Comedian, Paul Gilmartin hosts a podcast called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. I recently was honored to be a guest on his show, speaking about my recovery from mental illness. Recovery has meant so much to me that I want to give back now that I am able. Doing the podcast was a great way for me to spread the word that people can get better from mental illness. I have seen it first hand, in my own life and countless others. Recovery is a reality. I think it is so important for people to know this because it gives hope and helps combat the ignorance of stigma. I thank everyone who has been and continues to be a part of my recovery. I thank everyone who is willing to listen to the podcast and appreciate the followers of my blog!
As I lay in the hospital, I thought for the first time about my future. Never had I really cared before about what was to come in my life. As I stared at my arm, hurt and fear throbbed in my heart. I then realized the lives I had damaged of the people I loved the most. I needed to say those four words that I had never thought I would say in my lifetime. “Help me, I’m sick.”
As always my mom was by my side in that hospital room. So I turned to her and for the first time broke the silence of all the suffering I had endured. I confided in her that I was scared of dying because secretly I embraced life. “Please find me a place that I can go to get help for my cutting”, I pressed. Being the pillar that she was and is, my mom took my hand and ran her hand through my hair, “I’m on it.”
Because of my cut I was sent to the psychiatric hospital yet again. This time, unlike the others, I had determination with the glimpse of a goal. That first day during visiting hours my mom and dad came in to see me with smiles on their faces. They filled me in on research they had done the night before about a hospital in Chicago called S.A.F.E Alternatives. It was the place for people who wanted to stop self-injuring. At that moment, without any hesitancy I agreed to give the place a call.
A short time after discharge from the hospital, I found myself with my suitcase in hand boarding a plane bound for Chicago. Upon arrival, the totality of what I was taking on built up and my whole being quivered with anxiety, but unlike other times I pressed on. Slowly but surely, I took my first step into recovery. That month in Chicago was some of the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Every day, all day, I sifted through my past, present and future in seven hours of therapy. I worked like I had never worked before helping myself heal, learn and grow. The transformation that happened was life altering.
The year was 2001 when I spent the month at S.A.F.E. and it is with tears in my eyes that I can proudly say I have been injury free ever since. It seems like a lifetime ago, these last 12 years, since I have cut. The remnants from those days of suffering that stick with me the most are the physical scars I see daily running up and down my arms. The difference is today I have learned to see them not as a failure, but as war wounds and signs of triumph. Today I can truly say to myself, “I love you,” and mean it.
Monty, Madison and Sherman are just a few of my recovery supports. These supports listen at anytime and no matter what I say they love me. In my darkest moments just knowing they rely on me for life has kept me alive. Yes, I consider them my children even though they are not of the human kind. They are my furry and feathery pets.
Through the years of my illness I have had pets. Their enthusiastic unconditional love is always apparent If it is my ferrets licking my chin or my bird climbing up onto my shoulder I knew they needed me.
I have been inpatient in psychiatric hospital 80 plus times during my dark days and the one thing I always made sure I packed in my bag was a scrapbook containing pictures of their precious faces. During these stays I would covet that book, flipping through the worn pages I saw hope. My longing to see them again turned into determination to get better, to move forward and integrate back into society.
Being released from the hospital was always overwhelming. Although I felt ready to go back out into the world it never failed to seem overstimulating. After being in the mundane setting of a hospital, where all I seemed to do is eat, sleep and take medication the outside world moved at an unsettling speed. It was coming home to my sanctuary and holding their soft little bodies is when I knew life was worth living.
Dissociation has been a counterproductive coping mechanism I developed from childhood. I often have times when I feel outside my own body and have difficulty returning. One of the tools I use is cradling my pets in my arms, using all of my senses to help bring me back to myself. It never fails that the pattering of their tiny hearts brings focus on my own beating heart returning me to feeling alive.
If I was a psychiatrist I would prescribe pets as part of the medication regime. I would write a script directing myself to hold at least one pet, several times a day. I would recommend laughing at their antics, care for their needs and have a heart to heart conversation everyday.