I have been in this parish for 10 years. During that time, I have volunteered early and often at various events in the life of this parish. During that time, I have also been hospitalized 10 times in the psychiatric ward, had 4 rounds of ECT, and take as many as 7 different medications daily so that I am able to be that active member of our St. Justin Martyr community. I have a debilitating lifelong mental illness diagnosis that I have been fighting along with my family, quietly for fear of what people will think. I have been battling borderline personality disorder, PTSD, recurrent depression and Bi-Polar disorder for these past 24 years.
There were times when, due to the trauma I endured in my formative years, I was so ‘lost’ in my head, I thought I was a burden to my family and friends, a waste of a social security number. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Rock bottom happened when my one friend, my lifelong rock, invited me to coffee and said “I cannot help you and I cannot handle it anymore.” I was devastated. Not knowing where to turn, I followed my psychiatrist’s recommendation and left for treatment at a long term care facility. There, light began to shine, and I was with people where we could ‘hurt together.’ That became the starting point of my ongoing healing and acceptance – a battle that I fought and still fight daily.
The birth of our third child brought an unexpected return of ‘the darkness’. What was hardest about this round, is that there were other parishioners at SJM with more ‘obvious’ diseases – and the visible outpouring of support (which I, too, offered) for them was amazing. Yet I was suffering and struggling just as much as they were, but seemingly alone, without the support and prayers because of the stigma of mental illness. The day that a few of the moms from my son’s class came by and expressed their concerns and desire to help meant the world for me. That ten minutes changed me. Maybe I was not worthless. And I was NOT fighting this alone.
Mental illness is a disease process just as cancer and arthritis are. Some mental illnesses, like some diseases, can be cured, and others, like mine, will be a lifelong sentence. We can be treated with medication, therapy and prayers. And all the human signs of support people pour out for cancer and diabetes patients – like bringing a meal for the family, stopping by for coffee, rounding up baby sitters to cover while doing doctor visits – are the very things that allow us to manage our disease process. You know your act of kindness, in whatever form it is given, is not going to heal them. Yet that act of kindness can be the gateway to so much good. The same is true for those battling mental illness. Showing care is all you have to do.
So, I continue to manage my disease. There are easy days. And hard days. And days in between. There are things that medications and treatments can do. And things that human compassion and caring can do. My hope in writing this is to break the ‘mental illness stigma.’ One in four adults will suffer major depression in their lifetime. It is time they know they don’t have to fight that battle alone….
As we hear stories like this, let us remember as a St. Justin community to always be welcoming to those with mental health issues and to continue to lift them up in prayer just like we would for anyone else. Saint Dymphna is the patron saint for mental illness:
” Good Saint Saint Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the health of the sick, in my present need. We ask that those suffering from mental illness feel God’s comfort and peace. Saint Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to them for me and obtain our request.”
For any who wish to share your story of your mental health journey, you may submit your article directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.