On my last day of inpatient psychiatric treatment, I nervously asked the hospital’s program director if I could apply for a position there. I felt a thousand times better than the day I was brought into the system, which was in an ambulance after a suicide attempt. I felt like I could help others who had been through the same thing. I felt scared too, because if she said “No,” that meant I was being sent into the world to make my own path.
She said no. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. Apparently many people recovering from a mental illness feel that treatment is also their calling in life, but they’re simply not ready yet.
College away from home was over for me. I was moving back in with my parents. I was 20 years old. (In 1999, that was old to be living at home. Adjusted for this generation, that’s like a 30-year-old now.) For the next year or two I worked as a deli counterperson, and resumed college part-time. I continued to struggle in college during this time, because I wasn’t applying myself.
I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I was where I needed to be. I saw a therapist weekly, then bi-weekly, and eventually, not at all. It took a long time for me to rebuild my feelings. That’s what ten years of untreated depression will do to you. As therapy began to end, I also started to get good grades and worked full-time.
Three years after hospitalization, with no major setbacks, I still had a long way to go. Seven years after hospitalization, I was emotionally ready to get married. Ten years after hospitalization, I was ready to become a parent. Twelve years after hospitalization, I felt ready to help other people by sharing my story.
It turns out that that program director discouraged me with good reason. I was like a child on his first day of school. I had much to learn. I am still growing today. Helping others requires you to be a whole (or mostly whole) person yourself first.
Looking back, the fact that I felt discouraged when told no was normal. However, the way I processed that discouragement — which was to internalize it and say to myself “I’ll probably never do this” — was a depressive way of thinking.
The fact that you’re not ready now has nothing to do with later. It’s OK not to know what you’re going to do with yourself five years from today.
The ability to do what I love to do revealed itself to me very slowly. Once uncovered, it was easy to find an outlet. I still work full-time, and I write whenever I have spare time.
I can’t say how long it will take you. What I can tell you is this: Focus on yourself first. The path lies somewhere inside your heart.