Stay and Fight

By Judith A. Hammer, RN

I am very aware that I am not alone in being a mental health consumer as well as a mental health provider. As a consumer of mental health services who has been hospitalized many times, I have now been out of the hospital for six and a half years. I wondered how I had accomplished this. Iím a registered nurse on an inpatient psychiatric unit. This was a seemingly impossible goal of mine six and a half years ago, having been a psychiatric nurse prior to my “major crash” in 1989. I truly believed I would never be a nurse again. In fact, at one point, I thought I would never work again. Apparently, so did Social Security Disability, which had filed my folder away in Washington, DC, as Permanently and Totally Disabled.

I must admit that it looked pretty bleak for a while with five hospitalizations in one and a half years. I had been diagnosed with depression with my first hospitalization. Things that had worked in the past did not work for me in 1989. My medications and the inpatient units that had treated me successfully four times before had stopped working for me. My therapist of three years had referred me to the experts in a research study, and ultimately, I ended up being shipped back to a state hospital near my family. My only thought was, “If you (my family) want me alive, you can take over and send me wherever you want.” I just didnít care and had just attempted to hang myself in the hospital. It became very clear that I was in for a long-term hospitalization, but strangely enough, it was only a month later when I was released to live with my sister and her family. Downsizing was just beginning or I might still be there. If one has an interested, caring family (which I had), that is more than half the battle.

I was in day treatment for six months, till my symptoms increased and they threw me out for non-compliance. An easy cover and justification for doing this was that I had managed to get an apartment in a different catchment area. This may have been a blessing in disguise. The new professionals seemed to assess my needs very quickly and, instead of just “labeling” me “difficult,” they worked with me beyond the call of duty. From day treatment to daily therapy appointments, they allowed me to engineer what I believed I needed when I was able. They supported me and believed in me unconditionally. I am still with the same therapist, for over six years now. Iíve been off of Social Security Disability (SSD) for three years, own my own little house, have a new car; Iím working full time in a psychiatric unit (just like I was before), and have just cut down to once-a-week therapy appointments. Essentially, Iíve come full circle, but how did that happen?

Here are my thoughts on what worked for me:

1) I can count on one hand the number of therapy appointments that I missed in the last six and a half years. I go even when I feel like I donít need to go. There is now an end in sight, but for a long time there wasnít.

2) Medication plays a big role intermittently, but is only one aspect of treatment. I have been on and off various medications (as discussed with the doctor, presenting my case and reasons, and communicating openly with the doctor and my therapist until our differences on medications were resolved). Donít run away! Stay and fight!

3) A little blind faith is needed at times. Sometimes a reminder of where youíve been (and donít want to go again) helps to regain perspective. Listen.

4) No pain no gain. I continue to gain ground, but the pain remains as the process continues. I hear there is a good outcome and this hope is a motivator on a day to day basis.

5) Friends along the way are a necessity in recovery. Call them, return their calls, go for coffee or a cool drink (non-alcoholic of course), do what you donít feel like doing once in a while to be a friend, act civil and donít push them away.

6) If you have a family who is supportive, take advantage of this and realize how lucky you are. I know that without them I would have been in a long term chronic unit and who knows where I would have ended up? I have time to thank them now.

7) Develop a routine, no matter how small. The only routine I had was to open the curtains every morning and close them every night. This was a start and other structures in my life developed slowly. For example, buy a newspaper on Sunday, call a friend at 11:00 am on Tuesday, take a drive on Friday, etc. It gives you something to look forward to besides your therapy or doctor appointments.

8) Take a walk. A dog helps with this, or walk a neighborís dog. (The neighbor and the dog love you for this.) It gets you out of the house.

9) Take advantage of services available to you. A vocational service helped me regain the confidence to revise my resume and conduct a job search. I believed I was going to be making minimum wage for the rest of my life due to my lack of concentration and fear of responsibility. They didnít buy that. They were right.

10) Be patient and donít rush your recovery. Take the time you need. When youíre sick of being sick, hang around WELL people. People who have recovered or are dealing with life in a healthy way. There is a very fine line between us all. No one is “better” than anyone else. We are all equal.

11) Contact the local mental health advocacy agency and get involved. Passing on what you have already learned is very helpful to those who donít know what you know. We all excel in different arenas and have valuable knowledge to pass on to others. We learn from each other and that is what self-help is all about.

12) Find someone to laugh with or do something that makes you laugh. It is a great release and very therapeutic. Donít underestimate the importance of humor in your life. Itís the cheapest medicine and itís everywhere, if you look for it.
I often speak to patients who look at me like I donít know what Iím talking about when I relate encouraging words to them. I often confront them and say things they donít want to hear because these things were said to me and, in retrospect, helped me immensely. I try to incorporate what experience has taught me in the groups I run and in how I approach my patients every day. I am glad that I have the opportunity to incorporate a recovery philosophy within the medical model. Unfortunately, it is rare that I choose to disclose my story. In the medical model, stigma is alive and well and the risk is too great that I will lose my chance to “make a difference.”

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on January 09, 2010

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