permission to duplicate was granted by the author
They said I would never get better. I would always be mentally ill. They said I wouldbe in and out of mental hospitals the rest of my life. I could never be the person I wasbefore my mental illness. I made up my mind in the mental hospital that I wouldprove them wrong. I would get better and help others know they could too.
The year was 1977, just two years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a patientinstitutionalized for 15 years who brought a suit for release and won. As a result,250,000 mental patients were deinstitutionalized after years of hospitalization. Atthe time, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska. I had lived there since 1957, when I wastwelve years old. Beginning in May 1974, my husband and I had gone through sixmajor crises in an eight month period that led up to my getting mentally ill. Becauseof the enormous, chronic stress I was under, I broke not only mentally, but physically,socially and spiritually as well. Beginning in July 1976, I started hearing voices andhad to quit work. I had no insight as to what was happening. Although I was onThorazine, I was not getting any better. I continued to hear voices, experiencehallucinations, and became delusional. I couldn’t function any longer as a wife andand mother. I was out of control and my life was falling apart. By January 1977, Iwent into the Alaska Psychiatric Hospital after becoming delusional and thinking I wasthe Virgin Mary.
The Alaska State Police were called to escort me to the mental hospital. Withintwenty minutes of signing myself in, I was forced drugged against my will. This had avery negative effect on me. It set me up to resist treatment and medications aftergetting out of the hospital. It was just one more traumatic event added to the othersthat had led up to my institutionalization.
I wanted to get better right from the beginning. However, I didn’t find any supportfrom professionals. I was very frustrated. I asked if there were any groups of peoplewho had been mentally ill and had gotten better. I wanted to meet with them. I wastold there weren’t any such groups because people with mental illness did not getbetter. I asked if I could have just one person’s name that had been in my situation. Iwas told that confidentiality laws prevented the professionals from giving me anynames. I felt as if I had both feet nailed to the floor. I felt alone. I felt hopeless. However, this didn’t stop me. It made me more determined than ever to keep myresolve to get better. I was very frustrated. They told me I was denying my illness. Iwasn’t denying it. I accepted my illness.
wasn’t denying it. I accepted my illness.
My whole life had collapsed around me and it seemed like there wasn’t anything Icould have done to prevent it. But living with mental illness the rest of my life wasnot something I wanted to do. I wanted to sleep all the time, making it difficult tofunction on a daily basis. The simplest tasks were no longer easy to perform. Myfrustration gave way to tears, self-pity, and resentment. I wanted answers and themental health system didn’t have any.
I was told my mental illness was caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. I wastold I had a brain disease. I asked how they knew this. Did they take any tests todetermine this? 1 didn’t remember my blood being tested for any such thing. I wasnever given any answer. 1 was put on Thorazine. Thorazine made me sleep too muchand slowly my will was being destroyed. I felt flat and empty inside. Besides, I hadthe Thorazine shuffle when I walked; I drooled and my tongue stuck out from time totime. It was very embarrassing. I didn’t know these were side effects to themedication. No one had told me this. I thought I was much more mentally ill than Iwas. I was overmedicated from 1976 to the end of 1980. I seemed to be a zombie onThorazine.
After I got out of the mental hospital, I asked my psychiatrist what happened to me. His only comment was, "What the hell do you care?" He was very flippant about it. Hesaid he would not tell me because it was not in my best interest to know. It took methree months to build up the courage to go back to the mental hospital and ask thesocial worker what had happened. He explained that I had an acute paranoidschizophrenic episode. He was very kind to me when we talked. He tried to answermy questions and help me understand. I found it very difficult to understand at thispoint. Mostly, I felt hurt and humiliated and I just wanted it all to go away.
December 1978, my husband decided to divorce me and left me with two youngchildren. I wanted to work. My conscience told me I had to work. I had to face realityif I wanted to get well again. My therapist tried to convince me to go on welfare; toget food stamps; to get housing assistance; to get aid for families with dependentchildren. I told her that, in good conscience, I couldn’t do that. I wanted to getbetter. She told me, "You can’t make it without welfare. You will fail and you willlose your children." We argued about this on several visits, until finally I told her Icouldn’t see her any longer because she was trying to force me to go against myconscience. I knew what I had to do to get better. What I wanted was to find a doctorand therapist who would support my desire to be healthy again.
I changed doctors and therapists. I wanted to find someone that believed I could getbetter and who would help me know what I had to do to get better. I finally found adoctor that said, "I don’t know" when I asked him if I could get better. For the firsttime, someone didn’t tell me "no" or that "people with mental illness did not getbetter." He gave me hope. For the first time, I had a glimmer of hope! He told mefollow up and records were not maintained on people who stopped seeing theirdoctors. He said there was no way of knowing whether people stopped seeing theirdoctors because they got better or because they were still sick and just stoppedseeing them.
I was mentally ill for eight years. Through those eight years, I developed a burningdesire to get well. My sister had given me a book called "Think and Grow Rich." Shetold me if I followed the principles in the book that I would get better. No one hadtold me that before and it stirred something very curious in me. I read that book andI could not put it down. The theme of the book was "whatever the mind can conceiveand believe it could achieve." It really made me think. I could identify with thestories of people in the book. I not only began to think about the principles, but Ibegan to act on them. Things began to happen for me. I continued to be mentally ill;I continued to break down; but there were long stretches in between the breaks andthey didn’t last as long as the ones before. I was beginning to get healthier as mythinking became healthier. Using the principles, I began to believe in myself. Iaccepted myself just the way I was. I wrote things down on paper about myself;things that I needed to change and things I couldn’t change. I started thinking aboutthe things I wanted to do with my life when I got better. The more I learned to think,the more I learned how to get better. I learned how to forgive the hurts of the pastand to let them go. I learned to plan for the future, but to live just one day at atime. I learned that if I just changed one small thing about myself today, that I wouldbe building a healthier tomorrow for myself and my children. There were many thingsI had to change about myself so that I could be free of mental illness. It was not aneasy thing to do. It was a lot of hard work. There were many, many disappointmentsand setbacks. The most important thing was not to give up and to challenge mythinking to believe that because I am, then I can, and I will achieve mental health. Istopped blaming and I took responsibility.
I really needed the support of a lot of people, too, in order to make it. I surroundedmyself with people who believed I could do it, even though they didn’t know ofanyone who had. They were possibility thinkers; just because something had not beendone did not mean that it couldn’t be done. Every time I would say, "But, I can’t dothat because I’m mentally ill," my sister would say, "Can’t never could. And if you sayyou can’t do something, then you could never do something. You have to at least tryit." I went out and I found jobs and I worked. My employers and fellow employeesknew I was mentally ill, but they supported me in my desire to work and theyencouraged me to keep on trying. When I broke down, they were there for me. I felthumiliated and embarrassed after a breakdown, but they never reminded me of theembarrassing things I did. They only told me how happy they were that I survived andthat I was getting stronger and better every day.
It took me eight years to learn all the things I needed to learn in order to regain mymental health. It wasn’t just changing my eating habits, or taking vitamins that didit. It was a combination of many things that I had to learn to change me so that Icould be healthy. It was being able to live in the community, to be able to work, tobe accepted by myself and others, it was taking responsibility for myself, it waslearning how my mental illness was hurting the people that loved me, it was awillingness to change myself to become all that I wanted to be. It was accepting theillness, but working toward health. I have now been free of mental illness, drugtherapy, and psychotherapy for eight years. I want to share this with others: patients,families, professionals, communities, corporations, and religious organizations. Mental health can be a reality for even the most seriously ill people. People need the
Mental health can be a reality for even the most seriously ill people. People need thehope that others have done it and how they did it.
As I stated when I was in the mental hospital, I made up my mind that I would getbetter and I would help others know they could too. Currently, I live in the Chicagoarea. I am developing a speaking business to promote mental health and to educateand train professionals, patients, families, communities, corporations, and religiousorganizations. My workshops give hope and encouragement to all.
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Revista Theos – Revista de Reflexão Teológica da Faculdade Teológica Batista de Campinas . Campinas: 6ª Edição, V.5 - Nº2 – Dezembro de 2009. ISSN: 1980-0215. A Teoria da Memória Coletiva de Maurice Halbwachs em Diálogo com Dostoievski : Uma Análise Sociológica Religiosa a partir da Literatura. Claudinei Fernandes Paulino da Silv Este artigo propõe dialogar Maurice