Editor’s Note (01/03/20): The writer’s name has been removed from this piece, as they were still struggling with mental illness at the time of its submission.
It was a Thursday afternoon in creative writing seminar when I wrote, “we’re all time travelers. Jesus split himself into billions of pieces to live inside of our souls. Connecting thoughts to our souls connects us with Jesus. When people care to connect, they don’t want to shoot you in your soul.”
Right before class started, it hit me like a thunderclap: I was the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ; the self-styled “21st Century Messiah.” I needed to spiritually awaken others as I had been awakened.
After class, I told my professor about this revelation. The third time I mentioned being the female Jesus, he stopped me, and said, “I’ve never seen you act this way. I’m extremely concerned, and frankly, disturbed.”
I apologized profusely and reassured him that I wasn’t trying to disturb him, only spreading my divine message. He asked me to go immediately to University Health Services. Despite the cacophony of thoughts and senses in my brain, I knew I needed help. Going to UHS resulted in a four-day stint in the hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I don’t often check Facebook, but I’d been away from my phone while I was in the hospital, so after discharge, I took a peek. One of the first things I saw was a post from a girl from my original graduating class, the Class of 2019. She’d lived with my friends in the room that I would’ve lived in if I hadn’t taken time off sophomore year. She had posted about entering a PhD program at Harvard this fall. Another friend posted about entering a PhD program at Johns Hopkins. Someone else I’d known since kindergarten was starting law school this fall. More friends were posting about their post-grad plans: jobs, travel, and tuition-free fifth years.
I am a perpetual mental patient. This recent hospitalization was my third. I’m taking five years (with summer classes!) to complete a BA in psychology, widely regarded as an easy major at UR. Looking at Facebook, I felt a mixture of emotions — happy for my classmates’ successes, but deeply despondent at what I consider my own failures.
I’ve been a serial consumer of mental health services since age 15. Back then, I had critically low self-esteem and suffered from a constellation of embarrassing and shameful symptoms — checking, tapping, list-making, etc. When I finally disclosed them, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). After intensive therapy, my symptoms remitted for the first time. Now, however, I accept that periods of remission are holding patterns in the indefinitely waxing and waning cycle of my OCD.
As my symptoms waned, I fell into a deep depression. For months, I struggled to get out of bed. I lost interest in everything I’d once enjoyed. I resented each morning’s light seeping through my bedroom blinds. I began to feel apathetic about the future; about living. At 16, I thought my life wasn’t worth the searing emotional pain each new day brought with it. I was hospitalized.
I continued with therapy and took various medications, which were mostly ineffective. I made progress, but remained chronically and intermittently suicidal for the better part of the next five years. In June 2018, I attempted suicide and was hospitalized for the second time.
Since then, through digging deep into my reservoir of skills and doing a whole lot of soul-searching, I’ve developed a positive self-image. I’ve improved the number and quality of my personal relationships. I’ve led an emotionally stable, extremely fulfilling, and modestly successful life. For eight months, I worked as a research assistant in a lab — a position I deeply loved and where I received praise for working diligently — until, after getting little sleep and feeling invincible for days, I made an impulsive decision that led to my firing.
Without the lab to occupy my time, I was consumed with obsessions and compulsions. Eventually, my therapist recommended I try an intensive outpatient program. To relieve stress and to try and salvage my grades, I dropped to part-time status at school. I was doing very well until I got manic and was hospitalized yet again.
My initial sadness at the stark realization that I need to live at a different pace has generated valuable reflection and insight — that it’s okay, and necessary, for different people to take on life differently. That different paths can sometimes lead to the same place, or to a different place beyond imagination.
Although I do not yet know what my future will look like, I can say with absolute conviction that my life is no less valuable and my accomplishments aren’t less than anyone else’s. They’re just different. I’ve felt the return of a person’s pulse after performing CPR; I’ve spoken about my experience with OCD in front of a room of psychiatry residents; I’ve achieved sustained remission from chronic suicidal thoughts.
I’m inspired by reading the stories of successful people, like Marsha Linehan and Kay Jamison, who deal with mental health issues and took different paths to get where they are now. I hope to be able to work in another lab after I fully recover from this episode. I’m working on my degree and plan on graduating next May.
And without meaning to sound presumptuous, I’m certain that my path will take me to a place where I can inspire someone facing the things that I’ve faced. Someone like me.