Blessing of the Receiver: Thoughts from the Counselor's Couch & Being "Girl, interrupted"

He says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Journey notes of this recovering perfectionist and Christian perform artist tend to agree.


I am a nurse. I give of my time, my energy, my skills - and am lucky enough to be paid for the giving. I help sick people, no matter what caused their ailment. This includes people just like me - people right where I was in April, depressed, anxious, full of fear, looking for a way out of their painful life. Years ago, these patients were confusing to me. They didn't really want my help - in fact, they were frustrated that they weren't left for dead instead. I remember one boy, who chased a bottle of Tylenol with a bottle of vodka. He was just a teenager. None of us could understand his pain, growing up parentless on an Indian reservation, in abject poverty, without help. We didn't know his father had suggested the Tylenol in a fit of rage over his son's constant plea for help. It took many days for us to determine that his liver function would never recover - that he would get his wish after all, unless a liver became available for his transplant. I remember his anger with me when I helped the doctor deliver the news. It turned out that the bottle of Tylenol was just a cry for help, not a death wish. He was horrified that there was nothing we could do to reverse the effects by the time his grandma drove him all the way from western Minnesota to our hospital.



In April, I had the unique experience of becoming one of those confusing patients. A patient with a death wish, locked up in a white room on a cot, leathers holding my wrists and ankles down. I was stuck spreadeagled on the hard cot, two days once. I will never forget the scorn with which I was treated by some of the staff, staff that didn't believe it was right to help someone like me. Someone who did this to their own body.  My wounds weren't by accident or trauma or something that easily labeled me a victim. They were self-inflicted. Wounds on the outside to express the deep pain inside.

Patients with mental health issues receive different care. We don't fit in. We can't explain what's wrong with us. We are too weak and confused to challenge the care that's provided us. Disrespect is rampant, amongst health caregivers and lay people alike. You would think that nurses, with their creed to help all people, would be first in line to treat people with mental health issues respectfully. But that simply isn't the case.

My diagnoses were post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and suicidal ideation. Taking ownership of your own course of action is difficult for everyone. When the course of action you've already picked landed you in a mental hospital, with damaged friendships and marriage, bandages on your wrists and a pocketful of despair in your standard issue scrub suit, it is hard to believe that you did this to yourself. We tend to blame circumstances that overwhelmed us.

But in my year of psychological chaos, I have learned that taking responsibility is the first step toward healing the wounds of the mind and emotions. Once I took responsibility, I had to learn how to prevent such a thing from happening again. For me, it clicked while sitting in a boring classed called "Skillful Living". As a successful professional woman with a nice house and beautiful children, I thought I was already living skillfully. Turns out I was doing skillfully, but my mind was a loose cannon of chaotic thoughts and dark temptations. Over months of counseling and group therapy, I learned to "turn my mind" - imagine myself staring that dark temptation in the face, then turning all the way around and focusing instead on something God was giving me in that single moment - my child's smile, perhaps; the sunshine; the smell of laundry drying; a tune played on the piano; music streaming from the speakers. Being faithful in this one act, turning my mind away from suicide and anxiety, proved to be the key out of the Pandora's box of pain I had been locked up in for months.


I still sit there, once a week, on the counselor's couch. She works to desensitize me to the traumas of my past. I work to forgive myself and move on. Being a "recovered" borderline personality is a rarity. The doctors and counselors cite my case as a "miracle" case - the fastest recovery they've ever seen from so deep an agony. By calling out my willfulness and discouraging thoughts of suicide, which can lead to chronic behavior modification, my counselor struck the fear of God back into my soul, and offered me tools I can link to strong Scriptures to bail me out of my present distress.


I've learned that depression can strike me anywhere, anytime. Being willing to ride the waves of the cold water of sadness and loneliness has allowed me to ride until the waves stop, then get up and persevere. I still must turn my mind whenever there's a knife on the table, a gun left with ammo accessible, a noose, a bag full of unused and unmonitored pills at my disposal. But as I turn it, again and again, I find this habit overcomes the old one and I am mostly free of suicidal thoughts and mostly filled by the moments of joy that sprinkle my day.