My thoughts this week have been gravitating to a time period in my life that molded me in many ways after walking away from the experience. It was the first time someone told me I had put to words the pieces of them that they couldn’t understand in themselves. It was the first time others recognized my spiritual gift.
About a year and a half ago, God reminded me of this gift and through gentle guidance called me deeper to it. It went like this:
Pay attention to your spiritual gifts; have the courage and faith to serve from them.
I’ve found myself reflecting on this memory from my past for several days but it seems rather fitting today, on World Mental Health Day. Naturally it is tonight, on #worldmentalhealthday, I have the quiet moment in the week to put these thoughts into words.
The first time someone recognized this spiritual gift in me was at an inpatient mental health facility where we were both patients. Both people who needed help. I don’t know all of the medical details of this other persons story and only vaguely remember what I had said to them in group support discussion but we shared a common thread. We were both in our late teens and admitted for suicidal treatment intervention. Whatever I had said hit them hard and the person immediately looked at me and replied , “How do you understand something I haven’t until now when you just said it? You should be the counselor.”
It was a profound moment and the first time I felt a calling to the helping profession. Which was slightly awkward because I wasn’t exactly a picture perfect person of health. Then here I was helping other people. After all, this moment happened at a mental health hospital because I was a beautiful hot mess.
It is no coincidence so many of us helpers have our own dark mountains we have climbed and because of it we understand mental health is a mountain we don’t have to climb alone.
- How did it get to this point for me? Well, I had taken a razor blade to my wrist cutting the skin but had not hit the vein.
- What was going through my mind? I was tired of feeling like a damaged person incapable of being healthy. I was tired of feeling the reality of that damage as something I would struggle with for the rest of my life. I felt as though being damaged was evidence of my existence being a mistake. That God had made a mistake and I could not bear this feeling any longer in that moment.
- Did I want to die? No.
- Did I wish God would just end the mistake of my existence for me? Yes, that is what I felt in the moment.
The magnitude of my self-harm was absolutely serious and needed to be addressed in a treatment facility.
You might think an intervention program like this would focus on unconditional love, empathy and understanding for persons like me in so much mental pain. While this is true in totality of the experience, the actual process when it was happening is better described as tough love.
There was nobody there the first night holding my hand telling me everything was going to be okay or how sorry they felt for my pain. There was nobody telling me what I wanted to hear or enabling my unhealthy coping mechanisms. Far from it. All of my belongings were secured away from me. I could not have shoes on my feet with any laces or sleep with a pillow and blanket. I could not go to the bathroom without someone monitoring me. I could not shower without someone in the room with me and would have to dry off without a towel. I was assigned to a private room with no items that could be used to harm myself or others with sleep checks throughout the night. I could have water with supervision. Morning through bedtime was not to be spent in my room alone. The days were structured in group or individual treatment interventions, time with the psychiatric nurses or doctor and the rest of the time completing schoolwork.
At the time I remember thinking this was extreme. I didn’t actually do that much harm to myself and I had explained several times I just wanted a release from the pain I felt about myself. As sick as it sounds the release of attacking myself somehow served as a release of feeling everything so intensely. Albeit harmful instead of healthy release.
After the first few days I was gradually given opportunities back and allowed more independence but I stayed in this hospital for a full month before I was able to go home.
You see, tough love was necessary for all of us who were there to understand we can not be healthy individuals without facing hard truths about ourselves. Taking away all of the distractions, enabling, martyring, self loathing just to name a few in order to confront the distorted and/or delusional thought processes that got us to that point was necessary. This was unconditional love that an unhealthy person can not necessarily see. Allowing us to continue to escape a confrontation of our psyche would just bring us the same cycles repeating itself over again. Because the hard truth is that staying untreated would bring more unhealthy patterns, developing or intensifying more harmful behaviors and bringing with it more mental pain.
The experience taught me lessons about resiliency I would not have taken away without having been there. My World Mental Health Month lessons:
- A damaged self does not define my worth nor is it a reflection of being weak especially when I’m struggling because of it.
- I am accountable for self-awareness and getting help when I need it.
- My mental health is a priority. I can not ignore it, explain it away or look at it as an excuse to be unhealthy.
- I’m not less than when I need more help at times than others.
- It is okay to be a deeply feeling individual and feeling intensely can be overwhelming.
- Because I feel deeply, I recognize and empathize deeply for others.
- I can become overly involved with others needing or receiving empathy from me and therefore boundaries are important.
- I will live through any struggle and become stronger from it.
- On bad days something as small as having a pillow to hold is a start.
- Every day is a new day.
- I naturally see the beauty in others even when the person can’t see it in themselves.
My spiritual gifts are unmistakably healer and teacher. There are times in my life when this has been confused with experiencing God’s love. Truth is it points to love but never in place of God’s love.
With that a picture of my puppy and the story about our encounter with Sam that night. Which will have to be a post for another day but another God at work in our lives and for lives story.
Loved by Grace,