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Why Community Makes Me Anxious

I was driving when it happened. I vividly saw a teenage boy jaywalking across one of the busiest roads in my city and stepping in front of vehicles that couldn’t possibly stop in time. I stared at him, no one else did. No one else was even looking his way, but there he was, and I couldn’t shake the experience because I distinctly knew that he wasn’t real. My husband was at basic training at the time, and I had never felt more alone. There was no one I could tell who would get it.

Two years before, I admitted myself to a world-renowned psychiatric hospital on Easter Sunday, three days after I turned 25. It felt like the ultimate betrayal to God. I was drowning in shame, and this just magnified that.

A young doctor stood at the end of my bed and asked me questions for over an hour about what had brought me here. I struggled to find an exact reason. It felt more like my life had been oriented to pull me in this direction since I was born.

I thought for a minute about how to answer his question, and I eventually just shrugged and stated as calmly as possible, “It’s a lot of things.” I had learned long ago to minimize my problems, my trauma, myself. As I’m lying on the bleached white hospital bed, hugging the thin sheet to my body, I tried to convince the doctor I had over-exaggerated. I was fine. This was a misunderstanding. He blankly stared at me and said, “People don’t accidentally admit themselves to psychiatric hospitals.”

I grew up in a dysfunctional home. There was a lot of emotional and physical violence. A lot of screaming and intense rage. I maintained my place in that environment and protected myself as much as possible by learning to just not react and to not emotionally respond to situations that hurt me. It made it stop faster. When I was 17, I started to see images of myself dying in all sorts of horrific ways. Driving off the bluff. Drowning. Cutting myself. It started to feel like I was destined to just do it at some point. Then my dad died. Then I developed bulimia. Then I started to self-harm. Then I had two miscarriages. And I guess… I never really dealt with any of this. It caught up to me.

As all of these things are going on in my life, I’m working at a church that I just fell so in love with, and I’m starting to build relationships with people who I greatly admire for their devotion to God, and that cemented my feelings of shame even more.

I don’t belong in the church. I’m a liability. I definitely shouldn’t be working at a church. The last thing I need is any kind of spotlight on my life. Good Christians probably don’t struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. No one could possibly really get to know me and my problems and still like me. This hurts, but I can’t talk about it. It’s not supposed to be a problem. It’s also not fair. I didn’t get a say so in it, but I have to live with it. I don’t know if I know how to do that.

I walked out of the psychiatric hospital holding my personal belongings in my weekender bag from Vera Bradley I had bought on sale for going on spontaneous trips with my husband not for the dramatic moment I’d exit the doors of a psychiatric hospital.

When I was admitted, one of the nurses asked me if I had been there before. I adamantly shook my head, clinging to what felt like the last shred of pride I could hold on to. She said, “Well, usually once you’ve been admitted before, you’ll be back. Some of our patients come in and out several times a year. We’re always here to help.” She meant well. But the thought of “What if… this happens again?” sent me into a panic. I wasn’t ready to add “annual visits to the psychiatric hospital” to my agenda.

I thought back to the moment I decided this was best. I was lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. I hadn’t slept more than 1-2 hours per night for at least a week, and I wasn’t depressed. I was suicidal. I don’t get depressed in the way most people think about depression. I’ve never been the person to lie in bed all day, stop showering, stop eating, and have no energy. I am the person to be a little reckless, drink a little too much, wonder what happens if I take too many pills, and other terrible things that have enchanted my mind.

I’m more stable now. But sometimes when I decide to stay up all night painting or when I drive a little too fast or when I commit to too many things I wonder if I’m unknowingly tracing a path back to the hospital. I’d never know until it was far too late. I can’t draw a definitive line between who I am and where my disorder begins, and that haunts me.

A week after I came home, a connect group a leader asks, “How are things?” I sit in the back of the room, hands folded, listening to a woman talk about her daughter going off to a college, another chimes in that she’s having a grand baby soon, and another says that her blood work came back perfect. Someone else says she was anxious about driving to the airport by herself, but then a friend decided to go with her. God must have answered her prayers.

I can’t make myself interrupt their joy to say, “I was just released from the psychiatric hospital and am doing much better.” No one ever knows what to say when I bring it up anyways. But if I can’t be myself and share my struggles, even if they are hard to hear, what connection am I really forming? I grab my bible and leave wrestling with the distinct feeling of wanting to be known and then with wondering what the ramifications of being known would be.

I related more to the patients at the psychiatric hospital. I miss them. Over the years, I’ve whispered my secrets into the ears of others. But it’s always the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Before I left, I held the hands of a young girl who’s room I shared who had gouged deep cuts into both of her arms. Her mom had kicked her out, and she didn’t anywhere to go. Her boyfriend left her because she was crazy. Her heart hurt. She was anxious. Life felt impossible. So she cut herself. Thick gauze and clear bandages lined her forearms. We wept. We hugged. We talked about Jesus. She promised me she’d get better. I want to believe her.

10/31/2019

I am not a doctor or mental health professional. This site and all of the content on it is not a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition.