Moving the Mountains of Mental Health

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By Sarah Jeanne Browne | Twitter: @sarahjbrowne

I have moved mountains in mental health, overcoming the worst of bipolar disorder 1 with psychotic features, most of which peaked within the last two years of my late twenties. I was alone and afraid during those times, yet not alone and not afraid at the same time. I was ready to leave the hospital in my mind, but I was placed in another facility for further care. This happened to me twice in two years.

God was with me in both these places—dark places where the mental health aspect of one’s being is the sole focus and where they say, “If you were brought here, things weren’t going so well.” It was dull, boring, and tormenting the way hours would go by so slowly with other sick people around and no outlet, no exercise, no emotional connection and complete isolation from everyone and everything.

I was in such a situation for many months, twice.

I trusted God even when my mind failed me. I knew God was with me, to show me things, to make me an Observer. That’s what I felt I was here to do–observe.

Observe I did. I saw good people in a messed up situation. I was sitting with staff knowing they had no idea how hard it was to be there. I saw addicts. I saw people in other realities. I saw people with religious delusion who felt they were completely rational. Still, I held onto God.

I taught some kids’ yoga to other adults in the ward to pass the time. I had done that before with actual kids. Then I was put into the long-term structured residence. I tried to connect with the other patients, but found it difficult. Some, instead of appreciating connection, wanted you to only hear all their problems.

I felt a deep appreciation for what I had before. I had been a college graduate, a model, a writer, an activist, a networker, a hot yoga fanatic and someone on health kicks her whole life. I had friends and family, but could no longer relate to them as easily after being locked away in a mental health facility. In the long-term structure residence I was sometimes allowed to go home and have visitors. At family functions, I didn’t know what to say. “Hi. How am I? I’ve been locked up for months for a disease I didn’t know I had.”

My whole life I was an overachiever.

“Mania,” one clinician pointed out. Then I would fall into depression if I didn’t get an achievement high. I never had the psychosis before December 2015, when I was afraid for my life for no reason.

The brain is a tricky thing.  I have learned that spirituality and psychology can coexist, and one does not negate or downplay the other. I held onto God, white knuckling it through these experiences. God showed me that He would bring me through, even if I could not do it myself. And it came true. I was put on the right meds after being on the wrong ones a few times. I joined a mental health coalition and agreed to start speaking to share my story.

But most of all, I realized that I wasn’t alone. In meditation, my mental health improved and it actually combated the mania with the medication combined.

I knew it was not over the first time, though. I was hiding away from society, afraid of stigma, when I realized I had nothing to be ashamed of. Still, something wasn’t right. I was still afraid and jumpy. My doctor switched my meds but lowered my medication too much. I relapsed and was right back where I started.

When they wheeled me into the psych ward, I saw familiar workers there and I felt ashamed. When I still wasn’t better after two weeks, I went back to the structured residence. When they picked me up for this residence, I felt ashamed again. Yes, it happened again. Yes, I know I was just here.

That’s what was on my mind. Also in my mind was the belief that I was the stable one. I had it together. I had no idea I was sick until I woke up gradually from the sickness. It was like the fog had cleared. In that clearing, I felt gratitude for my life. I had been so cut off from it that I felt I had nothing. The mania was controlled enough that I could still be productive at a more ambitious level. The depression was harder to tap into. The psychosis, the main reason I was there, was completely gone. I was a new me.

And yet I had a secret: the whole time, I prayed constantly. Every thought was a prayer. It was all I had. I acted cool, but I was scared out of my mind. I was a warrior who wanted to be stronger than I felt inside. I wanted to make a difference. I wasn’t able to help people in the system except by telling my story. I realized many people had unhealthy boundaries and could be toxic to their peers. I was so self-disciplined in the hospital that one of the nurses said, “We don’t think anything’s wrong with you, Sarah.”

But that self-discipline destroyed me, and it was why I had to go back a second time.

But God. I trusted and called out to God in my mind. God fixed my mistakes and the psychiatrist’s mistakes. I got to start over. I got to try different medications in a safe environment after being more honest. And, most of all, I got to live again.

I had my friends back, my family back, two legs to run on, two arms to squeeze my loved ones with, observations to write about, people to meet, places to go and oh, things to do! I was happy again because I had a life to live. Mountains had been moved in my mental health, and I knew I could do something good with it. I was ready. Ready to fight, ready to learn, ready to salvage what was left behind.

Sometimes, we are reduced to simply being an observer. I encourage you, though, to wait. That patience might beckon you to God’s great calling and you may find yourself asking–what can I do? Who can I help? What is my why?

When you can answer those questions, you can begin to move mountains. Whatever your mountain is, there is hope. Be brave. Stay strong. Surrender.

Good luck.
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About Sarah:

Sarah Jeanne Browne is a writer, speaker, and activist. She is writing a young adult fiction novel and a self help book, speaks on having Unseen Brilliance and advocates empowerment of the self. Her website is www.sarahjeannebrowne.com. You can find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/sarahjsocialjustice and twitter @sarahjbrowne.

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