Archive for May, 2021

20 Years

Twenty years ago I told my therapist that there was something wrong with me.  I told her that it was like I was in a long hallway and was watching as everyone around me easily opened one of the many doors.  I, on the other hand, was standing in that hallway trying to open every single door only to be seemingly locked out and trapped in this hallway.  During that same time period, I attached to relationships with friends in toxic ways, was chastised by an unsympathetic professor for showing up to class looking like I just rolled out of bed, and began engaging  in risky behaviors centered around money, alcohol, and sex.  I was trapped in a vicious cycle of unhealthiness and didn’t know how to break free.  I was eventually referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. That diagnosis meant that the only way things were going to get better would be by taking medication.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

A few years later, as I was working in Bosnia, these behaviors intensified as did wild swings between the some of the darkest thoughts I had ever experienced and a sense of hyper-religiousity.  As a result, I continued to bring toxicity to the relationships I had with others.  I also used alcohol to try to numb away the feelings I was having.  In the end, my unhealthiness contributed to the downfall of the ministry I was involved in, and I left a trail of brokenness and pain for others who did not deserve it.

When I moved back to the States, it became more and more clear that something inside of me was truly not right.  My wild mood swings continued to intensify, and my world was dark.  I again was referred to a psychiatrist and again was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  This time around, I desperately wanted to be healthy so accepted the diagnosis the best I could and began taking psychotropic medications.

The next stop for me was seminary.  I had a dream of being a mental health provider for missionaries and other Americans working overseas.  However, I was so unhealthy, I knew that dream would likely never come to fruition.  I worked hard during seminary to begin the process of becoming healthy.  I worked with an amazing therapist to process the childhood sexual abuse of which I had been a victim and to gain coping skills to help manage my mood swings.  

It was a long road that I began to venture down, and that journey continued into my marriage.  While I had a great therapist when I got married, I still was not on the most effective cocktail of medications, so my mood swings were still intense, and I continued to bring toxicity into other relationships and use alcohol to numb myself.  I still had my dream of becoming a mental health provider, yet knew that in my current state, that dream too was out of reach.  This left me feeling lost.  It fractured my sense of self and sense of purpose.  My marriage was strong, but I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be.  I had children and while that was fulfilling, my pregnancies and births of my children were accompanied by yet another round of terrible darkness – the kind of darkness that I couldn’t begin to see myself getting out of.

Now…20 years after this journey began, I am amazed to be more healthy and whole than I’ve ever been.  I have a great therapist and great psychiatrist.   I am on the best combination of medication that I’ve ever been on.  I’m getting the right amount of sleep, my moods are in check, and I no longer find myself trapped in the debilitating and out of control cycle of depression and mania.

The most amazing part of it all is that I am healthy enough to be a therapist myself.  It was a dream I had given up on, but here I am.  Part of me has been afraid that the people I hurt so much while unhealthy would be shocked to hear that I work as a therapist now and even think it was dangerous for me to be trying to help others in this capacity.  Yet there is another part of me that knows that my unhealthiest self has prepared me for this.  I feel good about what I do.  I see my clients doing amazingly difficult work, and it is an honor to be sort of a compass guiding them along the way.

Twenty years.  That is what it has taken.  I suppose the point of this reflection may be that dreams should not be given up on.  However, I’ve also developed the realization  that if I wanted to live into my dreams, I had to be willing to do the difficult work of digging deep and becoming healthy and whole.  I discovered that a dream that does not elicit a strong desire to become healthy and whole and does not inspire one to do the difficult internal work to arrive at a healthy and whole place, it is likely that the wrong dream is being pursued.  For me, that dream at one point involved being in ministry, but when I was chasing that dream, I was more motivated to hide my unhealthiness than I was to  heal it.  My work in the mental health field is what inspired me to more vulnerably seek health and wholeness in my own life so that I could help others pursue the same.  I continue to battle with the shame and embarrassment of the damage I have done while not well, but that shame and embarrassment no longer bind me.  The work to move past these emotions will take more time, and I am willing to do the work to get me to a place where I am no longer shackled by them.  

Twenty years.  Twenty hard years.  Yet here I am.  I am healthy.  I am whole.  I am living a dream that I once thought was out of reach.  

Here’s to twenty  more years and twenty more years after that.

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