After the birth of my first child in 2003, I experienced an extreme bout of postpartum mania, culminating in a psychotic break. Though I was surrounded by family and friends, no one recognized the signs of my increasingly manic behavior. At first, I felt extremely good, like I could do anything, but I wasn’t able to sleep. After five days, my sanity disappeared in a flash, and I thought I had entered a new plane of reality. I was awakened to my destiny: I was the new Mary, and my son was Jesus, come back to earth. I was vaguely aware of my behavior during this time, but I had absolutely no control over it. I was hallucinating all sorts of strange things.
My Mom tried to take the baby from me, and I thought she was trying to take Jesus. I squeezed him so tightly I probably could have killed him if she hadn’t gotten him safely away. During all of this, my amazing, solid rock of a husband tried to calm me, and I’m sure he prevented more violence. My family and friends rushed me to the hospital, where I fought off the staff, but was eventually calmed by a dose of antipsychotics.
As my sanity slowly returned, I was devastated that my mind had snapped so completely. I was incredibly lucky to have a community surrounding me. I shudder to think of what might have happened if I had been alone with my baby.
In therapy, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a depressive episode. I spent the following week having my medication adjusted, finding a psychiatrist to continue my treatment, dealing with the emotional trauma, missing my newborn son like crazy, and above all, learning to relate with other people who were mentally ill. Suddenly, now that I had “been there,” they weren’t so scary. Until this, I had assumed mentally ill people had some control over their actions – that they just didn’t have enough faith, prayer, or support. But I had all of these things, and my brain chemistry had stopped functioning correctly.
It took two years to recover fully and to start trusting my brain again. I no longer take antipsychotics, but do take a mood stabilizer that keeps me emotionally stable. I still monitor my thinking process and discuss thoughts that concern me with caring family and friends. And my husband makes sure that I enough sleep – no more night feedings. How lucky is that?
Although I was raised as a Christian, mental illness has changed my perspective on God. As a result, I put up many walls in churches, out of fear of receiving the same judgments I once harbored, and because I still can’t stomach the notion of “God talking to me” the way I once believe it worked.
My family and I have been attending West Hills for six months, and I think it’s finally time to admit that it has become our church family. We have felt really welcomed by the people at West Hills, totally free of judgment, and able to just BE here, which is what I need especially. It’s the only way I know how to pray anymore. It’s the only way I can transcend my mind. It also helps that our two children love Godly Play Sunday School, and my husband enjoys participating in the choir.
So this is my “trust fall” into community, and I hope to continue learning to love and trust the people here completely.