The ice water ran down my chin and onto my throat, cooling the blood that was rushing to my head. My breath slowed enough for me to close my mouth. I dunked my face again into the ice water bin. I felt the bubbles glide gently up my cheeks. When I came up for air, the nurse nodded, looked into my red eyes, and said to me, "The veil is very thin here."
It was exactly the right thing for her to say.
I appreciated the truth of it. All pretense falls away in a psych ward. There was no cloak or veil to shield and protect me. She was seeing me at my most vulnerable, I didn't have the energy or the mental capacity to keep it together.
My whole life, I'd maintained appearances and dealt with mental health challenges largely in privacy. I often found myself in a panic attack alone at night with no one there to see me. My depression, too, had been hidden through diligent effort and control on my part, so as not to give in or seem needy or burdensome. As a teenager, I dealt with my big emotions by gently cutting my skin so I could watch myself bleed quietly in the bathroom. But tonight, I had a nurse, a witness and a comfort, and I was grateful.
The veil was thin in more ways than one. It was so thin, in fact, that I'd lost touch with reality. The boundaries between me and an unseen, spiritual world had worn down gradually over the last 2 weeks. I spoke to my dead relatives. I communed with the stars like they were my kin. I wrote an entire book. I hugged a sweet potato. I spoke vehemently and quickly into my empty home for hours and hours, not realizing I was talking to myself. I used a wooden wand with conviction. I felt God was alive, their love shining through all things. It was magical. Come to find out, it was mania. And it was not sustainable. Eventually, time and food and sleep were lost and the psychosis took away all of the fun. It became traumatic, especially once I ended up in the ER.
By the time I went to the hospital, I'd been experiencing nightmares and delusions and panic attacks for 2 days. I had recorded a video of myself in this state. It was 30 minutes of slurred and pressured speech. It captured the delusions, the sobbing, the cackling. It was chilling and disturbing to watch. I was all over the place. I watched it a year afterward and deleted it, grateful to see the truth of how sick I was and not to romanticize the episode too much.
As I sat with this nurse, and she gently reminded me to breathe, I was grateful to finally be at a place in my life where I could admit what a struggle my mental health had been. I was at rock bottom, like an addict. I had finally ended up in the hospital having to face the fact that I needed help. My doctors reiterated that my situation could have been life threatening. My brain was struggling to maintain balance. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type 1. They started me on Lithium. I gradually gained my bearings through food and rest.
This was the first time in my life I was given the space, time, and permission to only concern myself with my own healing. Not only that, but it was also the first time that I had no choice. As someone whose dedicated her life to the healing of others, this was an extraordinary gift. I remember laying on my bed, staring at the sunshine, without a cell phone and with nothing but a coloring book to occupy my time, and realizing that all my life I'd needed more space and time to heal, but I had never taken it. This was my chance to finally let myself be mentally ill enough to get the care I really needed.
In fact, this episode would prove to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Like most life experiences that push us to the brink of our capacity and break us down, I was able to rebuild myself with more wisdom and compassion. Over time, and with a lot of patience and love, I was able to heal innumerable wounds that the episode drew out of me. I still struggle, and have challenging days, but I've completely reframed my experiences. For better or worse, I now have a lens of a diagnosis that leads to better management of my mental health. At times, I don't accept it and resist my medications.
It's hard for me to know what's true.
This is also part of the process. But what I know for certain is that this episode was vital for my spiritual and emotional development.
My life will forever be divided by this event; "before and after the episode". It changed me. My consciousness will never be the same having experienced the euphoria, creativity, and magic of mania. I will also never take "reality" for granted, nor look at a clock without chuckling at what a hilarious, contrived fallacy time is. Part of my episode was spent in non-duality, and that completely messes with your sense of "self" and "other" in a way that is both an existential gift and a completely disorienting shit show. But again, it is not sustainable. We need these things to function in normal society. I miss the mania sometimes.
But the greatest blessing isn't that the episode thinned the veil for me to see myself and the world more clearly, it's that the episode lifted the thick veil I'd placed so carefully around myself, concealing my truth from others.
To be seen fully is deeply healing. This is why I am writing this now.
I looked at the nurse and felt compelled to say thank you, but what actually came out was a simple, "Yes."