Leaving the Seclusion Room: A Journey to the Far Side of Sanity and Back Again

I will forever associate spring with an up-close-and-personal encounter with crazy, with losing my mind in an over-the-top kind of way.   And, indeed, my March Madness of 1990 ended life as I knew it.

Spring brings many forms of madness.

Spring brings many forms of madness.

A university writing instructor, I was suffering through what should have been a relaxing spring break, when I began to crumble. In Oklahoma the branches were barely budding, when I started obsessing over trees and their ability to lead me elsewhere, wherever there was. I imagined it was a dimension parallel to the world around me.

A parallel place--

A parallel place–

I wanted desperately to go there, and it was that longing that ached me into action. It muscled me forward, compelling me to bring bare branches indoors and decorate my walls with them. (I kid you not.)  It seemed I was suddenly and acutely aware, as the sculptural quality of those limbs stunned and spoke to me.

In my mind, bringing bare branches inside was a sacramental action—an effort to access a reality stripped of ordinary distraction—the holy hollow at the center of everything, a sacred space.

At the center of everything--

At the center of everything–

However, in addition to this, I felt compelled to tear up the carpet in my RENTAL apartment’s living room, to access the concrete beneath—a more solid surface on which to stand.

So I stayed up all night, utility-knifed my carpet into carry-able strips, stood a ladder beside the dumpster, climbed rung upon rung in my high-top Reebocs, and deposited my former floor within.

A rug literally ripped out from under me, I was hospitalized the next day at a psychiatric facility, where I walked the halls and fingered the walls for weeks, as all around me reality bloomed into branches, a dazzling display of what OTHERS called crazy.

A dazzling display of crazy--

A dazzling display of crazy–

I don’t remember arriving at Parkside Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; neither do I recall anything about the admissions process.  I don’t remember how my dog came to be kenneled at the vet’s office, who took me to the hospital. I only know my therapist admitted me there following an appointment with her the morning after that carpet removal.

Indeed, it’s these gaps in memory that I remember most, the fact of forgetting, the empty space where the story should be—gaps  I fill in and flesh out with details recorded in the journals I kept.  For example, the night I so unceremoniously removed the carpet from my living room, the night before the hospital admission, I described an intense sense of alienation and confusion, described myself as feeling “marginal—near the edge and falling off.”

Near the edge and falling off--

Near the edge and falling off–

I DO remember, however, that Parkside Hospital had three floors.

I was admitted to the third, the unit that was locked and most restricted.  I remember a day room at one end, dormitory style rooms at the other, and a hallway connecting the two.

With windows along two walls, the day room was large, filled with wooden tables and chairs, where we patients spent most of our time:  played games, watched television, ate meals.

The dorms, where we slept, were bare and barrack-like, and bathrooms, one per room, boasted a toilet and shower stall, as well as a sink with metal mirror above—no glass allowed, lest patients break it and purposefully injure themselves.

Behind the nurse’s station was another hall that was locked and off-limits to patients.  Here were a number of seclusion rooms, each with a single bed bolted to the floor in the center—each equipped with 4 point restraints—wide leather cuffs that strapped wrists and ankles to the bed.

But I walked the hall between those dorms and day room, repeatedly, regularly.  The antipsychotic medication made me restless, so I paced, feeling the walls with my palms, an effort to comfort myself, to calm the cacophony of crazy that worsened every evening.

One nurse was kind and sometimes walked with me, reassuring and lessening the aloneness, as I tried to quiet the chatter in my head, the echo of children’s voices saying senseless, sing-song rhymes.

a dizzying sing-song of children's voices--

a dizzying sing-song of children’s voices–

But mostly I walked that hall alone, alternately fighting and forgetting a psychosis that whiplashed between extremes of nothingness and nowhere.

This whiplashing made me acutely aware of my own nothingness, the fact that at the center of myself a huge hole swallowed and indeed devoured all I thought I knew about myself and the world around me.

I was nothing.

The world around me a vacuum—nothing but emptiness sucking.

I was not who I thought I was.

Not who I thought I was--

Not who I thought I was–

Stripped of all substance, of all that seemed solid and predictable, I felt naked. I felt like I was drowning. I felt bare to the glare of what others called crazy.

If, indeed, I was out of touch with reality, as doctors had told me, what did that mean?  And if I couldn’t trust my own mind, what could I trust?

What could I trust?

What could I trust?

Inevitably, this possibility, that I couldn’t or shouldn’t trust myself terrified me. So it seems to me, now at least, that I displaced that fear in all directions, becoming terrified of everything and, at the same time, terrified of nothing I could clearly identify. I was always overcome with dread, knowing only that some nameless but looming something was terribly wrong.

As I look back on it now, I imagine I wanted out, but not so much out of the hospital, as out my own mind, a mind that was no longer an asylum in its own right.  As Anne Sexton said:

I am in my own mind,

I am locked in the wrong house.  (“For the Year of the Insane”)

So in the end, it was terror that made me walk that hospital hall–alone in the most existential sense. Exiled not only from the rest of the world by mental illness, but exiled by psychosis from myself.

It was the ultimate seclusion room.

In fact, that is the terror of psychiatric illness—a terror from which it took time to recover.

Indeed, I was ill for a very long while, and recovery was slow, agonizingly slow.

It took time to lose my mind, and it took time to find it again, as well.

I emerged only gradually from that ruin.  Having forgotten what sanity looked like, I barely recognized its image in the mirror.  Backward and upside down at first, it slowly righted itself, turning me around to face the world again,.

Ultimately now, two decade later, I’m grateful for that process of unbecoming and the evolution that’s remade me over the years.

You see, eventually I learned to negotiate that divide. Eventually, I mapped that gap between crazy and a reality the rest of you know. Gradually, I’ve grown grateful for those visits to the far side of sanity and slow slog back again—grateful, above all, twenty years later, for who I was, and who I’ve, also, become.

Life sometimes stuns me now, especially the more I realize one important fact, that those of us who struggle with psychiatric illnesses, those of us who are, not so much DISabled as OTHERLY abled, WE make the world not less but more. WE make this planet a richer place, one where we, too, can live and love.  Like you, we hope big hopes.  We dream enduring dreams.

Recovery is possible.

Do you know anyone who struggles with mental illness?  Will you share my story with others?  Only the telling of tales like mine will reduce the stigma associated with psychiatric illness.

During the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, please remember the struggles faced by folks with mental illness.  Please donate to NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  Share stories like mine with those you love, and encourage others to talk, write, and blog about their own battles (using the hashtag #mentalhmonth2014).  Let those who live with mental illness (and their families) know they’re not alone.

Note:  All art in this post is my own.  I posted an earlier version of this essay on my blog several years back, and it was published in the Lexington Herald Leader three years ago.

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175 thoughts on “Leaving the Seclusion Room: A Journey to the Far Side of Sanity and Back Again

  1. Thank you … for your honesty and for sharing this with us. It is such a generous thing to have done.

    • Oh, gosh, you are welcome, but, really, I’m the one who should be thanking you! It’s only by sharing our stories that we begin to lessen the stigma of mental illness. I appreciate your reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Please share my story with anyone who might benefit.

  2. Wow, this is powerful. As I read and enjoyed your artwork, I was reminded of Kay Redfield Jamison’s Touched With Fire, which I read twenty years ago. All I remember is the premise that there is a correlation between the “artistic temperament” and psychiatric otherness.

    Although you might disagree with this characterization, your ability to describe this experience in words and to express it artistically is in a sense a “gift,” at least in terms of helping others understand it. Brava.

    • Gosh, you are SO correct! I’ve long loved Touched by Fire and have benefited myself from Jamison’s personal story. I agree with her premise. I don’t understand the correlation, but there seems to be one, for whatever reason. Thanks for raising that issue. It’s a fascinating one. And thanks again for reading and leaving a comment. It’s wonderful to hear from you this morning. Hope you are having a great week!!!!

      • My interpretation of “artistry and madness living in close quarters” has always been that that the psychologically OTHER-abled mind has less restraint, and when those restrictions are erased or removed, it allows creativity to flow more freely. In some ways, I think we all have that ability within us, but only those that are truly capable of bridging the gap between sane and insane ever reach that point of pure creative expression. I’ve always been a little bit envious of those uber-talented folks, such as yourself, but my appreciation for the art outweighs the envy factor, so I end up just luxuriating in the artistic beauty.

      • You’re so sweet. I don’t know that I’m uber-talented. In fact, I have NO idea where the creativity comes from, which is largely what you’re saying, I think. I couldn’t agree with you more, that those of us with these kinds of illnesses-abilities are more easily able to cross over into a realm where creativity breeds-both for the good and for the not-so-good. It’s such a damn balancing act, sometimes it exhausts me. You know what I mean? You’re incredibly creative too.

        At any rate, thanks so much for your comment and insight. I love hearing from you!!!

  3. Courageous, insightful, inspiring ~ your candid reminder of what ‘gifts’ we hold in our own minds. It is in your frankness that I find the beauty, the richness that your life’s tapestry gives to the rest of us. To have been there and back deepens our understanding when you share your life’s experiences. I am sad that you felt such alienation and loneliness as I imagine that heart-breaking time in your life. I am grateful that you shared this post ~ thank you for continuing to share your amazing life experiences. I am grateful for our connection. ♥ P.S. Great artwork as well! ;)

    • Oh, dear, thank you, my friend. What a kind and generous comment! I, too, am SO thankful for the connection we’ve made. Your posts always inspire me and keep me going, even on the difficult days. Glad you enjoyed the art, as well. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Please share my story with others, as it’s only by telling our stories that the stigma associated with mental illness is reduced.

  4. I really loved how you interspersed this with the artwork… I can really ‘see’ what you mean. I can somehow identify with how you felt, wanting to get rid of the carpet, wanting the trees inside with you.

    Memory is a strange resource, isn’t it? We imagine it to be this very reliable foundation on which we can build everything, but in reality it’s more of a moth-eaten tapestry :D Although I’ve not ever been hospitalised with mental illness, I have had period of weeks or months where my mind has taken me places I don’t like. March was particularly bad for me, and for the first time, I understood what it must be like to have chronic depression. It’s very hard to escape from it, and it feels terrifying, to be held captive like that. I’m sad for your then-self, who was so very alone.

    Thank you for sharing this story. I’m so glad that you made it back from the edge of sanity, with all the perspective it gave you, and I’m so glad I got to know you.

    • Thank you, my friend. What a kind comment. You know, you always have such insight and wisdom. I’m sorry that March was tough for you. Depression is agonizing, as it robs one of hope. You not only feel like shit, but you have no belief that it can get better. That’s why sharing stories like mine is so important. It gives hope to others and it reduces stigma. Please pass along my post, if you have the chance, as we never know who we might touch. I always LOVE hearing from you! Hope you are feeling better now!!!

  5. Kathy I have never read such a clear expression of experience, one that affords me some understanding and appreciation. When I am just beginning to despair of something you come along at just the right moment demonstrating such courage and strength that I am inspired and strengthened. Your greatest value now is being able to give clear voice to those experiences helping those of us not in the know to understand at least a little better. Thank you for sharing your incredible art also. I felt like I was wandering those halls with you, touching walls.

    • Oh, dear Chris, I am SO thrilled to hear from you today! You always come along at just the right time for me, too! I’m delight this post spoke to you–not only the words but also the art. Thanks also for sharing on Facebook! It’s only by passing along stories like mine that we reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. You rock, my friend. Hope spring has come to you up there in cold, cold Canada!

  6. A very powerful personal story, which (to me) stresses the importance of mental health. Here’s the line that get me “It took time to lose my mind, and it took time to find it again, as well.” … which stresses the importance of a person catching the problem as early as possible.

    Kathy, thanks for sharing. Love the artwork … and I’m curious about why you chose these images for this post.

    • Thank you, Frank. I always appreciate your comments. Glad you noticed that line and made the connection to the importance of early intervention. I hadn’t even thought of that myself, but, YES! Excellent insight!

      And a great question about the art. I just went through some of my work and tried to pick pieces that communicated the message I shared at several points throughout. For example, the header image has always felt to me like a map of my internal landscape. It seems like the cartography of crazy, in both it’s scary and lovely aspects.

      Hope you are enjoying a lovely spring day, my friend. I’m going to be in Lexington from June 3 through the 1th. Can’t wait!!!!

  7. The art is a striking display that only saves to compliment the point of the story. I’m so glad you’ve come through to the point where you can not only tell the story, but bring us to the edge of that world. You’re absolutely right about the otherly abled adding to the landscape. Mental illness in particular gives us access to colors we can’t otherwise see. In your words and your art you’ve captured both it’s beauty and it’s heartbreak. So glad I’ve found you in the inter-webs. Hugs.

    • Thank you, dear Lisa! Your comments always mean so much to me! I especially love your point about this piece and my recovery allowing me to bring others to the edge of this internal world, so they can sneak a peak. That’s really the only way to reduce stigma–by sharing our stories. And, yes, the otherly-abled enrich our lives, as you know so well!!! Hugs to you, too, my friend!!!!!

  8. This post leaves me with so many emotions and tears streaming down my face. I’ve gone though psychosis, mania, hypomania, and deep catatonic depression with my youngest daughter. She’s described to me those gaps of nothingness as a time period when her brain would just shut off. Her recovery was a long one as psychosis takes it’s toll on the brain. Regaining her short term memory; the crutch for her learning disability, took the longest and made her high school years and her first two years of college more work than any person should have to endure. For me, this time period was like the death of a child and the rebirth of a new and different one. Medication has brought her back. She’s graduated college, holds a full time job where her coworkers love her, has a fiancé, and is saving for a house. She’s not exactly the person she was before bipolar disorder reared it’s ugly head, but are any of us the same people at the end of nearly a 10 year span?

    Looking at the beauty of your artwork, (I especially love the piece you’ve used for your header), I can’t help but think of the slice of beauty that any terrible situation hands us in exchange for the troubles we endure. My daughter is wiser for what she’s been through. She’s more appreciative of little things than many of her peers. As her mom, I’m more patient, loving, and empathetic with others.

    You give me such enormous hope for her, Kathy. I look at how well and fully you live your life and I see that it is possible to live with happiness, success, love, adventure, beauty, AND a mental illness. As I read about the abundant visits you have with friends, your work, your career, your relationship, your travels, I know that my daughter has the chance for an enriching and satisfying life.

    I apologize for such a lengthy reply, but I just want you to know what an inspiration you are to me! :) <3

    • Oh, dear, your comment is so precious to me! I had no idea that you had had that experience with your daughter. Bless both of you! Wow. You really DO know about this. I’m so glad I didn’t miss your comment. It was sandwiched between others. I had somehow already responded to. When I saw the reblog, I scrolled back.

      Yes, yes, one can, indeed, live a rich and fulfilling life WITH a mental illness. Psychiatric drugs these days are not what they used to be. I’m so thankful for them.

      Hugs to you and your daughter! And thanks for sharing my post! Lots of love————

      • See, you just never know whose life you’re making a difference in! :) Thank you for your words and the stories of your life and adventures that give me added cause to believe everything will work out for my sweet daughter! Hugs and lots of love right back to you! :)

  9. Reblogged this on The Ravenously Disappearing Woman and commented:
    With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought a reblog of my friend Kathy’s beautiful post and artwork would lend awareness to my readers of the struggles faced by people with mental illness.
    Kathy has been such a huge inspiration to me. Though her life has been touched by bipolar disorder, she has still managed to live it to the very fullest with love, travel, adventure, success, and enormous talent. Kathy urges people touched by mental illness to share stories like hers ” with those you love, and encourage others to talk, write, and blog about their own battles. Let those who live with mental illness (and their families) know they’re not alone.”
    If you struggle with mental illness, or, like me, have a family member who does, I encourage you to contact NAMI (http://www.nami.org/) for informational classes and resources. Help is often difficult to find, but NAMI is an excellent resource.

    • Thanks for sharing my post with your readers! Thank you so much!!! I had a link to NAMI in my post last night but couldn’t get it to work, so I removed it. Will try to add it again today! Thank you, my friend. Thank you!!!!

    • Yes, I, too, appreciate the reblog! I had a link to NAMI in my original post but couldn’t get it to work last night, so I removed it. Thanks for the reminder. I will work on that today!

  10. You very effectively convey the terror of suffering mental illness, Kathy. It makes me think of the many dim-witted times I’ve groused about going crazy or “going out of my mind”. I have never experienced anything remotely like this and I feel very lucky. The reality of mental illness is terrifying. I also feel lucky to know someone who survived something so harrowing and has the talent to express what it was like so articulately in words and visually in images.

    Unrelated: I just learned that you were Freshly Pressed for the fifth time! Congratulations! Well deserved.

    • Thank you, dear V. I tried not to broadcast the Freshly Pressed thing. It’s an honor, but I know so many great bloggers who have not been recognized. I’ve now begun sending recommendations to FP, and I’ve succeeded 3 times this month on passing the recognition along to others.

      I’m so happy this post spoke to you. I, too, drop those same kinds of expressions all the time. They’re part of our idiomatic landscape these days.

      You know your recent spinning and dieting have inspired me?! Hope you are having a lovely spring day in the Big Apple!

      • I’m a big fan of paying it forward with the FP accolade. Back to the topic of this post, I don’t put much thought into mental illness, but hearing your story from someone who’s been on both sides of the divide makes me feel empathy. Milton has even decided to go on a diet. I’m trying to get him to work out more. For me it’s been about sticking with it. It’s hard in the beginning, but I like being svelte again and having more energy. If you want to discuss it with me, email me.

      • I’m so glad you have a new-found empathy. That’s cool. And I hope Milton will take up the challenge. Here’s to exercise, which try as I may, I still hate! God, it’s tough! But you inspire, and the new photo of you is DARLING!

  11. Kathy,

    I love that you do this! I find it brave and encouraging to step up and step out of your comfort zone. I had read the previous blog/story So your story is not new to me… At times I feel that I am on the edge of that gap myself, or it is the place I wish to go just to let go of it all. I don’t though I sometime struggle to pull myself up, to breathe through the moments.
    There is more… there is long blank space in trying to write this comment….

    I love the paintings that capture or express a sense of emerging, a walk through the maze!

    Love You! Hugs!


    • Thank you, Jeff! I always LOVE your comments. But, listen, you have been through a lot in recent years, especially with your mom. I saw an update on FB recently that she seems to be in the final stages of her own battle. Blessings to both of you. I hope that when the time is right you will come visit us. YOU SO deserve it, my friend!

      • You’re welcome Kathy! Thank you! Honesty doesn’t always resonate with people but that is a place I vibrate from!
        Yes Kathy it seems Mom has turned the last corner, keeping her comfortable now is about all we can do. I was going to blog this morning. Part of me doesn’t want to make it real.


  12. I remember this post, and it’s still a very powerful read. The art you share with your words is powerful, too. You are a brave and inspiring woman, Kathy. :)

    • Thank you, Robin. It’s delightful to hear from you this morning. Glad you remember this story and still appreciate it. Thanks, also, for suggesting that I’m brave, I wish I felt like I were. Hugs to you, my friend!!!

  13. Stunning! Beautifully written. The artwork reminds me of Picasso, and is so descriptive of the inner feelings. I would be most happy to re-blog your amazing , inspiring story as I feel there are many people suffering from the other dimension experiences and a lot of us who have felt on the edge and ready to drop off at times. Thank you for a most stellar contribution.

    • Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Interesting that my work reminds you of Picasso. THAT is high praise! And I would be honored for you to share my work with your readers! Thank you SOOO much! Hope to hear from you again soon!

    • Thanks so much for the reblog! I’m delighted to share my story. It’s only in talking and writing about our experiences that stigma is lessened. I’m honored that you want to share my piece with your readers.

  14. Kathy, I posted this to my Facebook page,and just got a request from my friend, Joe,to re-post on his site: Beaver Island News on the Net. Okay, with you, with proper credit and links?

  15. A very honest and vivid account of a deeply personal, emotional struggle. Beautifully illustrated, it is a good reminder of how fragile we and others are, and to be treated tenderly. And helped, this month especially, but all the time. Thank you Kathy.

    • Thank you, thank you. You are so kind. I can’t tell you how much your reading and taking the time to comment means to me. So happy to have heard from you! Please stop by again soon!

  16. Thank you. Years ago when I was a volunteer at a mental health facility, a heard a child describe mental illness. He said: it’s when you have one more hurt than you can deal with. By that definition, I have been mentally ill several times – overwhelmed and broken – wanting to fit in somewhere, to be something to someone, worth taking up the resources my body uses, wanting to be pleasing – wanting to be wanted…if only by myself. I follow my dad’s leading and example of not liking me. Disappointing. Disappointed. In myself, in others, in life. I know one thing: we continue to live because of anticipation of future pleasures. When a person loses their anticipation of future pleasures, breathing is too much trouble. I could go on but I really just wanted to say thank you. You write so beautifully, you touched me.

    • Oh, yes, I think so many of us have known that experience of being broken–of feeling broken, at the very least. The ability of the human mind to come back from that broken place never ceases to amaze me. We can endure and DO endure so much. Thank you so much, truly from the bottom of my heart, for your kind comment. Please stop by again soon. I loved hearing from you!

  17. Kathryn this is a beautifully written and moving piece. So very intimate and revealing, most people would have little idea of the experiences you’ve described and it’s so important that more people try to understand. I am re-blogging, thank you.

    • Gosh, thank you so much. I’m so pleased this post spoke to you! I suppose that’s exactly why I write about the experience, as so few people really know what it’s like. Thanks for reblogging. I’m honored that you want to share my work with your readers! Hope you are having a lovely day!

  18. I can’t imagine the torment you must have gone through. There should be no stigma attached to mental illness, we are all susceptible. I am glad you are well and happy now…long may it last.

    • Thank you, Debra! I’m so happy to hear from you today–and delighted this post spoke to you. Yes, there should be no stigma, but there is. And so I write, I suppose. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your stopping by and leaving a comment. I loved seeing the photos of your house yesterday! What a view you have!

    • Ha, yes, I guess I would consider it a breakthrough. Excellent insight. And maybe it was ceremoniously, after all. My “illness” has certainly taught me a lot about empathy and how, even, to accept myself for who I am, even when I’m the most broken. Thanks so much for your comment. Please stop by again soon!

  19. Your artwork is really astounding, Kathryn. Your account of what you went through was fascinating to read, and made me realise that we can never say that this won’t happen to ourselves or those we love. I’m so glad you came through it. Hugs to you.

    • Oh, thank you! Yes, we never know what the future holds for ourselves or the ones we love. I’m so happy this post spoke to you–and that you enjoyed the art, as well. You have helped make my day! Hugs to you, too, my friend. Hope you have an awesome day!!!

  20. As other have said, such a brave and courageously told account of a very dark safari. Thank you for bearing witness to circumstances that most of us dread to face even when we see them happening to others and not to us.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment! I love your use of the “dark safari” image, as that is SO what it was like. Wow–that really speaks to me. Thank you. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment. I hope you’ll stop by again soon.

  21. Thank you my dear sweet friend. This was wonderful and needed to be said. Just imagine how many more people you will help to know that they are not alone. It’s a struggle to fight every day. Thank you! XOXO – Bacon

    • Oh, Bacon, your comments always make me smile. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. I hope my sharing does, indeed, help others, as you suggest. Hugs (and snorts) to you, my friend!

  22. I like the idea of calling it “otherly abled” as you suggest. Little things like that – along with posts like yours – help to remove the stigma. Thank you for sharing. I had a family member with mental illness, so it sometimes hits pretty close to home for me.

    • I’m so glad this one spoke to you, my friend–even the second time around. Didn’t know that you had a family member who has mental illness. Sorry to hear that. Great to hear from you today. Hope you and Tara have an awesome Wednesday!

  23. I’ve never felt this kind of pain but I’ve known and loved people who have and some of them have come out the other side and other’s not so much so. There was lots I did not understand, much that wasn’t spoken about back in the days—what I am grateful now is that people (like you) do speak up and share that it isn’t a lack of trying, or pulling yourself up by the boot straps, or getting on with it or over it—it’s a long painful process and needs to be treated with care, knowledge and love. Once upon a time I would have been frustrated and angry because a depressed friend wouldn’t stop being depressed or manic, or bi-polar because I simple didn’t know any better and they weren’t in a place we could stand together. Now, I know better and can be more compassionate and empathetic and yes at times angry but at least i have a little bit better understanding thanks to people just like you. ♥

    • I think most of us have known someone, even if we didn’t know it at the time when secrets and silence were so common. Unfortunately those behaviors only isolate people further, which is sad. And I love the point you make about empathy, as, it is my hope, that sharing stories like mine will help increase compassion and understanding.

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave such an awesome comment. I’m SO glad you have never experienced this kind of pain.

  24. A heart-rendering inspiring story – told greatly by one who “can” tell her story allowing others to know that mental illness is just like any other medical condition and with the appropriate counseling, medications and doctors a person can heal and become a person educated to the realization that there is help available for them and there is also a healing. Truly enjoyed this and I feel your story will definitely be beneficial to others.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and heart-felt comment. It’s wonderful to hear from you. Yes, people can heal, and they do heal. And there is much hope in this. Again, thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you will visit again soon!

  25. Thanks so much for sharing your story Kathryn, so brilliantly illustrated with your artwork …. many of us have been at the edge for a time, but not many ‘fall off’ and come back to share so eloquently and compassionately … I have mental illness in my immediate family too, and have friends and neighbours with otherly-abled children … I really feel that understanding is growing in the community thanks to people like you <3

    • Thank you so much! Glad you liked the art, in addition to my words. That’s cool to hear. Sorry to hear, however, that you have friends and family who have faced these issues. Blessings to them and you! Again, I SO appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Please visit again soon.

  26. What a powerfully written account, and it touched me on many levels. At the beginning I was thinking what a creative space you were in, and then slowly almost without knowing when, it became darker, and the creativity had tipped into something which was swallowing you up.
    Trees, fairy tale forests in fact, peopled with frightening creatures, figured very big in a bad patch of my own a few years ago. I eventually found the path out from the forest and back into the light…..and your piece reminded me :-)

    • I’m so happy to know you found your way out of that dark forest. I know it’s a scary place. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reading and taking the time to leave such a sweet comment. It’s wonderful to hear from. Please stop by again soon!!!

  27. First, I love you. Nothing more. Nothing less. Simply I love you.

    Your generosity in sharing your story is stunning. You show with both your words and your art the unique Otherly Enabled that is you and that makes you spectacular and a gift to all who are so blessed to have you in their lives.

    Thank you, from my hear and soul Thank you.

    • Oh, dear Val, I love you too! I know you have been in your own dark place recently and I’m so thrilled to watch you emerge on the other side. Thank you for sharing that part of yourself with us, my friend. You are dear to me and SO many others. Hugs and love from my heart to yours!

      • Not there yet, but reading things like you have posted make me realize how very blessed I am. Thank you for all the support. I am a most fortunate woman.

  28. Kathy your art work amazes me. But not as much as your words and your life. You have taken everything life has thrown at you/given you/tried to take from you and created a world of color and craft. INSPIRING.

    You are beautiful.

  29. I love you dearest Kathy. Your bravery in sharing such a naked retelling of that time in your life that felt like the end, but was, in essence, your rebirth makes me love you more. You are an amazing woman!

    • Thank you, sweet Sista! You are dear, dear, dear! But then you know that you do that same kind of telling and sharing. I suppose that’s part of the bond we share. YOU are every bit as amazing, if not more so, my friend. I love you, sweetie!

  30. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. As you say people need to understand. As an expat I live within a culture where anything other than perfection is exeptable. It is a lot pressure. A few months ago we lost someone part of our local community who suffered from depression. I wonder if people would have understood, or been more open if it could have been prevented. It really shook me and reading your story I think it is so important to share.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment! And I’m terribly sorry to hear that you recently lost someone in your expat community. I think that, for many, life overseas can exacerbate pre-existing tendencies toward depression. So, we need to watch out for one another. Great to hear from you today. And please visit again soon!

      • Thanks Kathryn. It really shook me to hear the news. The family has wished for it to be quiet, which for us westerners is opposite of what we do. A lot of people are now feeling the pain and thinking “what if”. It was kept hidden and we were told she was busy or travelling, so we thought it was an acceptable reason. I think your message is an important one and does need to be shared. Thanks again for getting it out there.

      • Gosh, isn’t that the truth! Sometimes I feel like my computer and I are joined at the hip. But I have developed carpal tunnel and sometimes I have to stay away from my computer for a few days. But then the comments begin to accumulate. Yikes!

  31. Such a wonderful piece of writing, Kathy. I am sharing and sharing and sharing. Thank you for being so brave and writing this for others to read and understand a little bit of what it means to suffer from a mental illness. Your words are so clear —-sharing as many places as i can.

    • Dear, dear Beth Ann, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Can’t tell you how much your sharing means to me. We never know who we might touch when we tell our stories. Wonderful to hear from you this morning. Hope you are having a lovely May day in your neck of Iowa!

  32. Oh Katheryn, what a journey to have been though. It amazes me how our minds can be so powerful and you are amazing to have gotten to where you are today. The art work is certainly mesmerizing, Beautiful!

    • Thank you so much, Sue. It’s always wonderful to hear from you! You’re right. The mind is amazing and powerful, both for the good and for the not-so-good. Now, if only we can empower the former. Hope you are doing well today, my friend!!!!!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s wonderful to hear from you today. Glad especially that you enjoyed the art! I truly appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Please visit again soon!

  33. You write of your journey with honesty and courage. Thank you. I grew up in a family with mental illness rearing it’s ugly head too often and in too many lives. Few to the depth of your despair but sad just the same. However, there was my brother who battled bi-polar and dissociative identity disorder, better known as multiple personalities. It was a terrible journey and he was unable to find his way. When he died I truly felt he was set free.. Of course, I would have rather he found his peace here and while I mourn the loss of the brother I loved I rejoice that he is free.

    Again thank you for this post. People need to know that there are people who have a mental illness, or any other illness, but they are not the illness itself. Not sure that makes sense to anyone but me but I don’t know how else to say that people and illness are not one thing they are two separate things.

    • What you say, Patricia, makes MUCH sense. And you are very correct. We are not our illnesses. Thank you for bringing that up. Excellent insight. I’m sorry to hear you lost your brother, but, like you, I’m glad to know he is free now. I thank you for your kind comment. It was delightful to hear from you today. Blessings to you and your family and please stop by again soon!

  34. I love this. Truly do. This may be your best writing yet. So raw and honest. And riveting. For a moment, I felt like I was reading something Sylvia Plath had written. You’ve read the Bell Jar, right? Anyway, wow. Thank you for sharing. Yes, I’ve already forwarded it to someone I know. Sending you a big hug from San Diego, grateful that you came into my life. Love you, Kathy.

    • I love you, too, dear Monica. And I appreciate your feedback on the writing itself too. That means a LOT coming from you, my friend. Thank you. Yes, yes, I’m a huge Plath fan, as you have rightly guessed. I’m so pleased this piece spoke to you enough for you to share it. Thanks for the tweet, Monica. Hugs from here in Ecuador, as well!

  35. Kathy, the honesty of your sharing really touches me. You give such a remarkable description of what was going on, despite the fact that you have many blanks in your memory. For some reason, I have had several friends (through the years) with severe mental illness, and through them, I have an inkling of the isolation and chaos and terror. Thank you for being willing to share such an intimate part of your own story. You shed light on the past and give a more hopeful picture of the future. You are obviously a woman who has experienced a great deal of turmoil, yet today, my impression of you is someone with so much life and happiness and joy! I’m sure Sara is a remarkable person, too, and the two of you have built something wonderful together. Good support equals a step towards emotional stability. Your artwork is stunning! Big hugs!

    • Thank you so much, Debra! Yes, I’ve led one hell of a life, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It may sound strange, but I’m thankful for the past, for all that it’s taught me about empathy and compassion. Sorry to hear you have known so many with mental illness. I trust that they are doing better these days. I appreciate your comment, my friend. Hugs to you, too!!!

  36. You’ve described your experience so well, I can almost understand it. what a terrifying time. I’m happy you’ve found you way back. You candor is remarkable as are your paintings. They drew me in immediately. Thank you for sharing.

  37. This writing was so raw and beautiful Kathy. You were able to let your emotions go and exposed yourself in a way that is admirable. I had no idea the extremes that you had to go to, to get to where you are, but I am very impressed and proud of you. I used to work as a nurse on a unit in which you describe. I loved that job too. I always could see so much in these people who were outcasts, but in reality just needed a crutch, and someone to believe in them. Thank you for sharing this story.

    Thinking of you in Indiana,

  38. Oh Kathy, I don’t know where to start… THANK YOU so very much for sharing your story and artwork. It was riveting and compelling. As you say, every time you and others share your stories the stigma of mental illness is lessened.

    When you say, “I imagine I wanted out, but not so much out of the hospital, as out my own mind,” it reminds me of my son, who described his psychotic episodes as being trapped in a terrifying nightmare that he simply could not wake himself up from. He was hospitalized twice in 2000, when he was 23.

    Staying with him for 11 1/2 hours in the emergency department, waiting for a hospital bed to open up somewhere in the state for him, was one of the most terrifying and difficult things I’ve ever had to go through as a mother. The feeling of helplessness was unbearable but I knew whatever it was he was going through was so much worse.

    Like you, my son is also a talented artist, although he prefers drawing with pencils in black and white. Someone bought him a set of colored pencils once. He drew one picture with them and went back to black and white.

    He also appreciated the Kay Redfield Jamison book, “An Unquiet Mind.”

    Yes, recovery is possible.

  39. Incredible read as you lay raw your experience and personal journey – I marvel at your strength and amazing recovery. You’ve been to a place that many of us have never reached nor experienced – we are blessed that you’re able to express your life through your amazing art.

    • Oh, what a kind and thoughtful comment. Thank you! Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your stopping by and reading and taking the time to leave me a message. It was lovely to hear from you. Hope you will visit my blog again soon.

  40. Kathy — a riveting story, made all the more bone chilling because it really happened. These words — that process of unbecoming — raised hairs on the back of my neck.

    You asked your readers if we know anyone who struggles with mental illness. My dad (who turns 80 this year) was diagnosed as manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic when I was in junior high. With proper medication (which took years to fine tune) he’s able to stay balanced on the beam of life.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Wow, Laurie, I had no idea your father had been ill. Yes, it takes YEARS and in some instances decades to get the meds right. I’m SO thankful for the advances that have been made in psychopharmacology in the past twenty years, as I’m one of many who has benefited. Thanks so much for reading. So, so glad this post spoke to you, my friend. I always LOVE to hear from you!

  41. Lovely words and artwork, Kathy. I’m so happy that you learned to negotiate the divide as you say. You’ve been able to so eloquently something many people haven’t experienced and “put a compassionate face” on mental illness. It seems like one of the last taboo areas in our culture.
    I am so moved by your story and so proud to call you a friend!

    • Thank you, dear Jackie. I’m proud to call you MY friend, as well. It was a long journey, but one I’m grateful to have made, now, after all of these decades. You mention the compassionate face I put on mental illness, but without having been ill, I don’t think I would have the empathy I do these days. It has all, ironically, been a gift, if that makes any sense. Hope you and Reggie have an awesome weekend!

  42. Reblogged this on Canadian Travel Bugs and commented:
    This is a reblog from Kathryn. She asked us to reblog and share to get the word out. Sometimes we suffer alone and no one knows how to reach out, or what to do. Sometimes things get ignored becuase we don’t understand. The more we share the more we know the more we understand. This is beautifully written… please read her story.

  43. Wow Kathy. This is a brave, raw and beautiful post about going to the extreme end and back. So incredibly powerful. Thank you so much for sharing and helping use your voice to help others.

  44. I often forget, until you write about it again, that you’ve traveled the journey of mental illness and that for a period of time, you weren’t sure where or how to find the balance of your life. If mental illness helped shape the person you are today, then I truly understand why you are grateful to have been down that road. You are a generous, kind and loving person to those around you. I’m sorry you had to experience such terror for a time, but I am grateful to have a friend such as you.

    This post really helps me understand just a bit about what it’s like to be lost inside your own mind. I’m so glad there was a kind nurse who tried to help, to understand,and to help you feel safe.

    • Oh, thank you, Terri. Glad this post spoke to you and reminded you where I’ve been. It was a long and worthwhile journey. Sorry it has taken me several days to respond to your comment. How does life get to be so busy? Happy birthday to Kacey, too!

  45. Your art is sensational Kathy. I feel so privileged to have read this post, it is electric and immediate. The process of moving forward feels beautiful as you describe it and the core that runs through this is strength. From your recent photos, to my eyes your happiness shines and the light within you is bright, what a star (and brave gal)!

    Three hearty cheers to you!

    And hugs x


  46. Your phrase ‘otherly-abled’ sums up perfectly what I was thinking as I read your beautiful post, as your ‘crazy place’ in the trees sounded beautiful to me. x

    • Oh, I’m SO happy to hear from you, K! I know how busy you are right now with school. And I’m thrilled you enjoyed and appreciated this post. Wonderful to have you stop by. Hope all is well in your world! Hugs to you, my friend!

  47. Kathryn,
    I’ve subscribed to your blog for a while but I don’t always get around to reading posts. I am very glad I stopped by today. It was really helpful to read because I myself I’m struggling with the far side of sanity. I have not shared publicly much of the struggle but I’m really happy for people like you. I hope to do more sharing now. We do need to take the stigma away.

  48. What a generous act to tell your story, Kathy. And how riveting. I’ve always thought we all walk a fine line. I agree that there are gifts to be gained, and certainly some of our crazier famous artists have proven that true.

    Somehow I missed the fact over the years that you once taught writing. That actually explains a lot.

    • Thanks, Christine. Oh, yes, I’ve taught on and off for decades, most recently at the Univ of KY–up until 2010. I love teaching.

      Glad this post spoke to you, my friend. So wonderful to hear from you! Hope you all are having a lovely weekend in Cinci!

  49. Pingback: The Multicolored Illness (National Mental Health Awareness Month) | Musings of An African Woman

  50. Pingback: Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe (NMH Awareness Month) | Musings of An African Woman

  51. Thank you so much Kathy for this honest, profound and beautifully told story of a part of your life that is now in the past.

    I have relatives who suffer from mental illness. In fact a grand uncle of mine who was so brilliant and had his future poised for a medical career became mentally ill and had to abandon his plans. He died at the age of 87 with none of his ambitions fulfilled.

    In a country that is now slowly waking up to metal illness and its implications and ramifications on the individual his family as well as the nation, the subject has been taboo, treated and talked about in hushed tones with sufferers more like pariahs.

    Much education is needed in Ghana on the subject. Superstition and an overzealous belief in religion as the cure or panacea for the illness is what is killing us in Ghana. Scarce resources mean inadequate health care for mentally ill patients; inadequate sensitization and shoddy facilities.

    It is my fervent hope that one day, mental illness would be completely managed in my country. :-)

  52. Kathy, thanks for sharing this amazing story of a taboo subject. I’m sorry you suffered from mental illness, and that it took a good long chunk out of your life. But as you say, it brought you back to yourself, and the experience probably made you stronger. I love that Ann Sexton quote. And your artwork is fabulous.

    My mother was paranoid schizophrenic, and I grew up witnessing a lot of strange and frightening behavior on her part. I think it made me suffer, and I’ve always had a fear of becoming crazy myself. After all, isn’t it said mental illness is hereditary? It’s as if I’ve always been looking over my shoulder, waiting for insanity to overtake me. I did suffer from a two year period of incredible headaches and non-stop anxiety, and I wanted nothing more than to escape from my own turbulent mind. I can understand a bit of your experience, but not all of it, of course. Thank you for sharing such a personal account of a chaotic period of your life. Hugs xxx

  53. From Sunrise, I am so happy that you are writing and are well. Please keep living life well. I hope you are making your Grandmother’s apple pies. And write, write, write. Thank you Rea.

    • Oh, so wonderful to hear from you, Rea! How did you ever find me? Yes, I’m writing, sometimes for the Huffington Post, and I live in Cuenca, Ecuador. Hope you and your family are well! Oh, and I still make those pies!

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