Since 1949, the month of May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Several national organizations such as NAMI, Mental Health America, and other affiliates spotlight Mental Health Awareness Month to elevate the importance of this issue and to help end the stigma surrounding mental health.
I was one of those individuals who suffered from a variety of mental health issues at different periods of my life, including clinical depression, self-harm (specifically, wrist cutting), and bulimia (binging and purging). These issues were propagated by tragic and difficult life events that were incredibly difficult for me to cope with.
My father died of a heart attack when I was nine years old, which is where much of the pain started. Years later as an adult, after my husband left for Vietnam, I fell apart. I feared I would lose my husband like I lost my father. The resurgent grief and worry consumed me, and I could not care for our baby girl, who was barely two years old.
I tried to meet my classes at Texas Tech University and saw a psychiatrist in Lubbock. I was taking the steps necessary to improve my mental health, but I was still struggling. My psychiatrist admitted me to the psychiatric ward twice for a total of six weeks, and ultimately recommended that I go to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas for treatment. My doctor believed I could get well faster with long -term inpatient care. I agreed.
Mother and I flew to Topeka and met with Dr. Roberts, the psychiatrist who would be my house doctor. My experience in treatment at times felt frustrating, hopeless, and drawn out. However, it was also the greatest gift I could have given myself at the time and helped me to address my struggles and ultimately overcome them.
I’d like to share excerpts from my first book, Where the Water Meets the Sand, that perfectly illustrates the enormous progress I made while a patient at the Menninger Clinic:
Discharged from Menninger – Where the Water Meets the Sand Excerpt
Dr. Roberts had taught me that when I did have a slip, I should let it go and move on, rather than start a punishment loop where I gorged then purged, which made me sleep. When I slept, I was often unable to accomplish my work, and this caused me to gorge and then purge again.
A couple weeks later, I had my last session with Dr. Roberts. We met in the cafeteria, got our traditional cup of coffee, and went for our walk.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked.
“To the rose garden.” I smiled. “Do you remember how I couldn’t stand the rose garden when I first came?”
“How could I forget, Mrs. Hull?” There was a twinkle in his eye.
“It reminded me of death, and I hated it.”
“What’s changed?” he coaxed.
“When I first came, the sweet smell of the roses made me ill.
They symbolized death and reminded me of all the people in my family who had died. The roses haven’t changed; what they symbolize for me has. They used to represent pain, but now they offer pleasure. I’ve learned through therapy how to look for new possibilities and new perspectives.
What I learned during treatment is that caring for one’s mental health is a process, journey, and the payoff is always worth the bumps in the road. My time at Menninger restored my mental health and allowed me to live a full, happy life that I had not dreamed was possible. Writing about my experiences before, during, and after treatment helped me to process my past and visualize my future, and also taught me the importance of sharing my stories as a way to destigmatize the many mental health struggles that any of us can face.
How do you help yourself or your loved ones to improve and maintain mental health? What advice would you give to someone who is struggling?
© Tyra Manning 2020