The following post comes from a Facebook posting of a year ago. As I read it today, I stopped to think about how, and if, I have changed in the last year. Sometimes I think that I am continuing to make progress in my mental health journey and other times, I see no progression at all. As I read through the 80 comments that had been made, I saw a couple of recurring themes — strength, courage, and determination. I had to smile as I read some of the comments because I can’t help but think to myself that these people have no clue. While many people call me strong, I see very little strength in me. Most days I still feel like a blob of jello. (And, I hate the word strong, by the way.) While they talk of my courage, I tend to mostly agree, but only because I know that in order to talk about my illness, it most definitely takes courage. There were so many years when I never admitted to anyone that I struggled with self-loathing, guilt, and depression and I certainly never had the courage to tell them why. Through my postings on Facebook and since I’ve started this blog, I have had a few people to message me to say that I shouldn’t be talking about these things because I’ll embarrass my family, or that these things should be kept private, or even that these things may make others feel badly. Some of those comments have struck a few nerves, some have made me wonder if I really shouldn’t talk about this, some have been really hurtful, and some have made me think that perhaps they are right, But, I had made the decision that I needed and wanted to talk about my mental illness and their comments are not going to stop me. I can speak of this much more easily now and readily credit my ongoing therapy in the ability to speak openly now. Through my therapy, I have come to learn that I am not at fault. (Even though I know this in my head, there are still those times when I will claim the fault in my heart.) And while others talk about my determination, I struggle. I don’t feel as though I am “determined” as much as I am just “accepting”. I have accepted the fact that I will most likely feel this way for the rest of my life. There will be times of happiness, however fleeting those times may be. But, there will also be times of not caring and just accepting that “this is the way it’s going to be.”
I don’t really mention in my post what the medical emergency had been. I had over two dozen clots in my lungs as well as a “Saddleback clot” that had blocked over 80% of the oxygen going to my lungs. My granddaughter had found me and notified her mother and a quick trip in the ambulance had landed me at our local hospital. While I don’t remember this incident, nor do I remember the first 3 or 4 days in the hospital, I certainly remember what happened afterward. Here’s my Facebook post.
August 6, 2016 — Well, today has been an interesting day. When I got up this morning and saw that it was August 6th, I couldn’t figure out why that day kept sticking in my mind. I went through the names of my friends to see whose birthday it was and still couldn’t figure out why today’s date kept twirling around in my brain It finally came to me — Seven years ago today (or was it six, I can’t remember), I was supposed to have died. At least that’s what the doctors told my children. “She shouldn’t have made it to the hospital. We are not sure she will make it Macon, but that’s where we’re sending her”, said the doctors. Someone also worked their magic and got Darrell home from Iraq in 3 days. Although I still don’t remember anything about the first several days, I do remember finally waking up and being told what had happened. And I was mad. Pure mad. I don’t think I’d ever been that mad before. I had struggled all summer being in the bottom of a deep, dark pit of depression and anger and self-loathing and I so wanted to leave this world. But, for some reason, I hadn’t. All I could think was, “God, you know what I have prayed for all summer. You had your chance, and dad-gum it, you didn’t let me go. Why in the world are you making me stay here when you know I don’t want to be here?” Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” kept running through my mind and Garth kept saying that they are good things. I could have, and would have, slapped Garth if he’d just shown up next to my hospital bed. What the heck did Garth know?
Once my children realized that I WAS going to make it, they decided it was time for what they called a Family Conference, but in reality it was an intervention (and Dr. Phil was nowhere to be found). After a long and painful discussion with a lot of crying and a lot of being treated as though I was the child and they were the parents, I was told that I was not going home. I was going to Atlanta to a Mental Health hospital to get my head screwed back on right. No choice. Period. That was the way it was going to be and I needed to just accept it. They had already made all the necessary preparations; we just needed to call and tell them when I was being dismissed. I was mad, discouraged, afraid, embarrassed, afraid, and had no idea how I was going to do that. Did I mention that I was afraid? I had spent my entire life wearing a series of masks so that no one would see the real Betty. How in the world could I strip off those masks? How in the world could I actually talk about how I felt about life, myself, my past, or my future? In my mind, the only good thing I had ever done was to have my three wonderful, loving, accomplished children and through them, I had been given six wonderful grandchildren. I could hide everything else by choosing a new mask for each day. It was only when I got home and was alone that the mask would come off. At that point, all the fear, self-hatred, and depression would be there full force. But, masks were no longer going to be allowed. Oh, Lord, I am so afraid. Why have you done this?
So, after almost three weeks in Macon, I went to Atlanta. And I must say that those next five weeks were the best five weeks of my life. The first two weeks while I was in the actual hospital, (and no, it’s not like a mental hospital you see on tv — we didn’t shuffle around the halls in our bathrobes with stringy hair) things were pretty tough. Long sessions with the psychiatrist were so draining. And of course because of my recent health scare, I was seeing the medical doctor on a daily basis. We had group sessions in the hospital, but I was pretty quiet in most of them. I still could not figure out how to talk about my feelings. After all, I had kept them bottled up for 60 years and had to learn how to talk. The kids and Sandra had to come up for a family session and that was Hell — pure Hell. Once I moved to the group house, I pretty much didn’t have a choice to not talk. We stayed in group sessions, group therapy, and individual therapy sessions from 8 until 12 each day and then again from 1 – 5. Dinner at 6 and then from 7 – 9 each night we had to attend either an AA, NA, or an EA (Emotions Anonymous) meeting. Since they had AA meetings 5 times a day, I seemed to gravitate to them. Although at one meeting, I had to confess that I felt guilty feeling so at home there since I really didn’t drink nearly enough to qualify to attend. (I had finally gotten a bit of my humor back, I guess.) Although those were the hardest 5 weeks of my life — full of introspection — those five weeks literally saved me; they gave me a life worth living or at least a roadmap I could follow to find that life. Upon returning home, I was introduced to my miracle worker, Roz. I have spent all these years since leaving Atlanta going to Macon to meet with Roz, talking, crying, cussing, praying, crying some more, and talking some more. In the beginning, I saw her 3 days a week then weaned off and last summer I decided I didn’t need Roz any more. (BIG Mistake) I was able to deal with life and with Betty. Or so I thought. There had been many times during these years when I had fallen back in the hole, when I wanted nothing other than to isolate. Thankfully, Roz understood and talked me out of the hole each time. Sometimes, it took a while to do so, but I finally reached a point where I could see the hole for myself and could avoid it, but, if I wasn’t careful, I’d be looking the other way and fall back in it. I am now always aware that those holes are out there and they are ready to gobble me up if I’m not careful. Thankfully, God knew what he was doing when he made “my Roz”.
Sandra’s death on New Year’s Eve drove me back to Roz. While I guess we all expected it at some point, to me it was just so sudden. There were so many things I still wanted her to know and she was just GONE. How could that be? Losing my younger sister, Sonja, had been Hell, but her death was not drawn out like Sandra’s. I just couldn’t handle it. What in the world was I going to do without Sandra? I know I still have KaKa and am so thankful for that. But Sandra was here in Eatonton and when I’d get down, I knew she was just down the street. After her death, I once again retreated to my deep, dark hole for quite some time. I would try to venture out, only to have panic attacks and become an emotional wreck. Most of the time when I talked to my kids, I would grab that “everything is fine” mask. I didn’t want them to know that I was slipping back into that “I’m just tired of it all and really don’t want to be here” emotional roller-coaster again. I promised myself when I left Atlanta that I would never cause them that pain and embarrassment again and I never wanted to disappoint them again. I knew that if they knew the state I was in, they would be hurt and disappointed. Thank the good Lord for Ash. Not sure why, but she made it a point to come to Eatonton at least once a week for lunch. She was my lifeline and was my cover. I always made sure that I had on the “good Grams” mask so that she could report back to her mom that I was ok. There were several weeks that those lunch dates with Ash were the only times I left the house and pretty much the only time I had any verbal contact with anyone besides Roz. (Poor Roz has certainly earned her pay these first 6 months of 2016.) Of course I still had Bella and that poor little dog has pretty much heard it all. (I guess that’s why I spoil her with a weekly Zaxby’s salad.) I have always been extremely good at the art of isolation and I was isolating, big time. My sweet friends, Dru, Mary Helen, and Gail made sure I checked in with them daily on good old Facebook, but I had no desire to see or talk to anyone. Finally, after a killer session with Roz, I reached the top of the hole and could at least see out of it. It’s been hard, very hard, but I’m slowly digging my way out of the hole again and think that I finally see some sunshine.
When I first came home from Atlanta and started seeing Roz, I was still embarrassed about having been in a mental hospital (that just has such a negative sound and we must do something about that) and for all the suffering I had caused myself and my family. I didn’t know what to say to people when they asked where I’d been — it was so hard to admit that I had some real problems. There were some people who knew where I’d been and they were quick to tell me to keep it a secret. I tried that for a while, but finally reached the point where it was important to me to be truthful about where I’d been and why I’d been there. Through my therapy, I have learned that there is no need to be embarrassed. You know that old saying that people are quick to throw out there — if you had a physical disease, you wouldn’t be ashamed to get medical treatment for it, would you? I’m sick of that saying, but I guess it’s true. I have even become proud of the fact that I have “fixed” myself (even though I had not begun the fix willingly and I really wasn’t “fixed”.) But, I reached a point where I could somewhat talk about what an absolute living Hell depression causes and how dangerous self-loathing is and can proudly say that I am truly a work in progress. Hopefully, this post will help others see that there is a light at the top of the hole and it’s worth the effort to get to the light.
Moving back home to Eatonton was a huge part of my recovery. I had spent 25 years or longer scared to death of Eatonton and all the terrible memories that hid behind every tree here. I had been told by someone close to me that I would never be welcomed back in Eatonton and I believed it. I believed it with every fiber of my being. Moving here was the most frightening thing I had ever done. But, you know what? Eatonton is not that scary. I was welcomed with open arms and have reconnected with friends, made new friends, and have been happy here for the most part. There are still days when I go digging through my closet for my old trusty masks — I feel so safe hiding behind them. “Hello. My name is Betty and I am addicted to masks.” But, I know those masks are not good for me. Some people are addicted to drugs or alcohol. I am addicted to my masks and have become so proficient at wearing them, I can fool people so that they have no idea that the mask is on. Sometimes it’s torture to take it off, but I know I must. I cannot go back to that life of hiding behind them.
Now, I’m sure that some of you are saying, “But, Betty, why didn’t you just trust God? Why didn’t you turn to Him when things got tough?” Believe me, I tried. I tried so many times. But, just as many people claim that they had been let down by the “church”, I used that as an excuse also. I spent many years being scared of God. I had trusted Him and had still lived a life of Hell. Why did He let me live that life? I don’t know the answer to that. But my sweet friend, Luann, sat me down one day and told me to trust her if I couldn’t trust God. “Come to bible study with me, Betty. I won’t let anyone hurt you.” It was hard. Oh, Lord was it hard! But, I slowly began to hear the whispers of God telling me to trust Him. Then, Elaine C. and Rudy H. invited me to come to Liberty Chapel. I remember telling Rudy one time that I didn’t know if I could actually go back into a church and his response was, “Betty, you will receive nothing except LOVE at Liberty Chapel.” And Elaine wouldn’t give up. She constantly texted me, inviting me to come to church. I am so thankful that I finally listened to them and gave it a try. And they were right. I have never received anything except Love. And that has been such a blessing. It is good to have God back in my life and I realize that the hurt I received in the past from the church was their problem, not mine.
One of my biggest problems has always been that I don’t know how to handle it when people are “nice” to me. I’ve never felt that I deserved anyone’s kindness. Isn’t that silly? But, I had spent the first 18 years of my life being told that I was not worthy and I believed it. (I won’t tell you what Roz says to me when I say something like that, but some of you are probably saying the same thing.) I won’t talk about my marriage out of respect for my children, but those 25 years did nothing to break the spell that Dad had cast upon me. Most people yearn for niceness and I try my best to steer clear of it. I’m scared to death of it, to be truthful. I become an emotional wreck and have no idea what to do at that point. I’ve always felt that if someone is nice, they are just faking it until they can figure out how to hurt me. And, yes, I know in my head that all people are not like that, but knowing something in my head and feeling it in my heart don’t always jive. I am trying to overcome those feelings and most of the time, I can talk myself out of the distrust. Hopefully, I will soon reach a point where I can give love and also receive it.
I think my biggest desire is to be able to freely GIVE love without being afraid that I will have to pay the price for it. To me, being able to give love is more important that actually receiving it. I know that even at my lowest point, when I couldn’t even stand myself, there were people out there who loved me. I have loving children and grandchildren who think that the sun rises and sets in their Grams. I have dear, dear friends who have loved me through the bad times. I have a church family who, I believe with all my heart, loves me. The problem is that I don’t love me and because of that, I find it hard to believe that the love I give to others is accepted by them. Maybe once I learn how to give it, I will also receive it with gratitude. I pray for that constantly. I so want to be the real Betty. But, in reality, after all these years, there may not even be a real Betty. I may have to build a new Betty.
I have always yearned for love and acceptance and realize now that one of the reasons that God did not let me die all those years ago was because He wanted me to actually experience it. I can now thank Him for that. I’m not mad at you anymore, God.
Back to the present — I have finally reached a point where I can get back out there again, but it’s hard. It’s really hard. There are more times of sunshine and happiness, but they don’t last. There are times of real clarity when I can see the weaknesses and can see the solutions. But, those times don’t last either. I know I told Roz once that it seems as though the bad times are much worse now but I think it’s because I can see how good the good times are. Back in the day when there was nothing but depression, I was no longer aware of “good” so it fooled me into believing that the “bad” wasn’t really that bad. That probably makes no sense to any of you, but it makes perfect sense to me. If I could show it in a graph, you would see many “good” spikes way up there in the 70% – 90% range and then comes along a “bad” dip way down at the 10% – 40% range. The way down to that dip is just so damn far and it’s so hard to make that climb back up to the good spike. If you live in either place — the spike or the dip — after a while, it just becomes natural and it is only when you fall again into the bottom of the dip that you realize how absolutely terrible that dip is. Thankfully, I haven’t hit that 10% dip in many a year, but I always know it’s there and I’m always afraid of it. I also don’t think I’ve made it above the 90% range either because I’ve never learned to fully trust — be it life, or people, or myself.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited with my Pastor and had a long talk. I must say that he and his sweet wife were able to set my heart at ease about some of the things that have truly bothered me for so many years. I don’t think that I’m fully at peace with myself yet, but I do know that my past is not my fault and that God loves me, no matter what. And that knowledge brings me peace.
So, while it’s been 7 years since I was supposed to have died, I’m still here. I’m aware of the progress that has been made. I’m aware of the fact that the hole is still there. I’ve visited the hole several times, but I’ve climbed out each of those times. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve loved a lot. I’ve been loved a lot. I’ve trusted some. I’ve learned what not to trust. I’ve still been hurt by others and I’ve been hurt by me. But, I’m here. I’m still learning and I’m still trying. I guess, in the end, that’s what’s important. So, Happy Anniversary to ME.
THOUGHTS ABOUT MY THOUGHTS: I dread this day each year because I know it is a day of introspection and that’s always tough.
TODAY’S FEELINGS BAROMETER: Still dealing with a terrible ear infection or something, but will be seeing my doctor tomorrow so am looking forward to some relief. The biggest problem (besides the bleeding and the pain) is that I can hear almost nothing. The roaring and clashing and banging in that ear is driving me pure mad.