Hurricanes, Hospitals, and Heavenly Hope

A year ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Austin. It was subtle and unexpected and as terrifying as it sounds, but it was necessary at the time. I won’t bother trying to recount everything that led up to me being admitted; Suffice it to say that it was a week from hell. A lot of changes were happening all at once, along with some tragic circumstances that impacted dear friends and family. One thing led to another and everything just felt like it was crushing me and the weight was unbearable. The nurse in me was all but gone at the time so I believed the healthcare professional who told me that hospitals can’t force you to be admitted.

Naturally, I made the admission process almost as difficult as it could be. I opted to wait for a “mental health deputy” to come evaluate me to see if it would be appropriate to force an involuntary admission because I was refusing to admit myself. After waiting about an hour and a half and hearing the nurses say the same thing (that it was a 90% chance he would force the admission by law), I signed the admission papers so that we didn’t have to keep waiting and so that my friends could leave. I can say with confidence that the next 24 hours were the worst 24 hours of my life. I have never felt so alone and afraid. And as I laid in my bed that Saturday morning and afternoon, all I could do was cry. On top of all of this, Hurricane Harvey was hitting my hometown 5 hours away. I-10 was closed. So I wasn’t going to see my family anytime within the next few days (visiting hours were only on Sundays and Wednesdays, so realistically I don’t know that I was going to see them either way). It seemed appropriate that a major storm would rage outside the window as I dealt with the reality of the storm that was also raging within my soul. Something was obviously very wrong.

It was a unique experience to say the least. I was pissed that I was there for the first 36 hours. I requested to be discharged less than 12 hours after being admitted, but ended up withdrawing that request since a few friends and family pleaded that I wait at least a few days. I guess some of the meds started to kick in early Sunday afternoon and I started to feel better. I was still really worried about missing work though and having to answer questions from students when I went back. It was hardly how I hoped to start a new school year.

But when I reflect back on that time now, I see God’s grace all throughout. I would rather say that I went to the hospital than have to think about the alternatives that could have occurred. I had the opportunity to talk with a few people there who were in really similar situations: normal lives for the most part, but really poor coping skills and lots of depression. As I’ve written previously about depression and suicidal ideations, there’s no way to explain how bad it is to someone who hasn’t experienced it first hand. All you feel is misery. All you can think about is how badly you want the misery to end. And on top of that, you feel like you have nothing left in you to do anything, but the world around you still has expectations. You still have to work and try your best to make it through one day at a time. You have to figure out ways to trick yourself sometimes. You have to listen to people say the same things over and over again that aren’t helpful at all (e.g. “God never gives you too much to handle…” or “You can will yourself through it…” or one of my personal favorites: “if you just put yourself out there a little more or found somebody to be with…”)

In all honesty, I laugh a lot when I think about some of the stupid things that happened with other patients and things nurses said and just the overall experience. Clearly I’m aware that I’m a little off mentally, so I’m sure that’s not the way you’re supposed to handle reflecting on your previous psychiatric inpatient experiences, but some of those memories really are probably some of the funniest moments I’ve lived through thus far. How can you not smile when you offer to open the drink for the person sitting next to you and they threaten you because they think you’re trying to steal it? How can you not chuckle a little bit when someone tells you that they were going to kill you if they saw you smoking outside during the smoke break because you look too ‘innocent’ to them to be smoking? (you had to know her, but I’m pretty sure she was kidding.) And I will absolutely always laugh when I remember how another patient screamed at me and called me a ***** because I opened the door for her and gestured for her to walk in before me (in her defense, I said ‘go ahead’ in a very soft voice, so maybe she thought I was being ingenuine; and I just have to believe that she was also very disoriented). This is the highlight reel: I have 2 pages of notes that were written with a crappy wax pencil recording some of the other bizarre things that happened while I was there. Fun fact about psych hospitals: they take away everything and give you a wax pencil and crayons to write with because everything else (even markers??) is apparently sharp enough to cause harm. I stole a pen the second day because the wax pencil was actually heightening my psychosis, not helping decrease it…

Though there were a lot of comical moments to reflect on, there is a weight that rests on my heart and my mind when I think about those days. There is an awareness of how deep and how dark that pit was and an acknowledgement that, God forbid, it could happen again someday.

I don’t know why I feel led to write so openly about some of the most personal experiences I’ve had in my life, but I guess it gives more meaning to those experiences, especially the ones that were really painful. I hope that people who read these words (if anyone actually reads them) find hope somewhere in their midst. In all reality, that’s all I have to offer to the world around me… the hope that Another has shared with me. During that awful 24 hour period following my admission, I felt so alone. I remember just laying there and feeling so forgotten and abandoned and crying out to the Lord and asking Him why He would allow things to get so bad and for me to suffer so much.

I didn’t get an answer. I still don’t really understand a lot of what happened during that time or why it all happened the way it did. But a year later, I’m able to thank God that He kept me from harm once again. I’m grateful that He surrounded me with people who were so faithful to love me well during what proved to be an incredibly difficult season. Since April, things have been pretty steady, which I am so thankful for. I have to stop and remind myself in the midst of days that feel mundane and pointless that such days are still a gift. You come to appreciate a normal day a lot more when approximately 535 days in a row feel anything but normal. Over the past few days, I’ve been able to enjoy time out on the water and with friends, a lot of moments of sweet fellowship with my local church community, and some renewal in relationships that had to be put on the back burner for a while. I’ve paused for a few moments to acknowledge that the past 365 days could have been lost. This time could look so different for my family and friends right now. Nevertheless, God is good; what could have been a time of mourning is a time that gets to stay “normal” for now.

Currently, I’m good. But I’m aware that others who are reading this could be in a very different place. Maybe they’re bound for the hospital in the next few days. Maybe they’re on their way out (the first week or two back may be just as bad as the time spent inbound). I’m sure if one of those people were reading this right now, they could feel discouraged because I can’t say I’m right there in the pit with them anymore. But I would hope that if a such a person is reading this, they may find encouragement in that last sentence… I’m not in the pit anymore. So that means the seemingly endless, empty, miserable hole that you find yourself in right now isn’t as endless and empty and miserable as it seems. Please understand that I’m not belittling where you’re at.

I know how it feels and what it looks like and how much you just want to be done with it. I know how lacking sleep may be or how incapable you feel of eating or even getting out of bed. I know how hard it is to look someone you love in the eyes and watch them cry because they’re hurting for you while you can’t cry because you don’t even feel anything anymore. I think one of the most agonizing aspects of depression is having to watch others go through it with you. It’s hard and heart wrenching and debilitating, but God is able to teach you through trials things you couldn’t learn otherwise. His work may be confusing; it probably won’t look the way you would want it or expect it to. More often than not, it will probably look like you crying on a bed while someone else holds you or reads a psalm to you because you can’t read to yourself. You must allow others into such darkness if you hope to ever leave it. You must ask others to remind you of the promises God makes to His children when you can’t believe them and repeat them to yourself. I’m aware of how hard that is. I can vividly remember wanting to throw up each time I had to text or call someone to tell them I was suicidal again. But the relief that followed in knowing I was safe surpassed the anxiety that came in the moments when I had to admit how bad things were.

I won’t say it gets easier because it doesn’t. I would say it can become more manageable. With the right meds and counseling and additional support, it can become radically different from what it was before. But the overwhelming hope every believer has is that the Gospel promises redemption in the end. For the wounds and diseases that afflict you now and maybe for the rest of your earthly life, you will receive healing in the end. God is not limited by what limits you. He is not bound by our illnesses nor is He afflicted by our diseases. He transcends all that we are caught up in. He sees the past, the present, and the future. He stands at the beginning and the end, faithful to His promises forever. If you can’t see past the now, look on to your eternity.

Here is where I feel led to make a distinction: there are only two possible outcomes for your eternity. One is to spend forever reunited and renewed with God in heaven. The other is to spend forever separated from Him, where the pain you feel now will only be magnified beyond an intensity that is impossible to imagine. I don’t say that to scare you into wanting the first option. I say it with the utmost sincerity and belief: that the eternity countless souls will spend away from God will be the infinite magnification of the worst evil and agony ever experienced and felt on this earth. So if you think that what you are walking through now could never feel any worse but you’re not sure of where you stand in relation to God, rest assured: it can get worse. It will get worse if you continue seeking to find meaning in life apart from the Author of life. I say all of this with the hope of sharing hope.

I am more than happy and willing to talk with others who are struggling with similar issues (or to swap crazy hospital stories if someone else has ones they want to share hah). As always, I write with the hope and prayer that those who read my words will be directed heavenward, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. I implore anyone reading these words to gaze upon the greatest glory of the universe: Jesus Christ. A greater beauty doesn’t exist. A greater treasure won’t be found. There is no other source of wisdom and truth that pierces and transforms the soul, producing the miracle of new life. Reader, won’t you join me in setting our eyes above? It is only through seeing such a sight that our eyes will be healed and enabled to see all else rightly. Christ is the anchor for the soul, the forerunner who tore the veil and entered into the Holiest of all that we may join Him there.

Such hope sustains every saint for eternity past, eternity present, and eternity future. We will not forever be maimed by maladies of any kind. He who began the work is faithful, He will surely do it. “Let this be your life: Ponder him; be pervaded with him; point to him. The more you know of him, and the more you admire the fullness of his beauty, the more you will reflect him. O that there would be thousands of irresistible reflections of the beauty of Jesus.”

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