Roller Coaster Life

Our hearts pound with excitement as the roller coaster rolls away from the boarding station. After a deceptively smooth beginning, we find ourselves holding on tight as the ride turns in unexpected directions. We climb steep hills, hoping we’ll make it to the top, only to experience sudden drops that take our breath away. Our bodies get bruised as we swing around sharp curves. We learn to treasure peaceful moments when the click-clack of the tracks signals a slower pace. Fresh air ruffles our hair and we relax our grip. We marvel at the beauty around us as we meander through trees, enjoying the warmth of intermittent sunshine. And then we round the bend to face another hill.

This is life. We live in a complicated world. When mental illness rides with us, our screams are even more intense.

I enjoyed my growing up years. I loved my family, church, and school. I looked forward to our extended family gatherings and summer camping trips. Life was filled with blessings, but not without challenges. My mood swings were evident even as a child. I was self-conscious and uncomfortable in social settings. A true introvert. I managed to break out of my shell in adulthood and hide my extreme emotions, at least from the public eye. I became a devoted wife and mother, loyal friend, and respected volunteer. My husband and I were living the typical middle-class, suburban life, complete with a minivan filled with kids. I was not the type of person who ended up having an emotional breakdown. Or was I?

After years of receiving sporadic and half-hearted treatment for depression, I spiraled down and found it difficult to leave my bed. My husband and children were confused. They felt helpless, and I had no words to explain what I was feeling. Several pain-filled months passed until I crashed. I found myself sobbing in the intake office of a psychiatric hospital, my husband holding my hand and fighting back tears of his own. I was quickly admitted to a ten-day outpatient treatment program.

When I arrived home after my first day, I was overwhelmed by the love and support of my family. Supper was ready. Some of the clutter I’d left behind had been put away. My children hugged me and smiled.

I needed to be healthy. This was my ride. But my family and close friends had willingly climbed on the roller coaster with me.

My life changed when I stepped out of the rubble and into recovery. It is now better than I ever imagined! I find it easier to recognize my blessings. My priorities have shifted, and I recently joined the support staff of a mental health organization. I appreciate my family and friends and realize their support is instrumental in my ongoing recovery. Unconditional love is a way of life. And, my relationship with God is deeper and more personal than ever before.

I live with a mental illness, and life is good. I have hope in the future. And, I’m not looking back.

Caroline

This is the first in a series of blog posts containing personal stories of living with mental illness. Every story is unique, but there is a common thread that goes against stereotypes. Having a mental illness does not prevent me from living a productive, joy-filled, amazing life. 

5 thoughts on “Roller Coaster Life”

  1. Please be thankful, Caroline, for the support you receive, because my journey has been quite the contrary. I suffer from melancholic depression & GAD, along with some PTSD. I will share a bit of my story here, and while it may come across as “firm” at times, I write from the heart and with much empathy.

    I’ve never had the support of family as they don’t like to discuss mental illness at all, and change the subject whenever I introduce it (despite having a brother who had BP). They see it as a problem that needs fixed and until it is (to their satisfaction), I’m defective. This is shown more in their actions than their words.

    The support from my local friends has been primarily conditional. I don’t cut them off because I live alone and have very people I can hang out with, even if such people are not supportive or even destructive to my overall mental health. Making friends is easy, keeping friends is very difficult. Why? Because their stigmatized view of the illness makes them run. It makes me wonder if such people were/are my friends, but some things I must leave in God’s hands.

    I’ve had more bad therapists that those who’ve helped me. Some have set me back, whether through my having to justify why I’m there to see them, to their justifying the actions of those who promote stigma. I’ve also had many, including the good therapists, reschedule and/or miss appointments on a regular basis, or leave the agency just when I’m making progress. Sadly, this has been the case with every single good therapist I’ve had to date. Whenever I get connected with one who is helpful their gone not long after.

    As a longtime devoted Christian, I’ve found some of the worst stigma of all from the Christian community, labeling depression as a sin or lacking faith, or something else very hurtful and without any basis in truth. I’ve been told things like “Jesus is bigger than your illness” as if somehow just saying that is supposed to put everything in immediate perspective and take all the pain away. The support disappears soon after those words. I and other Christians who suffer from mental illness I’ve talked see it as a deflection and invalidation of what we’re going through. These people rarely ask what they can do to help, but are quick to preach. In my own experience I find the majority of Christians think this way, but along with others, I’m fighting it this damaging stigma and progress is being made.

    My struggle has been a solo one for over 8 long years (my illness goes back to childhood). Jesus is there, yes, but so is the intense daily struggle. I pray daily for his help & guidance. I ask my fellow brothers & sisters to not question my faith or label my depression as sin. I ask them not to compare me or others who suffer from mental illness with someone else who has gone through it (their idea of a success story), because each of our journeys is different.

    Finally, I ask that they don’t ever compare us with our brethren half way around the world and tell us to be thankful because we’re not suffering like them. We may not be suffering physically like them, or under persecution for their beliefs, but in our minds there’s an epic battle going on for our mere survival. More importantly, though, is that the apostle Paul clearly instructed us not to compare ourselves one to another (2 Cor 10). We each have a function in the body of Christ, and no one member is better than the other. The members *need* each other for the body to function correctly as a whole. We’re not to be in competition but to act as a unified community purified by the blood of Christ, not by our own words or efforts.

    1. John, thank you so much for this perspective! I know many others who, like you, have lived through trauma, addiction, and mental illness with very little support from people in their lives. It is heartbreaking! This is a very important message, and I appreciate you sharing.

      1. Thank you for allowing me to share. I apologize if I came across as venting. I guess there’s still so much hurt inside of me and I’m struggling in knowing what to do without, seeking God’s will and his comfort.

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