In retrospect, and with hindsight being 20/20, I believe that my mental illness started when I was a child. I say that because of the extreme anxiety I experienced, especially when I was in large crowds. If I went shopping, for example, I felt so overwhelmed by so many people being around me that I couldn’t wait to get home.
After I experienced a variety of traumatic events, such as my husband at the time leaving me when I was eight months pregnant, and finding out that my son’s father had sexually abused my daughter, my mental illness became its worst. During the 1980s, my illness manifested itself in in suicidal thoughts, multiple suicide attempts, and several lengthy, repeated hospitalizations.
The turning point for me was when a psychiatrist told me that I could either be discharged from the hospital and participate in an intensive outpatient therapy program or voluntarily commit myself to Mayview State Hospital. Not wanting any part of being in a state hospital, I felt that I had to “get myself together.”
Learning in the early 2000s that recovery from severe mental illness was indeed possible and developing strategies for my recovery toolbox are what started me on my journey.
Of the many things that have helped me, it’s the strength that I get from my faith in Jesus that helps me the most. Without the spiritual underpinnings of my faith, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
If you are in recovery or know someone who is, be uplifted by the assurance that, with 25 percent of Americans experiencing a mental health crisis at some point in their lives, and with 90 percent of individuals in the behavioral health system having experienced significant trauma – especially in early childhood – you’re not alone.
Having found the resiliency to rise from the ashes, and now being nourished by the hope that comes from being a work of recovery in progress, I know from having been at my worst that the journey won’t always be easy. But I also know that I will always get better because of personal medicine called hope.
Terri Winaught, a certified peer specialist, is recovery services coordinator at Pittsburgh Mercy.