The Far Side of Sanity and Back Again: An Evolution in Thank You


May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  And as someone who fought the debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder for more than a decade, I’ve done a guest post for Deborah Bryan at “The Monster in your Closet.”  Deb does a powerful and moving  series called “For this I am Thankful,” that  features bloggers sharing their personal gratitude narratives.

image via Mental Health Awareness Blog

During the 1990s I was hospitalized more than 25 times for psychiatric reasons.  In a post called “The Far Side of Sanity and Back Again:  An Evolution in Thank You” I share one my earliest inpatient experiences and my eventual feelings of gratitude, not only for medicines’ ability to ultimately manage my symptoms, but also for the illness itself–its teaching me more about myself and deepening my compassion for others who are suffering.  Below is an excerpt from that post:

Sometimes gratitude takes time to develop.   Sometimes it’s a process.

For me, being thankful is something I’ve matured into.  In me, the feeling has aged, like cheese, fine wine, a decent sourdough—pungent, rich and layered with flavor.

In fact, I fought mental illness for years before I felt anything remotely resembling gratitude—for either the illness itself or my eventual recovery.  Mostly I hated it.

Actually, I lost my mind gradually, but by my late twenties, I was caught up completely in the throes of it—hospitalized twice in as many months.  And as my 28th birthday approached, I gave up all pretense of sanity and simply let go.  I’d white-knuckled reality for a number of months if not years, until finally my fingers slipped, and I was lost to free fall . . . .

To read more, click here.

I hope you will leave  a comment both below and over at Deb’s site.  Feel free to simply copy and paste your comment from one site to the other, so readers can dialog about these issues on both blogs.  It’s only through this kind of sharing and discussion that we can lessen the stigma associated with mental illness.  Feel free to ask me questions.  I am happy to answer as best I can, even if I have to do so in additional posts.

70 thoughts on “The Far Side of Sanity and Back Again: An Evolution in Thank You

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your moving words via this series. I hope they reach many who will find encouragement and strength in them, as I did. I had goosebumps at parts when I first read your post, and the same was true again this morning. Thank you.

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    • Deb, I’m honored you asked me to share. It feels like a story that has to be told. The only way to begin lessening the stigma attached to mental illness, is by sharing our stories. Besides dialog, there’s no other option.

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  2. Kathy – I very much appreciate your guest post over at Deborah Bryan’s blog. As I mentioned there, I have an up-close-and-personal relationship with mental illness as my father is manic depressive, paranoid schizophrenic. Thank you, as always, for shooting from the hip.

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    • I’m so pleased you can appreciate my shooting from the hip. I don’t know that’s it’s a virtue, however, as I simply don’t know how to be any other way. It feels, inside of me, like the only option–for whatever reason. Keeping quiet seems to paralyze me. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with mental illness. It must be difficult, when the sick person is also your parent.

      Thanks for reading, Laurie!

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  3. I am crying. Recovery is a wonderful thing to be thankful for. I am thankful for the bravery it took to write this post and share it with the world. I admire your courage, Kathy, and love you so much more for it.

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    • Thank you, dear Miranda. I’m pleased this post touched you so deeply. At the same time, I don’t know that writing this has anything to do with bravery. I’d love to think that it does, but sharing my story feels more like an inner imperatitve. If that makes any sense. I just don’t know how to keep quiet. I love you to, Sista! Hugs!

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  4. Reblogged this on scatteringmoments and commented:
    This is a post from someone I am honored to call a friend. Take the time to peruse her words and, like me, admire the courage she has shown, not only in her recovery but in her willingness to share it with the world.

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  5. Kathy, I’m not going to repeat my comment here, but I just want to say you have found your voice, and you are giving a gift to the world with your honesty and bravery. For that I am grateful.

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    • What a sweet thing to say, Lisa. I’m so, so pleased this post spoke to you. I love the idea of being able to give a gift with my writing, but I had never even thought in those terms before.

      I would be interested to know if you think my voice in stronger in this than in some of my memoir posts about my father.

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      • I don’t know if I can answer that. The voices are different (not in a schizophrenic way). With the posts about your father your voice is that of a woman trying to make sense of a complicated past, with the ensuing gaps of memory. Sometimes you fall into a kind of historical journalist voice there, which is great. Your posts about mental issues is a more poetic personal voice. They are both you, but different parts of you, and they are both strong.

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      • Fascinating. Thanks for describing it. As I try to understand who I am as a writer, approaching both topics, it’s help to understand what others hear–if that makes any sense. Again, thanks, Lisa.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story, as a child of a parent who suffers from mental illness, it is very helpful to hear “from the other side.” I appreciate your honesty and openness. Thank you again.

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    • I’m sorry to hear you have this parental exposure to a mental illness. It must be painful to grow up seeing your parent so ill. Please don’t feel like you need to answer, but I wonder what that was like? Did you ever blame yourself? Are you overly responsible as an adult? Again, Please know it’s TOTALLY okay not to answer. I would just like to understand how that impacts a child.

      Thanks so much for reading. It’s truly wonderful to hear from you today.

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      • I was only eight or so when my mother was committed for the first time. I remember feeling like I did something wrong, but at the same time I knew my mom was “sick.” I can remember visiting her once in awhile with my brother, and not quite understanding it all. It has caused me to be very guarded in a lot of ways. I would say I am an overly responsible and overly cautious adult. It is still hard to come to terms and I find myself sometimes resentful, not to her, but to the situation. The most difficult thing is knowing she will never be cured, (in any real sense.)

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      • Thanks for responding. I know it’s not easy to share. I can only imagine how it would impact a child. And 8 is so terribly young. Plus, it makes perfect sense that you would be guarded and cautious as an adult. What an adaptive resonse. It’s amazing how children intuitively know what to do to protect themselves, and this caution must have been your way.

        I’m very sorry your mother is still so ill. True there is no cure. I’ve been fortunate to have found the right combination of drugs to keep my symptoms at bay, but it took well over a decade for that to happen. And I think that in that time better drugs were developed, ones that were directed toward the effective treatment of specific symptoms. I still have to take a cocktail of meds to cover the bases.

        Again, thanks so much for sharing!

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  7. Kathy, it is always a brave thing to share our struggles with others. It reminds us all that we are human. To have lived through something like bipolar disorder – while one is never cured – but to have fought to have a rich, full, functional life like you have is an inspiration to anyone who struggles.

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    • Yes, good point. One is never cured. There are periodically symptoms that break through the barrier medication has erected between me and the illness. And, in fact, the illness is always there. It’s simply disguised by the drugs that seem to have brought me back. It’s almost like there are always two of me. Weird. Thanks for this comment, Andra, because I don’t think I have ever understood it this clearly. Somehow in writing this that insight has emerged.

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  8. I’ve not lived it personally but then yes I have – I’ve witnessed 2 family members enduring the terror accompanied by their subsequent euphoria, none of it making sense, and all of it heartbreaking, inch by inch. Recovery is possible and hard-fought for. I’m glad you made it back to us. Of the 2 I know, one is back and leveled off, the other is still struggling. MJ

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    • Gosh, MJ, I’m glad to have made it back, as well. As you know, it’s all very painful, but that pain makes the joy I experience now all the more special. I’m happy to hear one of your family members is doing better. I willl keep the other in my prayers. I’m so happy to have you in my life, MJ!
      Hugs,
      Kathy

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      • and I am most happy to be in your life. 🙂 I have thought a lot about this post and tears fill my eyes right now as I think of how good it is to have 1 back; all I can do is pray for the 2nd.

        You are so right when you say that the pain we experience makes any subsequent joy just that much palpable. Thank you for your kindness but, most of all, your humanity. MJ

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      • Oh, thanks so much for reading, MJ. I’m delighted this post spoke to you. And thank you, as well, for mentioning my sharing my humanity. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I suppose that’s exactly what it is. I guess that should have been fairly obvious to me, but it was so much so I totally over-looked it–not seeing the forest for the trees. Hugs to you———–

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  9. Following your request and copy-pasting my comment here:

    As Kathy knows, my partner Jon suffered from a deadly combination of mental illness and addiction. These illnesses ultimately took his life, almost five months ago. The week after Jon died I wrote this post, called “Gratitude”. http://2summers.net/2011/12/25/gratitude/.

    I wasn’t coherent enough then to understand exactly why I felt grateful, despite the unbearable pain of losing the person I loved most in the world. But Kathy has captured it perfectly here. I’m grateful to have had Jon in my life, and I’m grateful for the illness that made him the beautiful person he was. I’m grateful that the time I spent with him has made me a better person with a deeper understanding of mental health and addiction issues.

    Kathy, thanks for reminding me that it’s Mental Health Awareness month. Beautiful post. Thanks to Deb for sharing it.

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    • What a huge insight, Heather! You are absolutely correct that the “illness” is part of what made Jon the brilliantly creative person that he was. Losing him could be nothing short of pure agony, so your ability to be grateful so soon after the lossl is huge. You have a beautiful heart, my friend. And it’s the eye that was able to see the beauty in Jon that also makes you such a wonderful photographer–and stunning writer. Thank you for this comment. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.
      Hugs,
      Kathy

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  10. Kathy, I can’t even being to imagine what it was like going through this for a decade. I am so glad to hear that you found help and a loving life partner in Sara. I am going to go over now and read your post. Thanks for speaking out on this important event! The world needs to learn and understand more!!!! Nicole

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  11. Okay, this is what I posted on Deb’s site: As one of your regular readers, Kathy, I think the world — or at least the blogosphere (but aren’t they the same place?) is much better off that you’ve managed to thus far survive a struggle that I truly cannot fathom even though I have a hair-trigger tendency to declare certain people in my life and many fellow NYC subway riders, “nuts”, “crazy” or “looney tunes”. As someone who has suffered and survived diagnosed mental illness, your articulate and candid insights about this side of your life that is so deeply personal have been very enlightening. Sharing what you’ve endured is so magnanimous. Your experiences battling these demons can give hope to others that they can not only live through this, but if they don’t give up, they can also be very productive, fulfilled, respected, admired and appreciated. Plus your art’s pretty nifty, too.

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    • Thanks for reading, V. I’m so happy this post moved you. Like you, I tend to say things like, “Is she nus?” Often, however, I also use that language to mock my own eccentricities–and more often than not, I am crazy–big-time-crazy! LOL Oh well, I truly am delighted this post spoke to you, my friend. Hugs————-

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  12. I think, Kathy, that its very brave of you to share such a personal story, and also wonderful that you’re doing this to help others. You seem to be in a good place now, with so much going for you, and I’m happy to know you and to be discovering more and more about you with each new post.

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    • Yes, I am in a good place these days. I am, in fact, in a great place–without having been truly manic in a long while. Thank God. Life is good. So happy to be getting to know you, Monica. Happy Mother’s Day, my friend.

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    • Actually, it helps enormously to talk about this. In fact, it’s not sharing that is painful. I’m so delighted to have come so far from where I was back then. I even feel kind of proud. However, I don’t think that feeling is justified. I suppose it’s more the miracle advances in psycho-pharmacology that I have to thank. I appreciate the question. It’s an excellent one!

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  13. Kathy, What a powerful piece. It left me speechless which is rare! 🙂 Your illness and treatment have brought you into a new place and I am so grateful and yes–thankful—that you are where you are at today. Too many people do not have the fortitude to carry on when mental illness strikes and you, my friend, have risen above and are telling the story of life living with and through an illness that most of us can barely begin to understand. You should be proud of how far you have come and the way that you are able to be open and honest about something that most people would hide away and not share. Thank you for sharing. Going to share it with others. Hugs.

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    • Beth Ann, you are dear, my friend! I think most folks rise to the challenges they face, as ultimately, what choice do we have? However, I DO know there are many, many folks who remain stuck in the cycle of mental illness and don’t really triumph ove the disease. I don’t know what makes the difference. At any rate, thank you so very much for your kind words. Hugs to you–and happy MOther’s Day tomorrow!

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  14. Kathy,

    Your essay was difficult to read. I kept having to stop and take breaks. The prose was so beautiful that I wanted to read it just for those bright, burning words. But the story itself is so disturbing and kept evoking thoughts of my youngest son. I couldn’t focus.

    So I started to write a message to you about our son and his struggle with crippling OCD. Even after months of therapy and medication, it got so bad he could barely bring himself to leave the house. At its worst, the rituals and rules surrounding his illness got so complicated that he was stressed and anxious to the point of panic and terror every day. When the demands of the disease couldn’t be met, he melted down, screamed, cried, hurt himself, hid in closets or corners, sometimes fled the house and ran in a panic down the street, and sometimes just begged for help. We spent hours trying to help him learn to calm himself, to redirect his thoughts, to outsmart the disease.

    Now, thanks to a change in medication, lots more therapy, and maybe, providence, he’s back in school (mostly), making new friends, and best of all, really happy. He still has lots of rules and rituals here at home but they have relaxed quite a bit. I haven’t written about him or his struggle (except in letters to family, teachers and principals). It’s painful. I’ve never felt so helpless as I did when things were at their worst. He was so frightened and miserable. Every minute of every day. And we’re always afraid it will escalate again.

    My comment turned into an essay. This is the brief version. I put it aside and finished reading your essay. I’m glad I did. I’m so sorry you had to go through such an incredible ordeal but thank you for writing about it. I think you’ve helped me see why I have to write about what’s happened to our son.

    (I especially love your last two lines.)

    Gratefully,
    Tori

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    • Oh, Tori, how incredibly painful that must be. I can’t imagine how a parent can bear to see their child suffer. Surely that has got to be pure agony. Thank God, your son is doing better now. Bless his dear heart! So often finding the right drugs can make all the difference. However, getting there can be hell.

      I hope you will write about your experience, Tori. I’ve heard from so many parents of the mentally ill. But I really don’t know many parents, if any, who write about it. I think you would have so much to share. Thank you so very much for letting me know about this. It makes me feel all the closer to you! Blessings to you and your family, dear Tori!

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  15. I love and admire the person you are even MORE now that I know this about you .. and I think you are so incredibly brave to be open about your illness, and so incredibly inspiring to show that there is a possibility for love, light and peace …. I have always loved giving to NAMI for its work, and now I have one more reason! Beautiful post… and I loved 2Summers, too!! Thanks for linking to her blog!

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    • I’m so happy my post spoke to you, Betty. I’ve had a lot of people who have loved and supported me, so I’m blessed. It’s also great to hear that you have supported NAMI–and that you enjoyed Heather’s (2Summers) blog, as well. She’s a wonderful writer. Great to hear from you today. Thanks so much for reading.

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  16. I wonder if you know how much you allow others to accept all the monsters in their own closets a little more fully, perhaps even a little gratefully?

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  17. I think a lot of us mature into being thankful – that’s just human nature. The things we don’t appreciate when we’re young, we grow to acknowledge later in life. Like, for instance, broccoli. Man, I hated that stuff when I was a kid, but now I think it tastes pretty good!

    Err…I’m also talking about more than just veggies, of course….

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    • Thanks for reading, Mark. I think kids are naturally inclined to take things for granted. As you say, we grow into gratitude–as well as our veggies, of course! Happy Sunday to you and Tara!
      Hugs,
      Kathy

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  18. For a while, I kept a gratitude journal. Every night I’d write down 3 things I was thankful for that day. And I realized that gratitude comes in very small things: someone holding the door for me or a cool breeze at the end of a hot day. I also found that if I was looking for things to write in my journal, I’d be seeking out gratitude and that gave me a whole new attitude. (Hey that rhymes!)
    So today I am grateful to you for inspiring me to start up my gratitude journal again.
    Hugs!

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  19. I have so much admiration for the person you’ve become after what sounds like such a struggle, Kathy. So glad to “know” you and being able to partake in your journey though reading your stories has proven time and time again to be such a gift…. which I am so thankful for.

    Thank you for always sharing yourself so brilliantly.

    Hugs,
    Currie

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    • I can’t wait for you to share more of your story, as well, dear Currie. I think you have a book to write, my friend! I love having you in my life. I love your blog, as well. Hope you know how precious you are! Hugs-

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  20. Pingback: Normal | Infinite Sadness… or what?

  21. Kathy, I left this comment a couple of days ago, but it didn’t show up on Deborah’s site, so I copied it and saved it, in case it didn’t show up here (which it didn’t!) I think it’s a Word Press thing; if you comment too much on one day, they put you in the spam folder! Anyway, here goes another try…

    Dear Kathy, what you have been through, and the person you have become, gives me, and should give all other people who know you, the confidence that there is hope for the future, no matter what the situation. You have proved to all that strength of will and determination will conquer all obstacles. You have become the beautiful person who I am blessed to know today, with gratitude for your past trials. What an amazing, inspirational woman you are. 🙂

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    • Thank God, you saved a version of this comment. I’m so happy to get it, Joanne. And you are so, so right. We should all have hope. If I could get so much better when everything looked so hopeless, anyone can. I truly believe it. Thanks for reading, my friend. Great to hear from you!

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  22. I love your comparison to a decent sourdough, especially since I’ve found that a decent, really GOOD, sourdough isn’t all that easy to find. You are a courageous and inspiring woman. That’s not common to find, either. 🙂

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  23. I’ve read much of what you’ve written before about your mental illness and have always admired your bravery in talking about it. Somehow it had escaped my notice before, and it saddens me now to know you were merely in your twenties as it was hitting you full-force. You’re a survivor, Kathy, that’s for sure!

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  24. I’ve read other bloggers that have struggled with mental illness and the will and fortitude to overcome and survive nevers ceases to amaze me. Thank you for sharing this.

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    • Thanks so much for reading, Tara. I think most folks would be surprised what they are able to deal with, if the situation arises. Plus, when it does happen, you don’t have much choice. I know–it’s sad to say, isn’t it?

      Like

  25. Pingback: A Story from the Heart, or The Writer I Want to Be « Woman Wielding Words

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