I'm a part of a sisterhood; actually, I'd call it a humankind-hood. I'm one of the many on this round planet who daily face the challenge of keeping life in focus while battling a bunch of brain chemicals that don't like to play nice. In fact, sometimes my thoughts move so fast it's hard to tie them down and I get depressed or anxiety-ridden when I can't keep up.
If I can do anything with my journey, it's to give the world a greater understanding of what the face of mental illness looks like . . . and it looks a lot like me.
When it happened, I didn’t even realize I was having a breakdown.
I was 38, an editor for a Christian teen magazine that went out to 160,000, and a quirky, flower-child creative. I remember a six- month period of time when words wouldn't stop invading my sleep. I would spend my nights writing and my afternoons writing. I would pull into parking lots and write and was exhausting my toilet-time writing.
I saw something quite beautiful in those moments. It was a time of stripping off my makeup to deal with the real dirt of my humanity. God's grace and love shed light on who I really was---a barefaced girl.
There were times I seriously thought, "Is this how Edgar Allen Poe or Emily Dickinson descended into madness?" It seemed that everything "meant something just for me," and the rest of the world was just clueless. Wherever I was, I had to stop and record that nugget of truth . . . right then and there. I had to stop and pull over to the side of the road if I saw a pretty flower in the field. I had to dream. And I had to make those dreams part of my reality, sometimes in a week or less.
It’s complicated. Some of those moments seemed euphoric and beautiful, I was truly barefaced, but some of those moments were the darkest feelings I'd ever had.
FROM THE EDGE
That greater darkness was literally pulling me towards the edge of the cliff.
I remember the day that darkness tried to put a stake in my head. I had just finished teaching a room full of Christian writers about creatively reaching the millennial generation with a gospel that sticks. It was an hour later that I found myself standing alone on the edge of a Colorado mountain.
The darkness said, "If your life really matters, if the good outweighs the shadow I know is in your soul, God will save you in this fall."
I remember contemplating, looking at the space in front of my toes and then down hundreds of feet.
Then the words: "Daughter, you need to recognize the person behind that voice and turn around."
And I stepped back.
Months following this episode I experienced prolonged physical illness in my body coupled with seeing stuff that wasn’t there and hearing stuff that wasn’t said. Extreme emotional highs one moment swinging to exhausting lows the next. It was like every emotion in my body was attacking me at once—even the good ones.
My husband and I fortunately had an appointment with our counselor. There I was able to hear her voice of reason. I decided to take her advice and go to the hospital. (In the back of my mind, I thought I would prove everyone wrong.)
That time behind a psychiatric ward door would end up being my biggest blessing in disguise; it was like God pushed a divine PAUSE button in my life.
IN THE BREAKING
When my brain broke, I thought that was the end. My life as a writer was over. It was hard to speak. I barely had the presence of mind to drive. I had a massive head injury. I'd never thought I'd ever be able to put a sentence together again.
I felt I had lost everything that was uniquely mine to give. It was tough to pull my head from the pillow and wash my hair. I felt like I was stumbling around, trying to recover from paralysis and inch-by-inch starting to walk and write again. It felt like someone had poured water on every one of my body’s electrical circuits. I would literally touch my skull at times to reassure myself that my brains weren't visible through my hair.
I was walking through it though. My husband and daughters were patient and they all picked up the slack as if I was recovering from a massive car accident. God took that time to help me recover from this tsunami that slammed my life. It took almost a year before I fully recovered my ability to write.
I'm not going to lie. When I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I felt that I had been given a "cone of shame."
I couldn't stand the idea that I had come unglued in front of people I loved, desired respect from, and had the responsibility to encourage. I was supposed to be a role model pointing to the goodness of God.
I was in pain, extremely ill, under attack and in denial. I was wallowing in the toxic mess of my mind. However, I eventually realized that just because I had been given a pit diagnosis, I didn't have to live down there. I had to give up my cone of shame. I had to become "barefaced" about my condition. Moreover, I had to use my voice to be barefaced girl—the person I was divinely created to be—and dissolve the stigma in the b-word.
WE WALK, BUT WE NEVER WALK ALONE.
I walk this journey, dealing with the stigma and stereotypes. Every day I wonder at the scars and symptoms and the prescription-enhanced weight gain. I have black holes of memory loss from that time, but I believe that's the grace of God. You don't need to be reminded of "what you've done." Yes, I take medicine to relieve symptoms. But God certainly knows that I never want to be that toxically sick again.
I haven’t seen a rainbow of promise that it will never rain in my world again. I know it could happen. Even in this, though, I realize I walked through that once, and God was with me. The rainbow of promise is that He will always walk with me. He is present even in my crazy, and He hangs out in my pits of despair. He stays there and attends to me until I can pull up.
He provides hope that—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow—this too will pass. And I will be faithful to the heart He's given me. I will paint the beautiful things of His making as I journey through whatever may be and whatever may come. I may travel through this, but I never journey on my own.
ROAD TESTED LIFE LESSONS
The thing that I’ve learned in this journey, as with any illness, is that you can’t traverse it in your own determination to “be well.” In fact, the healthiest thing you can do is to step back from shame and realize that you may need help. Without help, the dark that you’re feeling is just getting more and more powerful. No matter who you are or what position of influence you yield, there is great freedom in simply holding your breath, and taking the courageous steps to find healing. It takes getting to this place, to ever understand why you process things the way you do, and develop a strategy to deal more efficiently with any day to day challenges you face.
For me, it’s amazing to see the beauty that has been pulled through my journey. I definitely see the world differently, and more beautifully than I saw it before. Not only do I write, I write better because I write from a place of vulnerability that has been pressed from the depth of who I am, and not because writing is something I do.
It’s significant for me to see that 2 years after my hospitalization I helped start a Christian Women’s e-magazine (leadinghearts.com), which has received an award for each year it’s been in publication. In that time I also received the Member of the Year Award from the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (awsa.com). And it’s been in these opportunities I’ve been able to share my barefaced story.
In fact, this journey has taken me from a place of smoke and lights prestige to a place of barefaced influence and for that I am grateful.
You can find more about the all the beauty that was birthed through my journey—barefacedgirl.com. I hope it inspires you and gives insight into the mind and heart that is so much more than an illness. I hope those who deal with mental health struggles will know they have something beautifully themselves to give the world.