Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
Plans were not unfolding as I had figured them, and the weather was adding complications. My friend Danita and I traveled to Philadelphia last Tuesday so I could attend a final hearing in divorce court on Thursday. My emotions were a bit high-strung because I was returning to old memories and goodbyes.
I knew, as did Danita, that my need to control the weather and other incidentals was actually fear about dealing with the past, and facing the ghosts that dwell there.
My years in Pennsylvania included suicidal despair, the end of my marriage, and a change of worldview. Going back was nerve-racking except for two planned highlights: visiting Lynne Cannenta,* my individual therapist whose reassurance had pulled me off the ceiling many times; and possibly speaking with a group of people experiencing depression and other emotional distress.
Following a special and happy visit with Lynne, I drove past the building where some of my most overpowering emotions and transformational moments had taken place while attending an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). It is a building where memories move me, and deciding to go in, I was met by a sense of profound wonder.
Several years ago, I had tried to walk down the stairs and froze, paralyzed by dread. This time, only a little hesitation slowed my entrance into the place once awash with anguish to the point of death.
I do not know what I expected to see last Wednesday, but it was a surprise. Gone is the cabinetry, artwork, and big chalkboard. There are no signs with the Twelve Steps and crisis line phone numbers. In their place is a big hole in the wall, an entrance to a new hallway of offices.
Taking in the changes, my eyes landed where chairs used to be. I looked for places I used to sit, where other hurting souls also bore their heartache and desperation. This is where we were given air just as our emotional lungs were collapsing. This is where my life took an unimaginable turn.
So where was the remembered pain? I searched for the shadowy memories of hell and expected to feel sorrow. It was gone, along with the room. I celebrated that I too am not the same. Returning to my car, I joyfully and gratefully sang a little off-the-cuff ditty. “The ghosts are gone, the past is over, all that is left is hope. Looking forward, being me, the ghosts are gone and I am free.”
Three days later, the invitation to speak with the group had come, and I was eager to meet them. Irony did not escape me. You see, I was heading out to the same IOP that I attended twice in 2011. In a new location, there was no connection to the building. However, it is the same psychologist running this program, who for years had worked to convince me of my worth. Friday, I felt I was coming full circle.
Heads nodded as listeners were reminded they are not alone with their scary, confusing thoughts and overwhelming feelings. I shared strategies that work for me to overcome a sense of worthlessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness. They responded openly. I felt the connection to these, my kind of people, as I am certain they did.
Eventually, Dr. Jay* turned to thank me for coming. Something had attracted my attention the whole hour, and I said, “Before I go, I have a question for Dee.*”
“Sure,” he said.
Facing one of the women in the group, I asked, “Dee, do we know each other?”
“Were we in IOP together long time ago?”
The rest of the group reacted in surprise. Dr. Jay said, “Oh! I wondered about that!” Dee nodded.
Tears choked my voice. “You said something to me back then that altered my life. I asked how it could be okay for me to spend so much time, effort, and money on myself when I should be busy serving other people. Do you remember?”
She nodded again with a faint smile.
“You told me it would be hard to be there for other people when my own needs are not met. You said that by taking the time to gain understanding, I would one day be able to say to someone else who feels hopeless, ‘You can get to the other side.’ Do you remember?”
“Dee, thank you.”
No circle is complete unless it ends where it started. Because of her I saw the value in allowing my mental health to be priority. Offering hope is now what I do as a business, a ministry, and lifestyle. What grander privilege could there be than to remind her, “You too will make it to the other side”?
The ghosts are gone. All that is left is hope.
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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
– picture from Kozzi.com
*not their real names