“Think I’m Goin’ Out of My Head”~ Luther Vandross
My mother was mentally ill. I didn’t know that until the last year of her life, when she was hospitalized for depression. Her illness caused her to suffer unspeakably, and we never really did talk about it. Mental illness seemed like a family secret, and it felt wrapped in shame. I learned after her death that her mother and sisters suffered with it too. She committed suicide in 1990, and I experienced my first clinical depression during that year. I was terrified, but resolute that I would be fine. Thank God I had some good friends that knew how devastating depression was, and encouraged me to get help. I never told them that I had begun drinking so that I could sleep. A silent terror had entered my being, and made a pattern. When I recovered after a brief round of medication, I mistakenly thought that I was simply, and understandably, knocked off-balance by her suicide. I needed to believe that it was something outside of my being that was responsible for my suffering.
But it happened again in 1998, and I agreed to admission.. I was still drinking daily, and I still didn’t tell the truth about it. I had a crashing series of events that precipitated it, but this time, the terror wasn’t silent. It was screaming in my head as dark and anxious thoughts. When I told the story of what I thought had precipitated it, everyone seemed sympathetic and encouraged me to continue. “Life will get better”, they said, and I again believed that it was life events that had rendered me powerless and sick, again.
I couldn’t think my way out of this illness, and I couldn’t lie to myself or others that drinking had something to do with my depression. I didn’t think I could come back from all of this, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Unless life was different.
So, when I entered a psychiatric unit in Missouri on the last week of January of 2006, I had no defenses or stories left, and I began to tell the truth about everything. I walked the halls of the unit most days crying. A tall, beautiful nurse named Skip took my vitals every morning. There was something magic about him. He sang loudly as I walked the halls and I’m sure he thought I didn’t notice. “And I think I’m goin’ out of my head”.. and then the refrain. Then, a soulful version of, “My eyes adored you, though I never laid a hand on you my eyes adored you.”
Was he singing to me?
Something was moving me, it just happened through Skip.
And it was Skip that brought me to the threshold of awakening one Saturday morning. He told me that I wasn’t done yet.
For the first time in the history of my disease, I felt the shame shatter. My heart opened and I felt that truth like it was a lifting of a veil. I could see clearly, and it wasn’t with my eyes. It was with my heart.
I had felt like such a bad person, and such a horrible failure. Add self-destruction to that mix, and it was almost impossible for me to move. The power to move me had to come from somewhere else, and it did. I felt it that day with Skip, and it changed me. Life was a pulsating force. Life events were things that I experienced. I knew then, that I could experience life differently. And I have.
I do not suggest that medicine is unnecessary, or that I know anything about another’s depression. I do know, that I am free of the merciless obsession of dark thoughts, and its lie of powerlessness, for over six years now.
It happened when I awakened to the pulsating, loving force of life, that is God.
I tried to find Skip several months into my recovery, but he mysteriously vanished from the hospital staff directory. I wanted to tell him how grateful I was for his part in my awakening. I had made a promise to do something in this life with something that loved me enough to remind me of that, when I was the most vulnerable. That was the voice of love, and I knew its resonance.
I had lived for years with a deep feeling that I would be punished, and the more I feared that invisible being that would inflict it, the more I hurt myself. In that hospital with Skip, I felt that beast evaporate, because I felt love where I expected punishment. It was there that I made another promise. I would learn to stop punishing myself.