Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night of the Soul
By Heather
It is my hope that in sharing my story, it may inspire some and help others along their own journey of recovery. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency that very shortly you are to feel well again." 
There was a time in my life when I thought I would never be myself again. I believed in nothing and in no one. Life as I knew it was over, taking with it my soul. However, I can assure you that despite all the suffering inflicted by mental illness, there is hope for recovery. 
A few experiences I've encountered during my battle with bipolar disorder included that of depression, mania and psychosis. I had a relatively normal childhood. The only person in my immediate family who was diagnosed with mental illness was my grandmother. I believe my condition arose from genetic predisposition as well as environmental factors.  
At the age of 19, I began having unexplainable physical symptoms. For approximately two years, I dealt with chronic head, neck and stomach pain. At the age of 22, I began having bouts of depression that came in waves, and lasted about four years. I was prescribed antidepressants which never had any lasting effects. During this time in my life, I was involved with relief work in Denver, Africa and Venezuela. I returned home to Pennsylvania to attend nursing school, which I was unable to complete due to my symptoms.
My illness began to progress in 2006, resulting in my first hospitalization. At that time, I began having severe sleep deprivation, which eventually led to psychosis. The experience was the most terrifying moment in my life. I was aware of how my mind should be functioning, but it was in total chaos—and there was nothing I could do to control it. I became religiously preoccupied believing the reason for my torment was demonic possession. 
Following my discharge from the hospital, I resided with my parents for one year. As my symptoms intensified and regressed, I would rarely leave home, and spoke few words to family members. I felt only fear and the absence of love. Everything I once loved, I now hated. Thoughts of heaven and hell consumed my mind. Saint John of the Cross described such experiences as "The Dark Night of the Soul," which I easily identified with. 
In 2007, I went without sleep for approximately three weeks. Sleep deprivation combined with delusions pushed me over the edge to the brink of insanity. Somehow, I formed this idea in my mind that Judas Iscariot needed to be redeemed from hell and I was the chosen one to complete this mission. I came to the conclusion that in order to rescue Judas, I must die. Keep in mind, that I was not suicidal. This may seem far-fetched, but in my mind it was real. I then proceeded to jump headfirst out of a second story window believing this would accomplish my task. 
Amazingly, I escaped with only a few minor cuts and bruises. This episode landed me in Western Psychiatric Hospital for a two month stay, where I made progress and received the proper treatment. I finally came to the realization that medication was necessary to restore my mind and normal life functioning. With some time, the doctors eventually found the correct medication for my body and I began to feel like myself again.
I cannot say all of my experiences with bipolar disorder have been bad. During mania, the world seems to take on a different light. Everything is brighter and more glorious. I feel as though the spiritual realm is not so distant, and I love as I've never loved before. I consider my illness a blessing of some sort. It enables me to see the world more vividly and stay closer to God. It has also made me more compassionate, thoughtful and analytical. 
Today, there remains much controversy and stigma surrounding mental illness. I try my best not to allow other people's opinions to bother me. The majority of people I meet either don't have a good understanding of mental illness, or are just fearful of it due to ignorance. I desire to help others overcome their battles with this illness and walk alongside them through their personal journeys of recovery. I strongly believe that with the help of knowledgeable and compassionate professionals, family support and individual determination, recovery is indeed possible.

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