Where Did I Go

Where did I go when I started my meds

My feelings, my emotions, myself

I didn’t know

I couldn’t see

I thought I was me

But I wasn’t

I was gone, absent, missing

I was numb, couldn’t feel

I saw but wasn’t present

I heard but couldn’t experience

My life, floating by like a dream

Then they were gone

The meds weaned away

The symptoms severe, the price barely worth paying

They held me in their grip

My body threatening me to go back

I couldn’t, I stayed strong, resisted

I could imagine, taste the other side

Vision blurred, mind scrambled, the meds clawing their way out

Then the storm broke

I felt it, like for the first time

Love, anger, joy, sadness

The emotions came strong and swift
I celebrated, couldn’t get enough

Then I was back

The part of me thought lost

I had been in their all along,

Hiding, now feeling, arriving back again

The Shack

I read the book while I was in inpatient treatment. The Shack was a wonderfully helpful book. It allowed me to breach the subject of God for the first time in a long time. I had really pushed God out of my mind. The only time I thought about my faith was to become angry and resentful. I no longer felt love and joy from my faith. Instead, I felt deceived and robbed of the faith I previously had. I no longer could relate to worship music. It felt fake to sing songs of praise and the songs about difficulty made me angry. I couldn’t believe people would sing these worship songs, as I myself had done so many times before. They sang of being willing to suffer, and still rejoice. They talked of hope despite pain. They talked of walking through the valley of the shadow of death and God meeting you there. I just couldn’t relate or I didn’t want to sing such words, as they may come true and things would get worse. I wanted to look God in the face and scream at him. I wanted to physically wrestle with him, hitting him with all my might and crying out. But I couldn’t feel it either way. I had become numb as a form of self preservation.

The Shack, however, opened the door back to my faith. It was non threatening, as it was fiction. It is a story written by a man who was a missionary kid and experienced horrible abuse and suffering as a child. He had written the story, The Shack, due to encouragement from his family. His story telling made God and suffering relatable. Mackenzie Phillips is a father whose daughter, Missy, is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer, while they are on a camping trip. The death threatens the superficial faith his does posses and threatens to tear his family apart. The Great Sadness overtakes him and he can’t see anything else besides his pain. One day, he gets a letter in the mail to return to The Shack where his daughters body was found. He believes it may be from the killer and he sneaks off to The Shack for the weekend, while his family is away. While at The Shack, he encounters God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. Each of them play a different role in his healing.

God appears to Mac as a middle aged back woman. God decides to appear this way because he is neither male nor female. However, Macknezie grew up with an abusive father and God meets him as a woman to take on a nonthreatening form that will bring him comfort. As well, it is to show Mackenzie that he only thinks he knows who God really is. He view of God has been warped and skewed by his life experiences. Mac spends time with the Holy Spirit, gardening and realizing that though the garden appears a mess, from above, it is been turned into a beautiful pattern. He just cant see it because it is not his design. Jesus spends time carving in the woodshed and then takes Mac to see The Judge. She helps Mac to see that he is angry because he believes his own ways are right and good. However, he is biased and selfish. She shows him that Mac needs to forgive the killer for what he has done. Mac disagrees and wants to tell God to judge this man harshly. As an example, He asks Mac to choose which of his own children should go to hell, as they have sinned against Mac through lying, anger, withholding love, amongst other things. Mac resists the choice, finding the suggestion bogus. The Judge forces him to decide, since Mac seems to want to tell God what to do in his own life. Mac, finally, decides that he would rather go to hell himself than allow his children to pay the penalty of their own sin, because he loves them all. The Judge helps Mac to see God in the same light. Both Mac and the killer are God’s children. God wants redemption for all, he wishes that none should perish. That is why he gave his own life instead. Mac realizes that when we hold onto pain, hold it against God, and think our ways are better, we become trapped. We get bogged down in our grief. We have to learn to trust that the Lord loves us and everyone else. When we forgive others and ourselves, we walk into freedom.

At the end of the weekend, God takes Mac on a walk to find Missy’s body. They bring her back and bury her in the wooden box Jesus had carved and place her in the middle of the beautiful garden the Holy Spirit has created. Mac is able to forgive the killer and trust that God is for him.

Mac returns home and on the way back is in a car accident. When he wakes up in the hospital, he finds out that the car accident occurred on a Friday night and he never made it to The Shack. He, however, refutes this story and shares what happened with his family. In the end, he follows the markings God showed him in the woods. They lead to Missy. As a result, the police find the other girls whose bodies the killer had hidden. The killer is caught as well. In the end, Mac is able to forgive the killer and rest knowing that his child is safe with the Lord. He realizes that God never left him and his faith is changed forever. He becomes a free man and walks in a lighter spirit, as a result of his time at The Shack.

This story was so life bringing to me. I had spent so much time being angry at God. I was determined that his way was wrong, and was showing him to be unloving toward me. I had decided to be the judge in my situation, as well. I didn’t want to forgive the hospital staff for killing my brother and I didn’t want to trust the Lord that he was doing what was best for my life. That anger had separated my heart from embracing the love of Christ. It had drawn me deeper into a place of darkness, where I could no loner hear from the Lord. The destruction my anger had caused threatened my very life. After surrendering to God’s will and trusting in his love for me. I began to have a renewed spirit. A peace returned to my heart and mind, and I was able to begin seeking the Lord again.

Today is Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day. A day filled with joy, love, happiness, laughter. A day of celebration. But not for you, today is a day of pain. Today is a day of sadness. While others smile, your heart is aching. While mother’s hold new babies. You heart is breaking. You are longing for chubby fingers and toes. You long for snuggles and arms that are full. Instead, you feel the emptiness. You feel unseen. You feel pain.

Today is Mother’s Day. A day filled with joy, love, happiness, laughter. A day of celebration. But not for you, today is a day of sadness. Your mom is gone. You heart has a hole. An empty space. The grave is your meeting place. Pictures, movies, and memories are all that are left. You miss her, want her near. You long for one more day together. One more hug, one more kiss, one more “I love you.” But there won’t be any. You pain feels too great to bear. The grief overwhelms.

Today is Mother’s Day. A day filled with joy, love, happiness, laughter. A day of celebration. But not for you, today is a day of suffering. You see mothers and children. You see their laughter, you see their love. But your heart can’t understand. Your mother wasn’t there. You were abandoned. You didn’t get to know. You didn’t get to see. There are no memories. Their is no longing for better days and better times. There is just the unknown, the abandon, the rejection.

Today is Mother’s Day. A day filled with joy, love, happiness, laughter. A day of celebration. But not for you, today is a day of sorrow. Your memories are filled with hurt and physical pain. There was yelling, hitting, fear. Your childhood was no childhood. There was no one there for you. The ones that were supposed to love you, protect you. They hurt you. They didn’t see your worth. You grew up too soon. Your suffering and pain were too great.

Today is Mother’s Day. A day filled with joy, love, happiness, laughter. A day of celebration. But not for you, today is a day of aching. While others celebrate their love with family, you feel lost. Yours is a day you wish could pass without incident. You do not want to want to go to church. You don’t want to put on a fake smile. You don’t want to pretend that this day is wonderful. You want to escape.

Know that you are seen. Your are known. Your story matters. You are not alone in your pain. We stand strong together, as a group of women. We are united in stories. You have value, you are to be celebratedfor who you are today. You are not defined by your history or circumstances. You are loved.

To You on Mother’s Day

You carried me,

combed my hair,

snuggled in when days were hard,

You wiped my tears and spoke kind words,

carried me when I was too weak to stand,

You stayed up late,

clothed me in love,

held my hand,

sang me songs,

You tucked me in,

You held me tight,

made my lunches,

educated me,

You walked with me through dark days,

You bought my prom dress

planned my wedding,

gave me courage when I had none,

You held my babies,

wiped away my tears,

You were there for me when others won’t,

You sacrificed yourself, devoted your life to mine,

You grew me, raised me, set me free to fly,

You were and are my biggest fan and best friend,
You gave me all you had,

You are mine

This Mother’s Day, mom, I want you to know how much I appreciate you. You have given me all of you. You have been my rock and my best friend. You are my constant. I love you more than words can express. This day and all days, I love you.

Love,
Your Daughter

Oceans

April 17, 2016

“I miss Hunter. I miss him so much I feel as if I can reach out and touch the sorrow. I want to touch his hand, hug him, talk to him for a few minutes. I don’t want to do life without him. It still takes my breath away. I wish he could see this and interact with me some way, any way. I started reading The Shack. It is powerful but hard to read. The storyline is so relatable.

The medicine is helping. I feel like myself almost completely, minus a stomach virus. I am hoping to go home in the next few days. That way, we can go to “Dayout with Thomas” in Chattanooga next weekend. I should find out tomorrow.”

The grief was all consuming and unbearable. There is a song by Hillsong United called Ocean.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

It was what I felt I was being asked to walked through. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of sorrow, no longer even coming up for air. I was sinking. I felt like the Lord had found an area where I wasn’t able to trust him and he was calling me to walk through this. I felt like he was taking me past any place in my faith I would accidentally stumble into. I felt that he was dragging me down into the depths. I truly felt he had a lesson to teach me there. This place that I would never chose to go on my own. This place that was painful, and ugly, and humiliating, and beautiful. I couldn’t yet see the beauty. I couldn’t yet see how my faith would be made stronger. I was angry. Very angry with God. I used to say that if he and I were in a room, I would run full strength, crash into him, and start pounding him with my fists. I couldn’t see the light for the darkness. It was all consuming. I couldn’t understand how my Savior would not only take my brother, but my sanity, my chance to breast feed, eventually he would take my job. I was completely incapacitated. I would learn, with time, this was the place I had to be. That my Savior loved me so much, he couldn’t let me live in my crippling pain. He couldn’t allow me to continue to be self-reliant. He couldn’t allow me to continue in my anxiety and stress. He was going to deliver me into a place of freedom. It was, however, going to take time and pain and struggle. The fight was going to to get harder before it got easier.

If you are in a place of pain and struggle. I promise it will eventually get easier. I want to encourage you to feel what you need to feel. Ask questions of God, yell at him, be angry, step away for awhile. He loves you and he is there for you. He is not afraid of you pain and sorrow. He is not afraid for you to take time away. He knows your pain. He is not afraid of your questioning or seeking. He was the father to the prodigal son, waiting for him to come back. He was the Savior that spoke to Peter with love and compassion even though he would deny him. He is there for you. He will wait for you. He will sit with you, even when you can’t hear him. He will welcome you back with open arms, when you are ready to face him again. He loves you.

A New Arrival

April 14, 2016

“Positive ways to cope with stress! I am so thrilled by the coping skills I have learned. I want to continue to read, journal, color mandalas, paint, do yoga, take hot baths, be mindful, do meditation. I have got to find a balance between doing things independently and asking for help. I need to continue to use yoga to help me cope. The transition home won’t be easy while I use these skills, but it should get better.”

April 15, 2016

“Today was a much better day. My symptoms of blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tremors are nearly gone. We got to go outside, go to Starbucks, cook, and do art. It was a fun Friday! At dinner time, Brian surprised me by bringing Judah. I went bananas! I was so excited. What a truly blessed day.”

Yoga was such a vital part of my healing in the hospital. This was a new way of working out for me. It was not a fitness yoga but a meditative one. It was slow and focused. Meditation was a key component. It was nice to take time to focus on my core self without distraction. It was a pleasant feeling combined with releasing of hormones related to exercise. Those endorphins feel so good. As well, Shavasna was incredibly healing. It was such a peaceful and reflective time. Our instructor would position us and we would go into a deep meditative state. I would go into a state of prayer usually ending with crying. She would also walk around and massage us during this time. It was so healing. After I was finished, it was always like a burden had lifted. I highly recommend it as a coping skill and process toward healing.

The medication side effects were debilitating. It was unexpected. I found myself falling over into the wall. During yoga, I could not balance well at all. Even kneeling was a chore. The tremors added to the difficulty. I found it hard to eat my breakfast or write in my journal. My hands were unsteady and weak. The weakness prevented me from doing many of my daily exercises and participating in scheduled activities. It was not only challenging. It was scary. I was afraid, as they could be, they would be permanent. I remember leaving the hospital and being scared we would have to move because my thigh weakness wouldn’t let me go down stairs without falling. These symptoms, however, were only temporary. The cogentin kicked in and the symptoms faded. Eventually, I was able to wean off cogentin. They symptoms were only temporary.

Judah arriving was the lift I needed to make it through the end of treatment. My husband was with me everyday. It was hard, however, to watch so many of the patients with their babies. I wanted mine so badly. I loved him, and the separation was hard. I had even taken down pictures of my family. The pain of missing them exacerbated my symptoms. It was such a blessing to see my happy baby come through those doors. His snuggles were the best. It was a joy to even be able to nurse him. As the staff had an expert in psychiatric medications and breastfeeding. They tailored my treatment to support this. It wasn’t until later that I would have to stop breastfeeding all together.

Happy Birthday!

April 9, 2016 – Journal Entry 7

“Happy birthday to me! ‘I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.’ Psalm 34:4”

April 10, 2016 – Journal Entry 7

“My birthday was wonderful! I am blessed. Brian, mom, and dad were there. We had strawberry shortcake from Nantucket Bar + Grill in Chapel Hill, NC. 4 family members sent flowers. We had Ben +Jerry’s assorted ice cream. Some friends sent some strawberries dipped in chocolate from Fannie Mae Berries. My aunt sent a journal with scripture inside and a stuffed giraffe. We celebrated in the day room with the girls on my floor and nursing staff. Then, I pumped and got an hour off the unit pass to walk with my family. We went to the gift shop and bought gifts for my floor mates. A coloring therapy book, a body butter, and a baby blanket. I am so glad to give back to these women. Their needs are so much greater than my own. I love giving back to others. My mom and Brian got into a disagreement about my care. Anxiety swept over me and I started down the spiral. I colored in my therapy book, read a book, did the Emwave, and used my beads to calm myself. I was really withdrawn for about four hours after that. I watched a show and ate Ben + Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice-cream. Finally, I did yoga and went to bed. I slept pretty well last night. I am tired and a little withdrawn today. Overall, a wonderful birthday in the psych ward.”

My thirtieth birthday was spent in the psychiatric hospital. It was a super depressing moment in my life. I felt ashamed and low. 30 is supposed to be a great celebration and I wasn’t even in control of my own choices at the time. However, we made the best of it. We celebrated as much as you could in a psychiatric hospital. The time off the ward with my family was the most special.

The other women on the ward had such needs, that I didn’t want to be the only person getting something that day. We went to the gift shop and picked out presents. My family and doctors were not thrilled. They thought this was a symptom of my illness. I, however, felt otherwise. I was so upset that something as simply as wanting to bless others was seen as a sickness. It increased my shame. After the festivities, we were all in my room together. My mom got upset because she had bought me a boombox for my birthday day. I wasn’t allowed to have it because there was a cord. Her stress and upset started to upset me and to upset my husband. So, my mom and Brian went into the hallway. They got into a fight about my symptoms and my care. It was so upsetting that I had to emotionally detach from their problems. That, I don’t believe, is uncommon for loved ones. The stress of watching the person you love in such circumstances is overwhelming. It would have been better, had I had a plan to deal with such a stressor but hindsight is 20/20. The Emwave helped tremendously. It is a hand held device that helps with breathing and tracks your heart rate. When a certain biorhythm is detected, it turns green and you have calmed down. It is a great tool to help with self-care.

That was the last time I would see my parents until I got out of the hospital. It was so hard to watch them leave so upset. There was nothing I could do, however. The stress caused me to have a relapse of symptoms that affected me for the next twenty four hours. A minor setback, but every one increases your stay.

Dear Hunter

Dear Hunter,

Today would have been your 28th birthday. I wish you could be here to celebrate with us. We are eating dirt dessert, releasing balloons with letters to you, wearing our Star Wars shirts, and watching Star Wars movies. You would have loved it. But you aren’t here. That is something that sounds so simple but took so long to comprehend. Death the end, finality, permanence. I thought with every part of me that I had to grieve you forever. That I had to pay a penance in suffering. I held onto this for so long. It damaged me, nearly killed me.

The pain of loosing you was to much to bear. I lost my brother and best friend, my partner in life. It threatened to take my life and I threatened to take my own. I was sure I would never be able to stand up under the pain. I was sure that everyday would be worse than the last, that the pain would intensify. Then, I realized I needed help. I got a team of therapists, doctors, and family to help me with my pain. I began to talk about you, to process the burden that I carried. The days were long and dark, years passed. I was sure it would never be over. Then, light began to creep in. I reluctantly admitted that I enjoyed it. Joy, that was something that I was afraid to feel. It felt like a betrayal. A betrayal of what I am not sure. It wasn’t a betrayal of my love for you, because I still did. It wasn’t a betrayal of my missing you, because I still did. I wasn’t a betrayal of you, because you are in Heaven. It was a betrayal, however. It was a betrayal of myself.

I wasn’t honoring you, I wasn’t pleasing you with my depression, grief, and suicide attempts. I was creating a monster, an uncontrollable mental illness monster, that wanted to take my life. You, you are at peace. You are walking with the Lord. You are happy. You are whole. Maybe I was trying to honor you wrongly. Maybe the best way to honor you, is to hold your memory with joy. To reflect on the great memories we had and pass them onto my kids.

So today, for the first time, I celebrate your birthday with happiness in my heart and a smile on my face. There is no more sadness. There is peace and celebration. There is freedom from illness and walking in restoration. There is a sense of hope and impending joy on the horizon. There is a chance at a new life, free from the pain of grief. I am not leaving you behind, I am taking you with me. A new day has come. I want to walk on today with your memories in my heart and your stories on my lips. I want to tell that world how amazing you were and how proud I still am of you. That is how I will carry you. That is how I will honor you. Not with pain and anguish but with love and joy. I carry you with me today and always. All of my love. Until we meet again.

Your Loving Sister,
Ashley

The Unit

The Perinatal Unit was unlike anything I had seen yet. The hall had five rooms on it. Four were private rooms with an attached bathroom. The fifth room was one that was shared by two roommates. Two of the girls had already decided to room together, so that I wouldn’t have to share my first day on the unit. It is so nice to know we have some choices. There is a nursing straight through the first set of locked doors. It seats two nurses and is filled with computers. This is where we go with questions and to get our medication. There is a phone and a computer in the hallway. We can actually have internet access when our sessions are occurring. There is, also, a portable computer that can be used in your room.

Here, clothes still can not have any strings. That is to keep us from using them to hang ourselves. We are allowed to use our hairdryer, straightener, curling iron, and makeup but it stays at the nurses station until we need it. If we need to shave, a nurse will come and watch us perform  the task and dispose of the razor after. The meeting room has a dining table, a TV, some chairs, a couch, and a coffee table. This is where we have out sessions and where we can go during free time. At the end of the hallway, there is another set of locking doors.

Our schedule is set. We have scheduled breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu is the complete hospital menu, unlike the restricted menu on the other units. We place our orders in the morning and evening. The meals are delivered to the unit, so leaving doesn’t become an issue. Our therapies include physical therapy/exercise, occupational therapy, counseling, spiritual counseling, yoga (optional). Family can visit for approximately four hours a day, in the evenings. They encourage families to bring the babies, during this time. Mother and baby bonding is so vital as this can be strained due to post partum depression. If we were cleared by our psychiatrist, we would walk off the unit once a day. We would go to Starbucks and then often sit outside and talk. It was so nice to see the sunshine. It was a welcome privilege to be sure.

Standing on a Ledge

April 7, 2016 – Journal Entry 6

Changes to treatment – therapeutic yoga
Lithium – watch for kidney damage, platelet changes, tremors, gait disturbance
Wean off Wellbutrin – thinking it is making my anxiety worse

April 8, 216 – Journal Entry 7

“‘Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.’ – Max Lucado

I am grateful for last nights episode and subsequent desire for suicide. It helped the doctors to see what my mood fluctuations look like and to know how to treat me better.”

I sat in my room. My thoughts were racing. My eyes darting around, trying to see anything I could use to harm myself. “No, stop,” I tell myself. It is not use, the thoughts come barreling back again. If I could just stand up on my bed, I could use the edge of the sprinkler to slice my wrists open. “No, don’t think it, don’t do it, you will be locked up. You will be put in a room alone or sent back to crisis. It is not worth it.” I can’t shake the feeling. The urge consumes me. I can taste the sensation. I can feel the release that would come. The anxiety, the panic, the pain, I can’t make it stop. My breast pump tubing. I could tie it around my neck and tie myself to the bed. It will slow circulation to my brain until I pass out, that will be it. “I can’t do this, I have to stop myself. I can’t risk loosing this unit and its privileges. I have to tell someone.”

It is dark, it is nearly midnight. I shuffle my way to the nurses station in tears. “I think I am going to kill myself, if someone can’t help me.” They immediately respond. The calmly walk me into the common room and sit me on the couch. One nurse stays with me, while the other gets me a towel with lavender. They soak the towel and I press it to my forehead. I take deep slow breaths in and out. The essential oils tingle my nose. Then, there is music. Soft, slow, calm music. It plays lightly in the background. I keep taking my breaths. The nurse rubs my back and tells me she will be back in a few minutes. I sit there in the dark, breathing deeply. A calm starts to come over me. My thoughts begin to slow down. I can feel my tense muscles begin to relax. It is working. After about twenty minutes, I decide to lay down. They cover me with a blanket. I decide to stay in the common room until I am just about asleep. Another twenty minutes, and I am there. I tell the nurses I am no longer suicidal and I go back to my room. That is all it takes. A few minutes. Minutes between life and death. That is what I have needed so desperately. Support, no judgement. I think I am going to get better here.