I am a twenty-six year old woman who attended college from 2000–2005. I went into the workforce as an assistant teacher after graduation. It was the Summer of 2006, just as school got out that I began having difficulty concentrating. I went to the hospital to get some help. While I waited for hours without treatment I was convinced that something was wrong. At long last, the nurse arrived with a pill for me to take. It was long and pink. I think it was depakote. I was familiar with the med because I had been prescribed it by my psychiatrist three years prior. Well, I thought that I didn’t need the pill, so I threw it in the trash can. I wasn’t taking the depakote I had been prescribed and I wasn’t about to take it from the hospital. I left the hospital and went to a banquet held by Chosen Ministries. I was feeling better so I thought it was a miracle. I had been healed by the grace of God.
Some time later I began to have delusions. I thought that God was speaking to me and through me. I started speaking in tongues. My behavior had become strange. I was paranoid. I had hallucinations that I was floating and my very own reflection took on an identity of its own. I was fasting and I was extremely tired, but wasn’t getting much sleep.
I was so disoriented, I decided to move back home. Within a few days I was home. After marching down the street with a stick in my hand-holding it like a sword with my violin strapped to my back, chanting, I returned to the house and I crashed.
I was preparing myself for my own death. I was exhausted from life and ready to be called home by God. All I remember is going to sleep very peacefully. But when I awoke I was a different person. I was bewildered and scared and I remember a struggle. I was handcuffed and placed in the sheriff’s car. I was disheveled and thirsty. I thought the arrest was a joke. But I was really headed to be detained. The rest is a blur until I arrived kicking and screaming to East Mississippi State Hospital.
I remember being alone in an empty room. There wasn’t a dull moment in that room. I found all sorts of things to do. The delusions were so vivid. It wasn’t until the call of nature hit me, that I fell back to earth. There was a window high on the door and I noticed people’s heads passing by. So I called out to them. I had to go to the bathroom. When no one came I was dumbfounded. I was going to have to do something that felt like the resort of someone being poorly treated. When the door finally opened, I had been sitting in a pool of urine.
I got a shower. That’s how I knew that I was alive and that somebody cared. After the shower, I had to return to that empty room and wait. I waited for what seemed an eternity. There was something different about the room, there were sheets. I would try the door periodically and one time it opened. I was out of there. I walked down the hall with the sheets in hand. I was told to go back to the room. I protested by yelling out something and the next thing I knew I was in a straight jacket. This was the first time I got to be in a room with a bed. I slept in the straight jacket and by morning I was out of it. Lying there in that jacket I began to realize that I was living and that I had to make an effort to get in touch with reality. When I was released from the restraints I knew I could begin again. I was free and I needed to stay that way.
As the days went by I adjusted to residence life. I began eating the food I was offered. My strength went up and my resistance went down. I was allowed to be around other people. We sat in this room called the day hall. There was a television. There was staff. The staff always tried to make sure I was comfortable. Again, I could see that they cared.
It was only a matter of time before I realized that in order to get well, I would have to show improvement. I would have to say my name. I would have to know what day it was. I would have to know where I was. And soon I would have to know my diagnosis and the meds I was taking.
I wanted to know why I couldn’t leave the unit when all the other girls were able to leave. I learned that they had earned that privilege. So I worked on myself. I wanted to leave the unit. I have an affinity for writing and I wanted a pencil and paper. But I learned that this too had to wait till it was earned.
In special meetings they had in the day hall, I learned how to make my bed. I learned about other people. I learned their names and their diagnoses. I learned their quirks and habits. There wasn’t much to do but observe. I had a nervous habit of walking around the room but I learned to sit still which was very hard for me. Then as I learned to sit, I learned to keep my legs from jumping.
I think the thing that really helped me build towards my recovery was when I looked down the hallway and saw my father. They called my name to come down the hallway. I ran. I couldn’t help it, I was so happy to see him and I flew into his arms. I was able to sit and talk to him. He asked me how I was doing. Fine, I said. Then the nurse came and told me that I would be able to go off of the unit with him. My dad took me to McDonald’s. I ordered a double cheese burger combo with a Hi-C orange drink. I was in heaven and life seemed worth living. When he brought me back to the hospital, I got to tell the staff all about it. My mood was up.
Later, I learned that my diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder and that I was currently depressed. In the groups in the day hall, I was allowed to color. This excited me and I did my best at coloring. In the groups I was able to talk about me and the things I like to do. I learned about others too. I began looking forward to these group meetings.
Finally, the staff said that I could leave the floor with the other ladies and eat my meals. That became somewhat of a problem for me. The waiting to eat was excruciating. I was nervous around all those people. I couldn’t eat very much without getting sick. But at least I got to go out. For that I was thankful. After the meals there were smoke breaks. I just wanted to be out doors so I enjoyed this time despite the cigarette smoke.
After lunch there was a nap time. We had to be in our beds with the lights out. Every time I woke up I was caught in a whirlwind of confusion. People were in the hallway. I was turned around in the excitement. I learned that there was more free time to be had, but I did not have the privileges to go. I would sit in the day hall and watch television while most of the ladies were gone outside.
At night after showers, there was a line to take meds. I used to not have to wait for this line as I was called up to take my meds before the other ladies. But soon I too had to wait in line. I was being given more responsibilities. I was wondering when everything I was learning would fall into place. The answer was with time. Time seemed to be a big factor in my recovery. Everything I’ve said thus far happened in a period of months. It was not overnight.
I began my day by making my bed, getting dressed, and going to eat breakfast. I returned, took my meds and went to the day hall. Then I had groups. Sometimes in group we would exercise and I liked that. We would go eat lunch and return to take a nap. When I woke up, I was asked if I wanted to go outside. I said yes and went out with a buddy. We went to the canteen, a small store where she bought cigarettes. We sat outside and talked. Then before you know it, it was time to go inside. Then we had groups. Then it was shower time and then med time and I went to bed satisfied with my day and how it went.
I was living again. I did this day after day, for months and got to be good at it. And that’s what recovery was to me. Recovering lost time. The more I did what was expected of me, the more time I had to ponder life and enjoy it. I met new people and interacted. I was allowed to go home with my father. I looked forward to seeing my grandmother and my dog.
While I was at home my job was to make sure that I took my meds day and night as directed. This, I had no problem doing. My dad reminded me to take them. It became important to me to take my meds. Especially now knowing what happens when I am off of them. I learned that to prevent a relapse, I would have to stick with my meds.
Each time I returned to the hospital from a successful home visit, I earned more time to be at home. About every month, I looked forward to having an intermittent visit home. My dad brought me a notebook, sketch pad and colored pencils. These items I got to use with more frequency at designated times. Pretty soon, I knew how to manage my time wisely and how to keep my privileges because there were ways to lose them.
My grandmother died while I was at East Mississippi State Hospital. I was able to go to the funeral. I think I stayed home for a week. This was my longest stay before I was released from the hospital. By the time she passed away, I had been at the hospital a total of thirteen months.
I was a veteran. I had learned how to get money from my account to get snacks and call home during my time outside. I got to go to the recreation building to exercise or make crafts on a daily basis. I was allowed to go to the beauty shop to get my hair done. I was wearing makeup and perfume and had my nails done. I was able to join a gospel choir, participate in a talent show, sing karaoke, dance at a worship service and sing a solo. I got to write letters home and draw. And I showed I was paying attention in group by answering questions correctly in order to leave the room when group was over. I was talking to patients and staff. In short, I was making a recovery and showing promise.
Upon my release from the hospital, I showed that I can be consistent in taking my meds. I got linked with Pine Belt Mental Health in Ellisville, MS. There, I met with a psychologist to set up a recovery plan. I meet with a counselor every two to three weeks. I meet with a nurse and the psychiatrist to manage my meds. I attend a Clubhouse where I do clerical work and sometimes assist in the kitchen. I have a fellowship with others who have had mental illness. Included in my plan is the practice of my violin and interaction with close friends.
While my meds have a bearing on my mental health today, I know that building my recovery requires a personal effort. I fight to live everyday and have been successful. I was able to enroll in two graduate courses at a local university and make As in both. Now, I am ready to apply for my certificate to teach. I plan to take an internship as soon as possible and start working towards my master’s degree in the art of teaching. I know I can do whatever I put my mind to and I plan to fight the stigma of having a mental illness. I can be successful with schizoaffective disorder and I can have a normal life.