Are you depressed today? Did someone stab you in the back? OMG, are you addicted to coffee? So … if you don’t get a break, or have a vacation soon, you’re going to lose your @#$!x& mind, right?
Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, written in 1952, was the first to teach me a thing or two about the power of positive thinking. I read it in the 80’s. In the 90’s, Tony Robbins emerged, saying that the way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives. Using strong words out of context can create an unintended, negative mindset. This insidious drama queen language, in itself, can be damaging. And now we have Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret! When are we all finally going to get it?
Lost in both our blatant and more subtle negativity, we often forget that there are people out there who actually have a real disease called depression, and are in jeopardy of losing their minds on any given day. Heck, some people actually grew up in neighborhoods where people were stabbed every now and then. When we take their words are we downplaying the seriousness of their history and/or ongoing struggle? Does it make their experiences somehow less severe, and therefore worth a bit less attention from those of us lucky enough to simply be a little down from time to time?
And it’s not about political correctness. It’s about language, and the powerful messages we feed ourselves–mental loops that influence our emotional programming.
I often wonder who those truly depressed, mind-losing, struggling people are. Surely they aren’t my neighbor, the soccer mom with the fake nails in line at the grocery store, or my co-worker who just got promoted. They must be tucked away somewhere having problems or trying to recover.
Wrong again …
The more I come to appreciate that normal is a farce, I realize that these people are all around me, at times weaving in and out of my life on a daily basis. Maybe you are one of them. If not, are they listening to you talk about your so-called depression, and your emotional stab wounds, wondering if you actually know what those words mean? If you have experienced some of these serious issues, hopefully you’ve come to appreciate the words you use to describe your life, being careful to avoid those that should be reserved for the emergence or re-emergence of those heart-wrenching challenges you manage to keep at bay.
Liimu does just that. She’s a young consultant with a bright smile and quick wit. If you met her for coffee, or crossed her path at the grocery store with her three young children, you’d never guess that she once dropped acid and lost her #$#%x@ mind. She has joined the Aberration Nation. Her name is Liimu and she’s an alcoholic … she’s also your neighbor.
Your past includes a psychotic break and time spent institutionalized. Can you tell us what happened?
I was 24, and was finishing up my final year of college. Over the Christmas break, I went to see my boyfriend in New Mexico. We met in Las Vegas, and then for some reason, he thought it would be a good idea for us to drop acid before we made the 17 hour drive back to New Mexico.
Flash forward two months: I wake up hearing voices. I swear I can communicate with my cat without opening my mouth. I can think “come here” and he come s prancing into the room. I start writing letters like crazy, all the while showing up wherever, whenever I please. I miss appointments I’ve had for months and sit for exams without opening a single book. When my mom finally comes looking for me, she tells me we were going to see a doctor. We go to the mental health clinic on campus. They lock me in the ward, only releasing me to have an occasional cigarette.
When I was locked up, my mom visited daily. Every time she came, I had my bags packed and ready by the door. Every day, I was told I could not leave; they didn’t know when I’d be released. What was supposed to be a couple days’ stay turned into a five weeks of lock down. I finally agreed to go to rehab, and was released. I found out later that if I hadn’t agreed to the rehab program, they would have sent me to a long-term facility where my chances of getting out would have been slim to none.
Like myself, you were raised in a dysfunctional home. How did that environment bear out on your mental health as a teenager and young adult?
There were so many ways that have a dysfunctional home played out for me, the most impact probably being that I was raised in an alcoholic home. I didn’t learn any real coping mechanisms, and certainly didn’t learn that it was okay to be different, or to have feelings, or to be scared or sad. You just put on a good, strong front and muscled through, or you gave in entirely and were a complete loser drunk. So, although I finally realized I was a drunk and had to get sober, I put on a brave face for many years. It was that pressure, in part, that led to my breakdown. I have to be careful about that to this day.
When someone else says, “If I don’t get a vacation soon, I’m gonna have a breakdown,” they don’t really mean it. For me, it’s truly a deep-rooted fear. In the same way that a person is changed forever by the experience of seeing a violent crime or losing a loved one or becoming a parent, a person is changed forever by losing his or her mind. Suddenly, the idea that the mind is a thing that can be lost takes on new meaning. I’m always aware now of where that line is and how close I am to it. I know what lies on the other side of sanity.
Can you describe your mental break?
I was completely removed from reality. Until I entered the mental institution, it wasn’t scary at all. I had this overwhelming sense of calm, actually. Like I was completely in tune with the energy of the Universe. But, once I got locked up, it was a whole different story. If you’ve ever seen one of those movies from the 1950’s where they show a funhouse with scary looking faces flying in and out of the camera, and people laughing and screaming at the same time while the room is spinning around and around–it was sort of like that, only scarier. I remember at one point (during a drug-induced, fitful sleep), dreaming that I was literally standing at the gates of Hell, facing the Devil Himself. When I woke, I felt like I had very narrowly escaped Hell.
You recovered from your psychotic episode, and went on to finish college and begin a successful career. How were you able to walk away from such deep pain and mental disarray? How are you now?
For me, it was a simple process of recovery–not easy, but simple. I surrendered to my alcoholism and addiction, and began to work the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Soon after, I developed my own understanding of a Higher Power and since then, it has been easy.
Were there any particular individuals who influenced your recovery, or was it ultimately a case of, “I will survive?” Did it take a combination?
Each person is unique. What are the key success factors in your ongoing mental health? My sponsors, my mother, my therapist, my husband, and my female friends have all been instrumental. The key success factor in my ongoing mental health is my commitment to recovery–in all the ways it manifests in my life, whether it’s workshops, recovery programs, friendships, therapy, exercise, etc. My commitment is to improving myself, and improving my relationship with God. As long as what I do is fundamentally based on one or both of those priorities, I’m doing fine.
Having grown up in the shadow of mental illness, how much of your own issues do you attribute to nature versus nurture? How does one stop the vicious cycle of familial dysfunction? Is it possible?
I definitely believe that it’s possible to break the cycle, though for me it’s impossible to deny that I had it in my blood (my father and mother were both alcoholics). What I hope to pass on to my children is how to recover, so that if they are afflicted with the disease of alcoholism, they will know there is a solution. I also think there is a line between teetering-on-the-edge-of and full-blown addiction, and for some people, that is where environment plays a role. In my case, I’ve had an addictive personality from as far back as I can remember.
Looking back, can you tell us if and how your experience being institutionalized, and the associated struggles, have changed you for the better? What are the positives you’ve found in yourself and in others as a result of your unique life?
I don’t take anything for granted. My commitment to recovery is strengthened by how much is at stake for me. I have more empathy for the suffering of others and for the mentally ill, who are not bad or scary people, they are just ill and need help. I have a complete awe and love for my Higher Power for having taken me to the depths and brought me back again. That’s what it took for me to fully accept my alcoholism and recover. And ever since then, I have been committed to serving God and others.
When I start to feel sorry for myself, I immediately look for ways to be of service to others. That’s the quickest way to get over anything that is causing me pain.