"Lessons from the Mental Hospital"
This blog was created to share some personal stuff about my trauma history in an effort to let others know they're not alone. I've struggled with how much to share. I mean, there's skeletons in everyone's closet we really don't want the whole world to know about, right?
This is especially true when it comes to medical and arrest records. I told myself, "I deserve to have some things kept private." And that is true. Then I literally stumbled across a TED Talk on YouTube by a woman named Glennon Doyle Melton (now known as Glennon Doyle). Glennon is very well-known, but this is the first exposure I'd had to her work. The title of the talk was "Lessons From the Mental Hospital." It's an amazing talk I highly recommend. It's only 17 minutes long. Glennon has gone on to write two NY Times bestsellers about her experiences.
So I decided if Glennon could be so brave and vulnerable in an effort to help others, maybe I could try and overcome my fear of being judged and open myself up--all the way up.
However, acknowledging trauma is one thing. But exposing your mental health treatment history publicly is a bit different. Shame is involved. Deep shame.
You see, I also spent time in mental hospitals. Several times, as a matter of fact. These hospitalizations were due to suicidal ideation brought on by PTSD and depression, an emotional double whammy that literally disabled me and brought me to a place where I didn't want to be alive anymore. I didn't really want to die, I just wanted the pain to stop.
My first hospitalization happened just after I returned from combat in 1991. I was voluntarily committed to the psychiatric ward at Madigan Army Medical Center at Ft. Lewis, WA. Still in the Army, my career in tatters, my marriage crumbling, my young children watching, I'd fallen apart. I spent six days in the hospital.
Listening to Glennon describe her experience with the mental hospital, I felt like I'd found a kindred spirit. If you've never been, it's quite a humbling experience. But as Glennon says, "In the mental hospital, there's no pretending. The jig is up." I was being forced to admit I wasn't the badass killer the Army had made into their image. I was a hurt, wounded, rage-filled, suicidal shell of a person. I couldn't take care of myself, let alone a wife and two youngsters.
They eventually released me. I got out of the Army and used the educational benefits to go to college. I had developed a raging addiction to alcohol (substance abuse is very common with PTSD). After four straight years studying, very close to a journalism degree, the stress from my illnesses took me again. The VA hospital held a meeting with me and asked if I was thinking of suicide. "Every single day," I replied. Mental hospital, the sequel. I spent 4 months in the PTSD program at American Lake VA Medical Center in Washington state.
These were only the beginning of my healing journey. There would be more hospitalizations. A genuine suicide attempt. Two stints in rehab. And a continuing work of God's grace in my life. Stay tuned.