Our hearts pound with excitement as the roller coaster rolls away from the boarding station. After a deceptively smooth beginning, we find ourselves holding on tight as the ride turns in unexpected directions. We climb steep hills, hoping we’ll make it to the top, only to experience sudden drops that take our breath away. Our bodies get bruised as we swing around sharp curves. We learn to treasure peaceful moments when the click-clack of the tracks signals a slower pace. Fresh air ruffles our hair and we relax our grip. We marvel at the beauty around us as we meander through trees, enjoying the warmth of intermittent sunshine. And then we round the bend to face another hill.

This is life. We live in a complicated world. When mental illness rides with us, our screams are even more intense.

I enjoyed my growing up years. I loved my family, church, and school. I looked forward to our extended family gatherings and summer camping trips. Life was filled with blessings, but not without challenges. My mood swings were evident even as a child. I was self-conscious and uncomfortable in social settings. A true introvert. I managed to break out of my shell in adulthood and hide my extreme emotions, at least from the public eye. I became a devoted wife and mother, loyal friend, and respected volunteer. My husband and I were living the typical middle-class, suburban life, complete with a minivan filled with kids. I was not the type of person who ended up having an emotional breakdown. Or was I?

After years of receiving sporadic and half-hearted treatment for depression, I spiraled down and found it difficult to leave my bed. My husband and children were confused. They felt helpless, and I had no words to explain what I was feeling. Several pain-filled months passed until I crashed. I found myself sobbing in the intake office of a psychiatric hospital, my husband holding my hand and fighting back tears of his own. I was quickly admitted to a ten-day outpatient treatment program.

When I arrived home after my first day, I was overwhelmed by the love and support of my family. Supper was ready. Some of the clutter I’d left behind had been put away. My children hugged me and smiled.

I needed to be healthy. This was my ride. But my family and close friends had willingly climbed on the roller coaster with me.

My life changed when I stepped out of the rubble and into recovery. It is now better than I ever imagined! I find it easier to recognize my blessings. My priorities have shifted, and I recently joined the support staff of a mental health organization. I appreciate my family and friends and realize their support is instrumental in my ongoing recovery. Unconditional love is a way of life. And, my relationship with God is deeper and more personal than ever before.

I live with a mental illness, and life is good. I have hope in the future. And, I’m not looking back.

Caroline

This is the first in a series of blog posts containing personal stories of living with mental illness. Every story is unique, but there is a common thread that goes against stereotypes. Having a mental illness does not prevent me from living a productive, joy-filled, amazing life. 

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