Five years ago today, I entered the mental hospital. I was in a place that I still don’t quite understand. I had everything I needed to be happy yet there was this emptiness, this restlessness, this darkness that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I had a fiance, a future to look forward to, people supporting me, and yet none of that positivity could begin to touch the cloud in my head filling me with dark thoughts and negative feelings. I felt broken. Unable to just live a life smoothly without some sort of emotional turbulence shaking me to my core. It didn’t make sense to most people. I had everything but I still felt like every fiber of me was breaking apart. That’s how mental illnesses are, completely nonsensical, damaging, life altering disturbances that take over and refuse to let go. That is, until you do something about it.
I didn’t make the decision lightly. No one really wants to confine themselves between the stark white sterile walls of a mental facility but I had the support I needed to feel comfortable speaking out when I knew I was in a dangerous and unstable place. I can’t quite put into words what it feels like to be afraid of yourself. It was fear mixed with desolation while standing in a world that was bright, that should make you feel happy. And that was the problem, I should have been happy but the chemistry in my brain and the years of bad treatment I had received made it feel like it was impossible. It was a scary time for me and for my family but a lot has changed in those years.
I was there for a week and left with some good tools but also a reminder of where I didn’t want to end up again. Although I made friends, and I’ll admit, somehow I had some fun in there, I can’t forget the way the tone of the place changed when the lights went out, when everyone was supposed to be sleeping, when the depression hit the most, sitting in bed wondering how you ended up in a place that wouldn’t even allow shower curtain for fear you might harm yourself with it. Drugged up on the three, or was it four, pills they had me on, emotionally raw from all day forms of therapy. And towards the end of my stay I realized that I had something to fight for, whereas some of the people in there had nothing. When I left there, I had to remind myself of that. I never regretted the decision to go there, and I don’t think I ever will. It was eye opening in ways I didn’t know it would be when I filled out the admission forms. It was my first real baby step to getting better.
I changed a lot since this moment, five years ago, when I said goodbye to my husband and traded in the comfy-ness of my bed, of my home with him for white walls, no privacy, and constant emotional awareness, even more so than I already had. I’m fairly certain I’m a completely different person than I was the moment I went in there and that is a relief. Those of you who knew me before know that I was not that great of a person. It’s not that I was purposely vindictive or evil, but I was wrapped up in being mentally ill and not knowing what the hell I was other than mentally ill, that I had no idea how to function around other people effectively, without hurting anyone, without annoying someone, and I had no idea how to let people get to know me on a deeper level because I didn’t know myself on that level either. I knew what everyone else knew; I was ill. Everyone needed to know it because I had been taught exactly that, that everyone I came in contact to needed to know this about me in order to decide if I was worth the risk of being around, but I also felt the need to shout it from the rooftops in the most annoying way because I had no idea what made me, me. If you were to have asked me then who I was, I would have said that I was Danielle (at the time) Metzger, I was engaged, bipolar mixed with this and that, I was a survivor of this and that, I had a temper that I would often mistake for passion, and I would tell you my sob story. But none of it made up who I was, I only felt like it did. I was lost in my emotions, day to day to god damn day and I didn’t see anything but that. I played the victim’s card. I didn’t know then, but I know it now. Now that I’ve been seperated by all of this for so long, I can see it. I had things in life most people want; love, a support system, a roof over my head, but I was depressed. I was depressed and in my head there had to be a bigger explanation than I was chemically imbalanced. There had to be more of a reason than genetics. I could not accept that I was that so bone deep depressed with no logical explanation as to why other than chemicals. I still struggle with that fact. So I searched for the things in my life that weren’t perfect, and I reveled in them. I’ll admit that now. I took the things in my life that I wanted to be perfect, and instead of fixing them or living with it without devastation, I poured all of my depression, my anxiety, my emotional ups and downs on those things. I played the victim but not to manipulate, not to gain attention, but because I was afraid to admit that there was something wrong with me and I didn’t have a reason to explain why. Why are you so depressed? Oh, well, my dad is a drug addict and has been out of my life since I was a child. That’s the truth, but it didn’t impact my day to day life. I wasn’t an orphan all alone and scared, I lived in a house with my mom, a great step dad, a house, an awesome dog, my future bright. I won’t say that factors of my childhood didn’t incorporate themselves into the way I behaved in this time, but I know that it shouldn’t’ have, that we all have things that upset us, that don’t make us happy but we can live with it.
Why are you so depressed? Well because I dated this dude and he did bad things and it was awful. Well, yeah, that’s true too but in all reality, that was on me. I made those decisions in a manic haze and somehow made it out in one piece. But instead of moving on, growing from it, learning from it, I reveled in it, making it a part of why I was sad because it was a damn good reason to be sad. But it didn’t need to go on more than a month, I made it a part of why I was depressed for years because to the outsider, it was a good reason. But it was an excuse that I allowed to overstay its welcome. It was nothing more than an excuse. Because it didn’t need to own me, to control me, but I allowed it to. I held on to these excuses and more because I felt this desperate need to have a reason for my emotional inability to be blissfully happy, carefree, stable all the time like it seemed everyone else in the world was. I didn’t know who I was. But, I did know that I was mentally ill, I had some decently bad things happen, and that those things clouded up my ability to see who I really was.
In all honestly, I don’t think I really discovered who I was until I got pregnant, until I realized I needed to know me in order to show my kids a good role model. I needed to discover who I was because it was time. I had been stable for a little while at that point, and it was time to figure it out. And I discovered a lot of little things that make me, me, but I’m still learning. I discovered my passion for writing, for using my words to make a difference in those around me. I rediscovered my love for sarcasm and that comedy and laughter is the key to my soul. I discovered the strength that I had, the wisdom that I had, the ability to look at situations head on and deal. I discovered that I love differently than most, and it shows in my marriage, but not in a bad way. No, in fact, I ended up finding the perfect person to love in my own unique way, because he loves in the same awkward, weird, amazing fashion. Because I now understand that the concept of love is different for everyone and It isn’t cookie cutter. It isn’t romance novels. it doesn’t always mean constantly physical displays of affection, or loud romantic declarations of love, that it could just mean movie nights on the couch while calling each other weird names and sharing popcorn while simultaneously attempting not to punch each other for the loud chewing but feeling so incredibly happy and in love. I discovered my intelligence. Yeah, the one I had no confidence in to begin with. I discovered the confidence to follow my dreams, even if it only took me years to do it. I discovered that I’m capable of learning and understanding things that some have trouble with like the psychological reasons behind actions, specifically in the criminal justice field. And I rediscovered how to be ambitious and want to go for things that most people are going to think I can’t do, but I’ll do them anyway. I discovered that, although I used to be a hot head, I compose myself very well in situations where I’d like to throat punch people. And I discovered pride in my ability to compose myself in a way that brings peace to my family. I discovered that I’m actually a really nice person with a big side of sarcasm to boot, even though for years I felt like the biggest bitch around. I discovered that I can do just about anything I need to, and I found that out while having my kids. Natural twin birth? Yeah, sure, why not. I discovered my mama bear qualities that go for my kids, my husband, and those I love. And I discovered where my priorities are, and they will always be with my babies, my husband. I discovered these things and so much more. And I learned to love myself even on the days I don’t want to and I learned to embrace the fact that I spent more years than I’d like to admit being lost, looking for answers, hurting, and allowing those things to run my life.
The bottom line is this: I may have been dealt a shit show in regards to my mental health when I was young, but that wasn’t enough of a reason to not try to fix it. I was given medications way too young for way too long, and the side effects carved a path for my future that I didn’t want, but I never actively tried to get off of them, to risk taking myself off of the poison, I just continued to try new ones knowing the result. I was given bad treatment by doctors who see you as a paycheck, and not as a person, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t use my own logic to see that. But it turns out, none of that really mattered as much as I made it matter. In my search for answers, explanations, I spent most of my time focused on being unwell and how unfair it was that I missed so many opportunities in life. And I’m making up for that now, and have been the last three years.
I think that’s the problem in the mental health world. We all are sick. We are all fucked up in this way or that way, some more than others, but unless we actively try, nothing will change. I’m not saying that every person with a mental illness doesn’t try, but I am saying that not taking a calculated risk, not investing in your future because of these illnesses, is not trying. It’s taking the easy route, and where mental health is concerned, there should not be an easy route option. It’s hard work.
Five years ago, I was admitted into the mental hospital. I was lost. I was afraid. And I felt like there was no hope. And yet, here I am, five years older, five years wiser, and finally able to say that I know who I am and that I am not that mentally ill, unstable, crass, in-your-face-and-you’re-going-to-like-it girl. I’m Danielle, minus the mental illness, and all the shitty things I went through. Five years later and I’m unmedicated and annoyed with how I acted for years prior to this and deeply concerned seeing so many people in the same position I was in, with no clue how to fix it. Five years later and I’m happy, with occasional bouts of ups and downs because no one in this life is perfect. Re-read that, and re-read that again, then repeat it to yourself until you understand it. No one in this life is perfect. Because it’s unnatural to be happy all the goddamn time. It is unnatural to be this idea of perfect. It’s normal to have lows and highs; days of not wanting to get out of bed, and days where you think your chest and your brain are going to explode from so much extreme happiness. It’s how life is. If it were perfect, if we were all happy, there would be no point. Five years ago, I made a big step in the direction to get better. I didn’t get better right away. It was about a year later before I really made big strides in my mental health, but it was the stepping stone that made the difference.
For those of you who are plagued by your mental health, take what I’m saying and run with it. Yes, you are mentally ill. You’re sad. You’re manic. You’re paranoid. Anxious. Angry. You’re all of them at once. But that’s not who you are. That’s just a part of you. Maybe it’s a big part. Maybe it’s the biggest part of your world. But it is not you. Discover you. Learn to love you. Fix you. Because I’ve found, it’s a lot of other elements besides the mental illness that gets you down, that makes you anxious, that makes you worse. Find you. Love you. Discover you. Because when you do, you get in a place where you can make those mental changes to get better, to move forward, to move on. I’m not saying it’s going to go away. It doesn’t. It won’t. But it can get better if you so choose. If you choose to wipe your slate clean and start new, it can. I’m all about awareness of mental health. I think it’s important, but I also think it’s important for those of us who are in a better place to give advice to those that aren’t. To tell you how you can feel better, how you can improve, without losing sight of who you are. To stop you from making the same decade long mistakes. Because lately, I’ve seen so much on social media of those that seem like they are trying to help bring awareness to mental health, but the idea behind it only brings out the wrong idea. To stay stagnant. To understand that this is who you are. To make everyone else be okay with it when I know the person suffering isn’t okay with it. We never are okay with it. The awareness is great, but there needs to be more awareness of making the active effort. To teaching people to NOT understand that this is who you are and make you realize that it’s just one single part of you. That making everyone else around you okay with mental illness doesn’t take yours away. It doesn’t fix your problems. It doesn’t fix you. You do. Fight for you long enough to see that there is always room for improvements, to change, to experiment with different ways of discovering your path despite your illness. Don’t make the mistakes I did. And I only speak of it now in hopes that someone somewhere in this life will read this and take it to heart. That maybe my story can help someone. Because if I’m honest, these things I write about, they don’t hurt me in the way they used to. I never thought that would be possible but it is. I live my life without those things plaguing me and you can too.
You are not your illness. You are not your explanations. You are not your side effects. You are you. And that’s all you need to get better. To love you.