Perfectionism’s ruthless grip

High school depression continued (see my last post for the first part)…

Luckily, when it came to non-church areas of my life, I didn’t have to worry as much about God and what he thought of me. I worked really hard in school and was obsessed with getting A’s. I would do whatever it took, including going in for extra help, doing all the extra credit I could, and using my friends or brothers to perform well on an assignment. I went to the guidance office every few weeks to check my GPA. At the beginning of my senior year, I remember the high I felt for a moment when I looked at that little white piece of paper. “3.98, 6/437.” I couldn’t believe that I was sixth place in our entire class! At the same time, I knew if I wouldn’t have gotten those two A minuses in gym class the last two years, I could be even closer to the top.

That year I was in an advanced Biology class that was difficult. At the time, I was severely depressed (as the result of a devastating social anxiety disorder) and had a full load of classes, including a 7:00 a.m. Advanced Placement class. I couldn’t keep up in the Biology class and ended up with a B at semester. It was devastating for me. I knew I didn’t need the class and since it was my 8th hour class, that meant I could go home early each day, which sounded heavenly. I dropped the class, even though my teacher disapproved. I told him that B had ruined my GPA and he just laughed. I was not amused because I knew I was no longer in sixth place. Sure enough, when I checked my stats a few weeks later, I now had a “3.96” and was in ninth place. I was so disappointed.

My thoughts spiraled on and on. “If only I hadn’t taken that class…If only I had worked harder…Ninth place isn’t so bad, you’re still in the top 10 people of the whole school.”  I would negatively compare myself with my brother Greg who was Salutatorian of his class and positively compare myself to my brother Nate who was only in the top twenty percent of his class. Soon I found out who the eight other students were ahead of me in our class. I was not surprised by most of the names. The top two or three students I knew I could never compete with. They were in a different world of smarts. Then there were a few I knew I could have “beaten” if I’d only worked just a little harder. That aggravated me, but still I respected them because I knew, like me, they worked for their grades. But one name out of the eight surprised me. I couldn’t help feeling shock that this girl, a former friend of mine from youth group, was supposedly fourth in our class. In my mind she was a space cadet and a partier and could not be capable of such high grades.

I took lessons from the same private piano teacher as the valedictorian of our class. Instead of comparing myself in the usual way by putting myself down, I compared myself to her by putting her down. While I envied her smarts, I praised myself for gifts and talents that she didn’t possess (in my opinion), such as my singing voice and my physical appearance. This girl was also gifted in science and math, which I did not envy. Instead I praised myself for my giftedness in speaking a foreign language and in working with children.

My feelings about myself at that time were all or nothing. I felt either on the highest cloud of heaven or at the bottom-most rung of a ladder descended deep into the earth. And these thoughts would shift in minutes, based on who I was around or what environment I was in. I felt like a phenomenal musician at church but when I messed up at piano lessons under the watchful eye of my perfectionist teacher, down I plummeted. I was the star of my Spanish class, but felt like a total imbecile in pre-calculus class.

My mind was obsessed with performance. I did not know another way to look at life. The more I thought about performing perfectly, the more I would long for it. I would get a rush after each perfect paper, each A + on my report card, after each perfect score at a music competition. But usually the rush would last only a few moments. I would immediately begin thinking, “There must be some mistake” or “It’s no big deal. A lot of people got the same score.” And, inevitably, I did not always get a perfect score. In my mind, this meant I was imperfect, flawed, and worthless. These kinds of thoughts are what fueled my depression.

In quiet moments, while lying in bed at night, I would nurse a severe, aching emptiness in my gut. I would begin thinking, “Is this all life is about?” But then I would wake up the next morning and it would begin all over again. I was driven by what I did, how others perceived me. Like any addiction, I continued to strive for that high feeling. I never realized how powerful its grip was on my life.

I began to think a lot about escaping life.

The first time I became suicidal I was in tenth grade. My friend, Sue, was a girl who used to attend my junior high youth group. Since I was still new to the group the year she moved, I had only met her a handful of times. We became pen pals starting in eighth or ninth grade. Our letters were long; we’d discuss typical Christian teenage girl stuff: guys, feelings, church, family, school. Over time, I felt a deep connection with Sue. It felt like she really understood me, unlike the friends I had in “real life.” In one letter, Sue opened up to me about her history of depression. She wrote that, several years ago, before she recommitted herself to the Lord, she wanted to die. She had a Jars of Clay CD that skipped every so often it played a certain song. One day she decided that she would shove some scissors down her throat when the song played through without skipping. The song, of course, never played without skipping. Sue had an awakening that day and believed Jesus had literally saved her life. From then on, she became active in youth group (the youth group I later attended), was mentored by youth leaders and soon struggled less and less with depression and suicidal thoughts.

I was struck by Sue’s confession. I vividly imagined her planned suicide attempt. The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wondered what her bedroom looked like. I wondered where the CD player was located. I wondered what the song was called. What kind of scissors were they? How was she holding them? I thought of my small sharp pair of purple-handed scissors that would probably do the trick. But didn’t she realize that was a painful way to die? Why did she decide on this method? Was anyone in her family home at the time? Did she plan who would find her? Or was she even serious about it? If the song would have played without the skip, would she have done it?

For a long time, I mulled the planned suicide attempt over and over. I knew it was wrong. I knew that my friend would not want me to be thinking this way. Of course, I knew her purpose in sharing this story was to testify how God got her out of that dark time. But, still, I found comfort in thinking that this girl and I were so similar. I, too, wanted to escape. However, I never imagined a way to do it. I was afraid of pain. I preferred to just go to bed at night and never wake up.

Despite the pain my thoughts caused me, I now recognize the strength I had during those years. Though I didn’t realize I had an addiction, I definitely knew I was not healthy. Somehow my deeper self continued to pull me toward life. The smallest things kept me going during those times, reminding me of why I was alive and soothing my aching, striving heart.

One friend who I could always count on was my beloved Yorkshire terrier Preston. During my senior year, I was often the first one home each afternoon. I looked forward to seeing Preston’s reaction to my arrival home and my high-pitched sing-song voice calling out to him lovingly. My heart would swell with joy hearing his small yip as he sat wriggling and writhing behind the child’s gate in the bathroom downstairs. As soon as I would free him from his prison, it was as if he hadn’t seen me in a year. He would dart out of the small bathroom like a startled mouse. Then he’d dance crazily around my feet, sometimes rolling over several times and finally ending up on his back, four paws in the air. I loved lying on the floor and watching my little dog’s mouth rush at my face to give me kisses.

I loved Preston because he played hard to get. He definitely liked his alone time, so I didn’t get to hold him or play with him for long. That’s why it was extra special when he would slink in my room during homework time. I’d be studiously working and he would crawl under my chair, curl up on my feet and sometimes jump up on the edge of my chair begging to be held. Preston’s warm body and soft kisses were a tangible reminder of a kind of love I could receive with no strings attached. In response to this love, I found I had so much love to give back. This simple realization often reoriented my thought patterns and placed me back on the path of life. Even if for just a few short moments.

Another life giver was writing, a habit I’d had my entire life. I had begun journaling in fifth grade and it started out as kind of a compulsory activity. While I did talk about excitements, fears and hopes, mainly I would write about my day, feeling compelled to depict specific activities in painstaking detail. I was especially dutiful on family trips or mission trips. I tried to never skip a day, and if I did, it was necessary that, in my next entry, I catch up on every little thing that happened. I wrote fewer words about feelings and more about general facts. For the longest time, I felt like I was writing for someone. I knew one of my parents or brothers could easily get ahold of my journal, so in a sense I had to guard what I said.

As the years went on, I slowly eased into more transparency with my writing. For a while I just wrote to my “journal;” soon I began writing to God. After all, He already knew everything anyway.


My perfectionism followed me into my college years. In many ways, college was an extension of high school, a new backdrop for the same painting. I was the same little girl on a canvas, trying to make a name for myself, trying to reach all the expectations my professors had for me, so I could get the high I longed for—a kind word, a pat on the back, an A on my transcript…


Perfect Storm

As I began my teen years, my perfectionism got worse. I started realizing that others had opinions of me, especially my parents. Around age eight or nine, I became aware that my parents were disappointed in me. Because of my perfectionism and rigid thoughts, I would get irritated easily if things did not go as planned or if I was interrupted while doing something important to me.

I remember one time, we were required to pose for a family photo. I had been working on something in my room or was anxious about something. I had no desire to be in that family photo and could feel the irritation as a thousands needles poking me, eating away at my skin. The anger took over like a powerful waterfall or steam engine that could not be stopped. The only way I knew how to tolerate this distress was by crying. So I cried and moped during that whole photo shoot. My parents, as expected, were flustered and annoyed with my tears. This made me even angrier because, I, myself, couldn’t explain why I was mad. I just wanted someone to help me, to understand me. Their impatience with me only perpetuated the thought I grew to believe: “I am flawed. I can never be good enough for my parents.”

(About ten years later I discovered I was a Highly Sensitive Child and was blessedly able to reshape some of these confusing memories and also have more grace for my parents and others who were trying the best they knew how to help me. Again, a story for another post.)

Besides my anxiety and uncontrollable crying spells, I experienced a lot of minor health problems. I would often get migraine headaches and inexplicable stomach cramps. Sometimes I enjoyed the attention I got from my mom when I was sick and had to come home from school. But I also feared I was soon becoming an annoying burden to her. I say this with nothing but compassion for my mom who was an amazing mom and has her own story to tell. I am just revealing the fact that, as a teen, I became preoccupied with earning the love of those who I most longed to please, especially my mom. As I got skilled at reading my mom’s moods, I knew when it was best to hide my physical problems because I found that my problems often pushed her (and others) away. As I grew into adolescence, headaches and stomachaches were a part of daily life and I knew there was no use bringing them up to my mom. After all, she was a migraine sufferer herself and her unspoken mentality was, “Just deal with it. That’s life.”

Sometimes, my physical problems could not be ignored. Several times in junior high, I developed stomach cramps so severe I couldn’t walk. I liked the attention I got from my mom those first few times, the self-sacrificial love she showed me by taking off of work, pushing me in a wheelchair at the hospital and pleading with the doctors for answers. I also felt her fear and anxiety; I knew that that meant she truly loved me. But it was only a matter of time before Mom would get tired of caring for me and I would become a burden again. But I never blamed her. I saw myself through her eyes: someone with problems, someone flawed, someone she was tired of helping.

The underlying thought that I was flawed continued to brew below the surface, a slowly simmering pot, all through my later elementary, junior high and eventually high school years. High school created a deadly concoction of disabling stress and jumbling hormones. When added to the simmering pot of disordered brain chemicals, an inevitable depression resulted.

Depression crept into my life slowly. “Becoming an adult” was a definite turning point in my life, creating a nightmare that soon grew out of my control. I don’t remember a distinct age I was no longer a child. I do remember the shift, though, and it had to do with my brain. I’m sure it was a combination of my rigid, perfectionistic home environment, my melancholy personality, and the normal hormonal and identity shifts of adolescence, who knows. All I know is, by the time I was about 13, I had a new awakening. I was suddenly aware of the world. I knew people were thinking about me, wondering about me. I knew there were societal expectations, school expectations, church expectations and family expectations. It’s not like I didn’t know before. I always knew how to behave growing up. But for some reason, behaving a certain way didn’t faze me as a child. I had anxiety. I worried a lot. But I also experienced lots of happiness, lots of freedom.

But as a teen, behaving appropriately suddenly seemed to be a life or death situation. I became plagued with doing the right thing…or else. I was addicted to trying to be perfect. I saw no other goal in life, except to meet the incessant demands I placed on myself. While I had constant stress and chaos in my life, I did not immediately succumb to depression as a result. My journals during most of high school relay my whirlwind schedule, but also my upbeat spirit and enthusiasm for each activity I was involved in. My giddiness for the smallest things in life, such as playing with my little cousins, snuggling with my yorkie or eating a favorite meal all reveal a stable, content teenager who was still so much an innocent child. I would fondly mention Homecoming week, how, on 80s day, I received so much attention from guys because of my frizzed out hair and wacky getup. I would insinuate my pride and confidence in belonging to groups, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (even though I wasn’t an athlete), choir, orchestra, teen court and youth group. I loved the feeling I would get after completing a stressful music competition or recital or busy night working at Culver’s. I hoarded activities and busyness as a teen; and each activity was positive and life-giving. From any outsider’s perspective, I was a smart, healthy, positive active teen. I was so busy in all my “things,” I was never tempted to go to parties like so many of my classmates. I simply had no time. The busier I was, I think, the less time I had to become aware of the thoughts in my head.

I documented my frenetic, meaningful life with ink and pen. As a compulsive journaler, I talked about excitements, fears and hopes, but mainly I would write about my day. During the school year, my entries would read like a Christmas newsletter, updating my audience of my schedule, family troubles or joys, any sicknesses I or loved ones had endured, and tidbits of everyday life, such as what my yorkie Preston was up to at that moment or who my mom was talking to on the phone. In the summers, since I had more time, I felt compelled to depict specific activities in painstaking detail. I was especially dutiful on family trips or mission trips. I tried to never skip a day, and if I did, it was necessary that, in my next entry, I catch up on every little thing that happened. For the longest time, I felt held back in my journals, like I was writing for someone. I knew this because I would often flippantly mention an event that had caused intense emotional suffering. I did not let on the extent of this suffering in my journal. I tried to keep my “journal” happy, as if the journal was another person in life I was trying to please.

When I journaled, I did not even realize I was glossing over reality. I could not admit to myself the pain and confusion I was enduring underneath all that busyness. One reality that was not apparent in my journals at the time was the interesting relationship I had with my father. I had always felt inferior to my dad. He seemed to always know what was best for me; I had no reason to doubt him because, in my mind, he was faultless. I knew in my heart that I was a constant disappointment to my dad because of my failure to maintain an upbeat, energetic and positive persona.

One day, just a few weeks into my tenth grade year, my dad and I had a troubling conversation. He was driving me to my job at Culver’s. I was caught in a situation that I seemed to always be in with Dad. It seemed the more I tried to do what my dad wanted, the more I would become the person he and I both hated: a whiny, blubbering, pessimistic child. It was a familiar, exasperating situation. I don’t remember the exact thing I did or said in that moment to set Dad off, but he got really mad. He expressed that my negativity was the result of me being too stressed out and decided to “help” me by taking something off my plate. He chose my job at Culver’s. He practically yelled at me, “You must find a way to get off of work for a whole month!” It was as if someone stabbed me in the heart. My anxiety went haywire as thousands of thoughts ripped through my head. I felt like I had again let my dad down; I felt my dad was being unfair. What were my managers going to say? How was I going to manage financially as a fifteen-year-old without a job? Most of all, Dad’s decision was proof that I could not flawlessly handle all the activities I was involved in; this produced in me a profound sense of shame that was an all too familiar feeling.

As relayed in my journal, my Dad turned out to be right. I enjoyed the extra time to myself. He even rewarded me by giving me a $5 weekly allowance. After a month, I was back to working at Culver’s. After that, I worked even harder to do what my dad wanted me to do: remain positive and cheery on a moment-to-moment basis. I continued along the bumpy roller coaster of performance and people-pleasing. I lived for my activities and accomplishments.

Even more, probably, I lived for my feelings. I was addicted to the good feelings that came with belonging. Youth group was where my identity was found, where most of my closest friends were. I attended every Sunday School class, volunteer event, retreat, Sunday evening gathering and mission trip. As an upperclassmen, I was a peer mentor and also helped lead the youth band. Youth group made me happy. I genuinely loved my youth leaders and they gave me encouragement and attention I wasn’t used to receiving. Sunday night youth group was also the one time in the week I would get to see my friends. My church was not in my town, so most of my friends did not attend my school.

Besides youth group, I was very involved at church. I didn’t particularly like the pastor’s sermons or the worship, but I liked being known at church. I adored children and was an active volunteer in the nursery, AWANA and Vacation Bible School. Volunteering with kids at church gave me life. It directed me toward the path of teaching I would later take. As a musician, I often played piano or violin during the offering time. Although it was nerve wracking, I enjoyed playing. Even more, I enjoyed the compliments I would get from church members. When I was a junior, I became part of the church worship team, which was led by the pastor’s son. While I did not like the worship director’s style and aggravated by the lack of musicianship of the team members, I liked being part of something important. I truly loved music and especially playing and singing worship songs. It was fun to share a natural talent I already possessed.

But I did often struggle with intense thoughts as a worship leader. As a perfectionist, I would berate myself for the times I did something imperfectly. Then the next minute, I would praise myself for being a better musician that the person standing next to me on the team. All of this made me feel guilty and hate myself for being so self-absorbed. I often wondered what God thought of me. I knew my youth group leaders would never find out, but I knew I could not escape God’s critical eye. His view of me changed every minute, it seemed. If I volunteered or played worship without thinking of myself, then I was worthy of His love and attention. After all, I was being humble, right? God loves a humble heart. But, if I had even a fleeting self-seeking thought, I knew He was disappointed in me. I tried so hard to be humble. The problem was I started associating being humble with being miserable. I figured if I was happy when I was serving Him, that must be self-seeking.

Luckily, when it came to non-church areas of my life, I didn’t have to worry as much about God and what he thought of me…

Happy Anxious Childhood

I was not a sad kid. If anything, I was jubilant, carefree, playful, loveable. A typical healthy child. I don’t know if my range of emotions or intensity of emotions were abnormal. They were just me. I could switch so easily from my intense top-of-the-world feelings to a lower-than-low one in a matter of a few seconds, it felt like. My earliest negative feeling was fear. My mom said, from a young age, I was always wanting to know things, information that didn’t really seem to matter. I would get stuck on these small, insignificant details. I would worry constantly.

I have a few but not too many memories of being taken over by worry. Maybe I blocked some of them out. As a little girl, my worry came as a monster. Fear would grip me in its talons and I didn’t know how to fight it. I didn’t think it was wrong because it was part of me. One early memory of this is one day in Kindergarten or first grade. It was the end of the school day, a beautiful sunny day. I was sitting on the school bus with my head against the glass window. The trees were splashing waving shadows on the concrete on the grass of the schoolyard below. Colors and sounds melded together as kids darted to their buses and teachers waved goodbye. My heart was soft and peaceful. The sun warmed my cheeks as I smiled. In front of me, an African American boy named Sonny was singing his favorite song which always lightened my heart.

As the bus engine suddenly came to life, I had a sudden realization: I did not see my brother Greg get on the bus. The kids outside were dwindling now; I knew it was time for the bus to leave for home. I frantically looked around outside and there out of the corner or my right eye, I saw my older brother. He was grinning radiantly up at a teacher near the entrance to the school. His brown wavy hair glistened in the sunlight. He waved his arms as he chatted enthusiastically with the teacher. His obliviousness to the urgent situation irritated me. “The bus is leaving!” I thought. “Hurry up!” I felt the familiar lurch of the bus pulling away from the curb and I started crying. “Oh no!” I must have said out loud. Sonny turned around and asked me what was wrong. “My brother! He didn’t get on the bus!” Sonny comforted me with his impossibly white smile and encouraging words. Putting his arms on the back of his seat, he leaned over and began singing his song to me. I will never forget the comfort of that song as my heart rate slowed and I began to laugh with Sonny.

Every so often the panic would come back, “My brother got left behind! I should have done something!” I don’t know if it was the fear of being alone on the bus (for some reason, I knew my other brother Nate would not be getting on the bus that day) or if I truly felt Greg was in danger. At any rate, I was terrified and got off the bus still shaken up. I remember running frantically up our front lawn, and crying to my mom about what happened. I will never forget her irritation, dismissiveness. “Honey, why are you so worried about it? Everything’s fine. The teacher called. I’ll just go pick him up.” That was one of the first times I remember feeling that I was somehow flawed for my worry. The worst thing was that I had no idea how to stop it or control it. Like a predator, it stalked and attacked me when I was least expecting it.

Another significant memory was one Christmas when I was about six. Every year, at Christmas, my Aunt Shari loved to write scripts of the Christmas story for us cousins to perform. That Christmas Eve, we gathered in our grandparents’ family room as she went through each of our parts with us. Her daughter Becca and I were was always the angels with our fluttering backpack wings and glittering tinsel crowns. Alisha, three, was Mary and her brother Ryan was Joseph. My older brothers were the wise men. Tim, and a couple other cousins were the shepherds, including Becca’s little brother, Robbie who was barely two years old.

I remember the excitement of performing the play like we always did, in front of Grammy and Papa’s fireplace in the living room. All our moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and grandparents would be there to smile and coo and join in on the singing led by Aunt Shari. As we were practicing, I heard Aunt Shari mention something “different” that we would be doing this year. Immediately my heart lurched because my sensitive self did not like to be caught off guard. I remember the words, “going to church” and immediately started to panic. We usually never attended church on Christmas Eve, and now we were going to have to do our play in front of Grammy and Papa’s entire church! From then on, all I heard were voices in my head. The paranoia was so bad I just wanted to quit the play all together. Why couldn’t we do it like we did every year? This went on for several hours, me being oblivious to the hustle and bustle of my family and our plans, because I was stuck in the prison of my panicked mind.

Soon we were bundling up and climbing into cars and vans for church. I remember following my family in the dark near the front of the auditorium. As we sat, down I wondered why Aunt Shari had not thought to bring all of our costumes, props and scripts. I nudged her with probing, quavering words: “When do we go up there and do our play?” She looked at my panic-stricken face and laughingly told me, “Oh honey, we’re not doing it here. After church, we’ll go back to the house and do it like we always do.” I don’t know if I’d ever heard sweeter words. The relief and comfort was like salve in every open sore of my mind. I still wonder how I misinterpreted her words earlier in the day. Again I felt taken captive by my overactive mind and racing, panicked thoughts.

Looking back, this is just one situation where the thought of change or doing something out of the ordinary resulted in terror for me, or at least moderate discomfort in the form of excessive worry. As a child, I knew how to comfort myself. Generally, my home was stable, comfortable, predictable. There was no shouting matches, dishes breaking, screaming. As children of loving Christian parents, my brothers and I were always taken care of. I never felt unsafe. But most of my memories involve me being alone, just the way I wanted it. Sometimes, when I was in my dream worlds with my dolls and stuffed animals, with my story writing, I felt I was the only one alive on earth. So, maybe there was more chaos; I just didn’t notice it? There had to have been fights, especially the years our family was planning for our third big move, when I began to feel something different happening with Mom. When my dad’s footsteps up the stairs became heavier and his face more forlorn. Maybe I just knew how to separate from pain.

Maybe during those years, as a third grader, was the time I really felt change. I wanted to rebel. The way I rebelled was by retreating. But the more I retreated inside my mind, the more I became a slave to it. I had always been meticulous about details, a perfectionist. From my parents, I guess, I learned the right way to do things. I folded my toilet paper, set the table correctly, and learned how to slide the tube of toothpaste from bottom to top against the counter to squeeze it out perfectly. Besides the rules my family had for me, I started creating rules for myself: my clothes had to folded a certain way, my dolls and animals could not be out of place before I left my bedroom, I had to hop right out of bed when my alarm went off.

I became even more ritualistic after a distinct incident when I was seven years old. I had been preparing to go to my friend’s house. I was anxious because my parents were entertaining a missionary couple and we were running late. I felt the familiar tightness in my chest and my runaway thoughts of, “What will my friend think? She’s going to be so mad.” I remember sitting on the toilet trying to urinate. All the tension in my body created a surge more powerful than myself; I could not urinate no matter how hard I tried. This realization created intense fear in me which, of course, perpetuated the inability to urinate.

From that day on, I had problems urinating when I was worried about something. As a young child, I dealt with this bizarre fear the only way I knew how. I listened to the thoughts in my head. My brain told me, “If you don’t get up early enough, your brothers are going to have to wait and they’ll get upset. Then you won’t be able to pee.” So I began getting up much earlier in the morning, to ease the anxiety produced by my thoughts. I would also meticulously watch the time at breakfast. I would excuse myself to the bathroom a half hour before the bus arrived to give myself plenty of time. I did not want to “get stuck” at school, unable to relieve myself. I will never forget how common it was for me to obey the thoughts. It felt like my life depended on it.

The bathroom situation developed into full blown paruresis, or Shy Bladder Syndrome, a little known but disabling social anxiety disorder. (I would discover this all about 15 years later.) Thankfully, as a grade schooler, my ritualistic behavior was contained to only this area of my life. (The devastation Shy Bladder Syndrome had on my life as a child, teen and young adult is a story on its own, so I will share it another time). In most other areas, I was free to be me and I didn’t have demanding voices in my head telling me how to act.

As I got older, though, my perfectionism got worse. I started realizing that others had opinions of me, especially my parents. Around age eight or nine, I became devastatingly aware that my parents were disappointed in me…

Six Days in a Mental Hospital

As I walked into the psych ward, there was a big plexi glass office on the left where the staff were waiting to violate you. By that I mean take your stuff and dig through it and give you only a few things back. I did not mind so much that my belts were taken away (although my pants were way too big and kept falling off) but I was kind of distraught when they took my spiral journal. (I had kept a journal for over ten years-my writing was an extension of myself, often my closest friend.) I guess there is a chance I would take the metal spiral apart and harm myself with it. Although it was plain and empty, they did give me a composition notebook inside which I would soon begin dumping the contents of my psyche. Also, they took the string out of my hoodie, which wouldn’t have bothered me, except it was my boyfriend’s and I knew he would be a little annoyed.

I entered the hospital on a chilly Tuesday morning.The night before, December tenth, 2007, in a blubbering, raging stupor, I told my boyfriend I wanted to ingest a bunch of pills. (And I had a lot of them from years and years of psychiatric treatment). “This has never happened to me before, Brittany, but the only thing I can remember about this sort of thing is that you shouldn’t take it lightly. I think you need to go to the hospital.” I was not the kind of person you see on the movies that resist getting psychiatric treatment. The truth is, despite feelings of abject guilt for “abandoning” my Kindergarten students and burdening my coworkers, I was ready to escape my life, and so I welcomed this new “opportunity.”

My new world was surreal. Hazy, foggy, I was so disoriented and out of myself but I just followed the directions the professionals gave me, as the dutiful “good” girl I knew how to be. I was showed to my “room,” stiff, white and cold who I shared with a girl named Ashley. Ashley was not a “good” girl. Blonde, heavier-set, and about eighteen years old, she was feisty and often had verbal fights with the staff. She and I left each other alone but I often wondered how I ended up in a place with someone like Ashley, someone who was so different than I was.

The staff said I would probably be able to leave on Friday. On the first day I was referred to an ENT for my horrible physical condition and was put on another antibiotic (I had been on different ones for the past few weeks for my sinus infection but none of them had worked.) That night I wrote in my composition journal: “I think it will be good for me here. I have this really nice nurse, Gretchen, who’s very kind and I feel well taken care of…Having some feelings of guilt but mostly feel like I’m taking a vacation from my life-which maybe is a good thing-or what they want.”

On Wednesday, a psychiatrist came and visited me a few times; based on the comments of the other residents I realized the doctor was in the habit of diagnosing everyone with bipolar and upping their already high levels of meds. Sure enough he said he thought I had bipolar II or Rapid Cycling Bipolar and put me on a mood stabilizer called Lamictal. (I recognized this as a seizure med I would often dispense for the adults with disabilities I used to worked with. It was a weird feeling being one of the “residents” instead of the staff person.) The psychiatrist also wanted to up my anti-depressant Cymbalta to 90 mg a day. I remember agreeing to all these med changes, thinking, “What do I know? Obviously he is the doctor and I am the crazy one since I am in the psych ward.” During one of our sessions, the psychiatrist looked down at his papers, “The staff have been documenting your sad affect has not changed since you arrived.” Inside I thought, “Why should I pretend to be happy when I am not?” and mostly, “I would be happier if I were at home.”

On Wednesday, Ashley went home  (or somewhere else) and I got a new roommate, Elizabeth, who I took an instant liking to. Liz was a beautiful young woman with long dark hair and huge brown eyes. She looked maybe Hawaiian or something. Liz had been admitted to the hospital after attempting for the second time to kill herself. She had overdosed on Ibuprofen PM and thought she would just die in her sleep. She woke up with severe stomach pain and decided to drive herself to the ER where they pumped her stomach (this was similar to what happened the first time she attempted suicide, she said.) Liz had three daughters and an emotionally abusive husband. I always wonder about Liz and how she is doing or if she is even alive as it is very common for someone who has attempted suicide several times to eventually succeed. She was so beautiful and had so much to live for; it was so painful to hear her story, yet it helped me realize (again) depression is not a feeling, something you can talk yourself out of. It is a severe medical condition. Depression takes ahold of you until you are so far in, it controls everything you do; there is no escaping its hideous claws. For me it was and has been a lifelong journey.

I also met a lot of other “residents”—very interesting people who I realized were not much different than me and nothing at all like the “crazy” people the movies display. A few people received electric shock treatment several times a week because, according to their doctors, no other treatments were working for their depression. One lady who had been in the hospital for several weeks, Kathy, told us not to tell her anything important in the morning before her shock treatment; she would not remember it because the treatment caused amnesia.

During one of the group therapy sessions, a woman named Karen really stood out to me. She was kind of quiet and delicate and I remember she started talking about how she was just now-five years later-dealing with her mother’s death. Later that day after a meal, Karen told me she, too, was a teacher. She taught kids with severe autism but for the past several months she had been abusing Immatrex (a medication for migraines which I also happened to use). She had been driving with a coworker under the influence of the med and almost got the two of them killed by driving through a red light. The coworker called 911 and Karen ended up here. I was so in awe of this beautiful woman who was sharing her heart with people she barely even knew; I was so grateful she and her coworker were okay and I also thought of her students. We both shared our feelings of guilt for “leaving” our students, but realized it’s nice to be taken care of once in a while. In talking with Karen I realized I was not alone.

On Thursday, I wrote in my journal, “God, I am miserable. They want to keep me til Monday. Because of the multiple sicknesses I have, sinus infection, pain and constipation, on top of the depression and sadness. They want to see if the new med and med increase will start taking effect. Since I can’t work anyway, I guess it makes sense…”

Despite missing home and agonizing over what my coworkers and family members were thinking of me at this exact minute, I tried to take advantage of my “vacation” in the hospital. The food was not too bad and it was nice not having to cook for myself or clean up. Plus I got dessert after every meal. I did things I never got to do when I was in the “real world”: jigsaw puzzles, painting, reading. I also got a lot of attention which is what I secretly wanted; during the week I was there I received visits from my parents (who drove 200 miles from Wisconsin), my brother Tim, my brother Greg and sister-in-law Sarah, my boyfriend Will, and my coworker and mentor.

While in the hospital, I realized while I was sick emotionally, I had been much worse in the past but without appropriate support. I wondered if I would have just gone to bed that night, not called my boyfriend and told him about my urge to overdose…would I have just gone on as I had so many times in the past? I had had so many urges that were even stronger in the past to harm or kill myself and I never had. While I feel I would have never taken the pills on that December night some many years ago, I still believe I made the right choice to go to the hospital. My life was forever changed by my experience there; the faces of the people I met will be forever imprinted on my mind. Their stories have become part of my story. I became a more compassionate, gracious and loving person because of my stay at a hospital psych ward. I hope to never enter one again, but I would not edit those six days out of my life if given the choice.

Still, my hospital stay forced me to face the reality of my life, however surreal and zombie-like I still felt. How did all the things that happened to me result in me ending up here, a mental hospital? And where would my life turn now as a result of this important milestone in my journey?

New Depression

I thought I would begin posting on my “new” blog (even though I started this depression blog four years ago.) I haven’t shared much about my personal life since I got married one year ago whether it be on social media or in person. Who knows if what I say will help anyone but I hope it does. I feel compelled to share so I am going with it.

I have been going through another “Valley of Baca,” a pretty intense season of depression. Depression used to give my life meaning. I used to live for both having the problem itself and for healing from my depression. And I used to feel closer than ever to God when I was suffering. The last year and half but particularly the last several months, I have felt a new kind of depression. I have felt further from God than ever and alone in my blackness. Few of my old coping mechanisms seem to get me out of my funk and the worst is I don’t care. Apathy is a new kind of pain I have rarely experienced.

I know I am not alone and I want others to know they are not alone so that’s why I am opening up.

The reason why it’s so hard to talk about is because I know my life is good. I have a great home, a good job and a wonderful husband. Not to mention family and friends who love  and support me. But as my counselor said, depression can strike anyone and I am sick and tired of blaming myself. Which is what spurs my depression on in the first place.

I am not discounting any positive thing in my life. But I also want to be real. A real approachable person that can maybe reach someone like me. I wish I could get excited about this life life I used to. But instead of being propelled by my suffering, I am hiding more than ever.

I guess I’ve had my share of shameful moments. But why I’m so ashamed now is different than all the other times. I can be different. I know what to do. I have all the tricks in the bag (Bible reading, prayer, devotions, positive thinking, yoga, mindfulness, eating health, exercising, taking supplements and on and on). I know the right things to do and the wrong things not to do. I could change. I don’t have any reason to be doing the wrong things. Except maybe I want to forget about why I no longer feel or experience life how I once did. I just choose to continue to hide. I like to feel vulnerable. I like to be the one who can hurt my body or mind. For some reason. I like the control I have.

I don’t want to leave this entry on a negative note. I know I am in a season and I am trying to learn from the season I’m in. Like every other time, I will get through and come out stronger because of it. Instead of fighting it. And I have been doing a few good things such as reaching out to those who love me and writing. For the sake of those who love me, I want to get better. And I know you will too. The world needs to hear my voice and it needs to hear your voice.

I decided I am done hiding and thanks to some inspiration from this wonderful woman, I want to tell my story. Like her, I want it to read like a book (I already have a lot of written for a memoir I have been working on). So start here, then click forward on the bottom left arrow to read it in order. I hope you decide to follow me on my journey!

Things I Know For Sure

Truths I have come to believe through my experiences:

  • You have no right to judge another’s experience.
  • People are never as they appear on the outside.
  • Pain is pain.
  • You can always find joy even in the hardest times.
  • You must face your fears in order to truly live.
  • You can never get back THIS moment.
  • Faith is dead without action.
  • You can CHOOSE to feel differently about ANY situation.
  • People rarely notice you (the way you think they do).
  • Always assume the best but be aware of the worst.
  • Christ is incarnate; He is found in anything beautiful in the world, most often the day-to-day things you forget to acknowledge.
  • Hope is living in the moment but knowing one day everything will be perfect.
  • You may mean little to the world, but, to one person, you may mean the world. (and that’s a GREAT reason to stay alive!)
  • My body is not my own; it is my Creator’s, that’s why I am a sacred and beautiful person.
  • People come and go from our lives; I strive to learn from each one knowing that that one conversation we have may very well be the only one.
  • Each mistake is a chance to learn more about yourself and become a better person.
  • Self-hate is a sure way to make yourself look ugly.
  • Striving for perfection takes away this moment to be completely YOU.


June 10, 2005

can’t explain the way I feel

it’s like everything inside of me is squishing together

I feel it as physical nausea

everything’s about to explode

though I don’t know what everything is

I just have the feeling

I don’t know where the feeling comes from

I am not sure of anything

I am sitting here

getting more and more confused about my existence

thinking about it does not help

but I have nothing else to do

that is no excuse

writing this probably doesn’t help either

but I have to get it out

not I need to write about something else

something that matters

I don’t know what to do to get out of this whirlwind

Lord help me get out of this trap of confusion

I need to break out of this glass

I need to get back within the world

the world I know you want me in

I am trying to label myself but it isn’t helping

everywhere I go I try to make my mark

I want to earn acceptance

I want to receive rapport

to no avail

I never get what I want

because I don’t even know what I want

I keep falling falling falling

And I fear I will never get up

I can never see past my failures

Because I fear seeing my successes is a failure

I don’t even know if I have any successes

Satan keeps bringing me down

I keep forgetting your truth

Your light keeps diminishing

But please don’t let it burn out

I know you won’t, Lord

I feel like it’s all about me

my failure to keep searching for you

though I so desperately wish I could

I so desperately long for freedom from myself

I never thought I would ever be this trapped

This isolated and confused in a world inside myself

A terrifying world away from reality

From the people I love

From the things you’ve given to me

Lord, how do I stop analyzing everything

How do I wake up

How do I know who to believe and what to believe

How do I know what to do and what not to do

What will help and what won’t???????

Most of all, how do I know what it means to trust you?

And how do I make that work.

It sounds so simple but it is the biggest challenge of my life

It is what I breathe every minute every second

I don’t know how I survive each day

I don’t really even want to survive some days

Lord I sometimes wish you would call it quits on my life

But I know I am being selfish

Because I know you’ll carry the good work on to completion

in my life

I just wish I knew why it was so hard for me to cooperate

What is with me that I can’t simply change

That I can’t simply make a right choice

That I can’t simply have the right attitude

That I can’t simply know who to believe?

That I can’t simply know the truth?

I mean I don’t even know if I’m sick or if, by saying that,

I am lying to myself

Am I weak by saying that, because, in some regards I feel as though I am

But I do have some disposition towards my condition too

And that’s what I have trouble with

I am always feeling pressure from others that I should change

That it’s all about me and my choices

That’s why I feel like SO much of a failure every day every hour every second

I hate living like a failure I hate myself when I am failure

I feel like everyone hates me when I am a failure

Please Jesus change me

Let me embrace the truth

Open the floodgates let me know your unfailing undying unending amazing love for me that knows no bounds

Please oh please Savior Abba!!!!

I am so so so so so overwhelmed and weary

from trying to live for others

I just JUST want to live for you and YOU alone

JESUS I need you! I live and breathe for you alone!

At least that is my desire!!!!!

Please Jesus!
That is why I struggle

Because I fail to think of you above others

I fail to remember what YOU think of me before what others think of me

You know my every thought my every move everything about me

And you love me like no other

I don’t understand it

I am so confused inside myself

But I will continue to trust in you as my life depends on it

Thank you Jesus for saving me

You take delight in me

I will try to remember this

I will draw my breath from your power made perfect in my weakness

Give me peace amidst the storm in my mind

Grant me serenity and help me know you are right here

Even when I cannot feel your presence

Thank you Lord

Help to continue praising you even when I don’t even know why.