everything. I have to start over. I need to start over before we lose our house and end up in bankruptcy. It will be all my fault.

By this time my heart was beating so fast I could barely breath. I was sweating and I had to call Rob to remind me we wouldn’t lose the house over toothpaste. You can imagine how exhausting this is.

It only got worse. My doctor upped my medication dosage. What we didn’t know was that the meds were doing the opposite of what we hoped until I was living on less than two hours of sleep per night. Those sleepless hours were in the the middle of the night when the silence is thick and heavy and it wraps around, tainting my endless thoughts. My cortisol levels were through the roof and my thought life became frantic and desperate as I laid awake.

The messiest day was on a Sunday. I was sitting in church waiting to go up and lead the VBS kids in a song and dance. I saw beautiful candles lit on a table in front of the stage. My mind kicked into high gear. All I could picture was scenes of disaster with those candles. Image after image of kids knocking them over and wax everywhere. I believed without a doubt that when we were dancing that someone would catch on fire. I even had an image of my own hair going up in flames. That’s a lot of flaming hair!

As I walked up to the front I actually leaned over and blew out the candles. I blew out the church candles, the probably super symbolic, spiritual candles … In front of everyone! After our song, I immediately started to catastrophize the situation. Somehow those flameless candles symbolized all my flaws and failures. It seemed so humiliating and overwhelming.

The next thing I remember I was sobbing in a random stairwell in the church. The weeks of anxiety and sleepless nights had caught up with me and I was in a full blown anxiety attack. I don’t remember how I was rescued from the stairwell but somehow I got home.

That night I laid there and prayed and pleaded with God to help me sleep. Instead of sending me into a slumber, I felt him telling me to get up and go and seek help. I knew I need to get to hospital and get Ativan or Valium to help me calm down and go to sleep.

I don’t generally go out of the house braless in sweatpants and slippers, but there I was, in the emergency room, looking all disheveled and a little nutty. Apparently they don’t just give out Ativan to just anyone. Apparently they don’t just hand it over to a big-haired, braless, chatty woman asking for it. Apparently they don’t just distribute powerful addictive drugs and just send you home. Apparently they have to interview you with and without your hubby to make sure that you will not harm him, yourself or others. Between the two of us we were able to convince them I was safe and I was given the meds and I went and slept.

I slept undisturbed for a solid 12 hours. I felt so good I almost didn’t go to the follow-up appointment the next morning.

You see I could function during most days. I worked part time as a teacher on call, took care of my home, my little girls and even had several leadership roles in my church. I was super high functioning so my crazy had never been truly seen and heard by medical professionals. In order to finally go out and tell my full story, I had to first gather all of my shame and embarrassment and give it away to God. He gave me the courage to seek treatment like I never had before.

In that moment I decided I was unwilling to lose another winter to depression. I was unwilling to become numb and apathetic or high as a kite. I was unwilling to burden my tribe of family and friends yet again with my dark and hopeless thoughts or my sharp anxious words. I was unwilling to listen to the same tapes that played in my head, reminding me of all my flaws and failures.

That week I decided to go to a place I now affectionately call Crazy Town. Ironically enough it was called CRESST (Community Residential Emergency Short Stay Treatment.) I only remember it because it is like the toothpaste with as extra S. I stayed there for a very long week to wean off the wrong meds, get on the right ones and finally get an accurate diagnosis.

Owning the word “bipolar” was both terrifying and beautiful. Terrifying because the word “bipolar” is heavy and misunderstood. I would much rather say I struggle with anxiety and depression or admit I have a mood disorder, because it is more acceptable.

But I now know that speaking it out takes away its power over me. It’s beautiful because in accepting that label I am able to shed my shame and fully grasp that part of my brain doesn’t work as it should. I have a container. These pills balance my brain chemistry. The pills in this containers help me to be more of my true self.

I am finally able to lean in and listen clearly to God’s plans for my life instead of living in a rapid cycle of excitement, anxiety, anger and deep pain. I am able to see the unseen people in our midst because I know the deep sadness and paralyzingly fear they are hiding. I understand how people get really desperate and stuck.

I know without Jesus and my support system, I am a few bad decisions from being an addict. I am only few more from losing everything and ending up in the streets. Then just a few more from erasing myself for good. I can clearly see how quickly this could happen. I know how it feels to consider anything to end the war in my mind.

I am not here to tell you I am healed because I still struggle and it sucks. I wish I could talk of divine healing and triumph over my illness, but like so many of us, I can’t. What I can tell you is that there is hope. I absolutely believe in miracles and know God could heal me. Do I know if he will in this lifetime? No, I don’t, but I also know I can’t let that stop me from living out my purpose. I need to share my story and stop the stigma.

I am Shaley
I am not contained by my mental illness.
I am held by the knowing that God made me fierce and full of feelings to be a hope spreader to the lost, the lonely and the wounded.

___________________

IMG_5045About Shaley:

Shaley grew up in Northern BC in her family-built log home with loads of brothers. Her childhood was filled with snow, skates, hockey and huskies. Shaley has always had a small town heart with big city dreams. She is married to Rob and put down roots in PoCo with their smart and sassy tween girls. Shaley has no inner monologue, never follows a recipe and has the biggest hair in any room. Hands down.
Shaley invests her heart into her family, her community and her world. She works as an elementary school teacher and an event planner. She is fiercely passionate about helping the next generation become peacemakers and world changers. She brings beauty and order to Women’s Events and everyday life. She believes in sisterhood and women telling their stories without judgement. She follows Jesus and believes that love always ALWAYS wins.
Come follow her ramblings on Instagram at @shaley_hoogs and @messybeautywithshaley
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  • Nicole A. Joshua

    I applaud your courage and vulnerability, Shaley. Your words are sure to be an encouragement to many who share your struggles with bipolar or other mental health challenges.

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Thank you Nicole. That is truly my hearts desire. xo

  • Stacey Pardoe

    Shaley, thank you for sharing your story and, in doing so, stripping away some of the stigma. So many of us struggle with mental health challenges, and this can feel isolating and shameful, but it truly doesn’t need to be something we’re ashamed of. I loved your simple explanation about taking medication and how it helps. We tend to wrap our stigmas around the idea of medical intervention, but this kind of thinking can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks toward healing. I applaud you for the way you’re ministering to others through your story!

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Thank you Stacey. Youe encouragement means everything. You are so right! We don’t question taking meds for other illnesses. It took me a long time to accept that my brain has much or too little of it needs to be healthy.

  • Your words challenge me to examine my own containers — and those I’ve imagined for others. Thank you for this helpful glimpse of your own struggle and the process of moving toward the light.

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      I love that you are examining Michele. It’s really hard for me to put myself out there and it feels worth it to know it is challenging others.

  • sandyhay

    Oh Shaley I love you xoxo

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Funny that is EXACTLY how I feel about you! XOXO

  • Olivia

    Oh yes indeed, there is hope!

    Even when it sucks.

    Thank you thank you. <3

    Praise God for carrying us and caring for us through the Holy Spirit, through family, through friends, the church.

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      ♥️ Yes!!!

  • I am so proud of you, my friend. Thank you for sharing your world and for living in such a beautiful and inspiring way.

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      That means so much! Thanks for always showing up for me♥️♥️♥️

  • Melissa Auer

    I’m so proud of you my friend for being honest and vulnerable, for fighting back against the stigma of mood disorders. I remember that time 7 years ago and I remember how brave you were and how you kept moving forward. You are an inspiration and a beautiful soul!

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Thank you my sweet friend! I remember your support! And muffins… you brought over the yummiest ones. Your kindness matters♥️

  • Rea

    Wow, this hits home. This fall I started the same medication I’ve taken for the past several years to help thought the winter. Only this year…something went haywire in my brain and the past 2-3 months have been a crazy ride of trying to sort out medications, therapy, lots of time curled on the couch wishing I could function normally for just. one. day. I vacillate between wanting to stop the stigma, and wanting to appear as if I’ve got all this under control. But this does not contain me. This is not the sum of who I am.

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Oh Rhea. I am so so sorry you struggled this year. I hear you about the vacillating. It is so exhausting to try to appear in control when our brains and emotions won’t cooperate. It is absolutely not the sum of who you are! Sending so much love ♥️

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Shaley! You beautiful, strong, fierce Zebra! I love you and I love how you are speaking your truth in boldness and grace. This is fabulous!

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Thank you Friend!!!! Knowing my zebras have my back makes it so much easier to speak truth. Love you😘

  • Bethany Lynn Tosh Young

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve had very similar experiences with my OCD/Intrusive Thoughts. The stigma and guilt surrounding this needs to end!

    • Shaley Hoogendoorn

      Amen! Thank you for sharing. Knowing I am not alone makes all the difference. xx

  • alison hill

    What is it about winter ? It seems to be a trigger for so many. Thank you for this part ” I know He can heal me, I don’t know if He will, but I can’t stop living out my purpose” and I offer this hope to myself and others: He never said I should stop -He said He will never me and that He would never forsake me. . So on we go…

  • Shannon Sullivan

    A welcome voice from the past. 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your story, particularly to those who feel alone. Your girls will certainly benefit from the strength, beauty, love and acceptance that you exude every every. Many hugs and blessings to you and your family. Xoxo

  • Thank you for so bravely sharing your journey, Shaley. Love to you!!

  • What a brave piece!

  • Kristen Fibich

    Shaley, I respect and admire how brave, full of hope and real you are with your willingness to share your journey. We need people to shine light on experiences to support our society towards ending the stigma of mental health challenges and you are one of them. Sending you support and care.

  • I have a similar story with mental illness. Thank you for sharing!

  • Lisa Sands Scandrette

    Brave and beautiful Shaley, I’m just catching up on my emails after the holidays and reading posts. Thanks so much for sharing your story. My dad, one of the most generous, loving and affirming people I know, struggled with bi-polar, and it took him a long time to get the help he needed because he felt he should be able to handle it without medical help. The more people share their stories around mental health challenges, the less stigma those challenges will hold. Thanks!

  • Shaley, having written my first blog post ever just this past week on faith and being diagnosed with my bipolar type I, I am cheering you on. <3

  • Kelly Christian

    Go girl. Super proud of your sharing this story. I know my own version of my depression spin cycles and I am bent on not being defeated either. You’re living. You’re storytelling. You’re going to win this. Thanks for sharing. Thanks to God for his grace.