In 2019, after a six-week stay at a psychiatric hospital, I was saddled with a binder full of worksheets, notes and a wellness plan I had to complete before I could leave. I had taken classes on how to regulate my emotions, how to use healthy coping skills and more.
I was prepared for recovery. I was ready manage my care — but this time I didn’t have a team of doctors, a social worker and therapist helping me along daily. It all came down to me. No wellness plan, however detailed, can fully prepare you for that reality. You can read the words on paper, but it’s just not real until it is. The journey was not this simple. But it was worth the hard work.
Balancing Self-Care and Family Responsibilities
I thought I was ready to leave and return to my two small children and husband, armed with a wellness plan I thought had all the answers. While it did have some important guidance, it didn’t say anything about stepping back into my mom role — a role that required caring for a two-year-old and four-year-old who constantly needed something.
Of course, I’d missed them while I was gone, but I was so sheltered at the hospital. I had tons of alone time there; if I got upset about something, I could go to my room, relax and sit with my feelings. I had the space to do my emotional homework. My home life, I soon recognized, was more chaotic.
My children’s screams and tantrums triggered my anxiety, and I didn’t have time to employ any coping skills between their sobs and yelling. I quickly realized that my biggest challenge would be finding a balance where I could take care of them and myself.
I soon figured out that taking care of myself would require a commitment to ongoing treatment. I needed to continue receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments and attending weekly therapy appointments. I had to take frequent breaks, and I called on my husband to help me — more so than in the past. Of course, he stepped up. Self-care became part of my daily life. Once I got better at caring for myself, taking care of my kids and my husband was a lot easier. Sometimes I think I’m Supermom, but it’s okay not to be. I have limitations, and that’s just fine, as long as I show up.
And I do.
I started making significant progress on my recovery a couple years after my hospital stay. I use the word “recovery” now, but back then, I didn’t know to use that word. I just knew I was improving. I didn’t feel the need to abuse my anxiety medication. I didn’t fall back on my negative coping methods.
Every day I woke up early in the morning and was excited about the day. I went from not getting out of bed and begging my husband to take the kids to bed from jumping out of bed and making myself a healthy breakfast until the kids got up. It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.
Everything was different — in a good way.
I started writing Letters to the Editor in the local paper about mental health. They kept printing them, so I kept writing. This turned into having my own column on mental health. It was a dream come true — as a former journalist, I always dreamed of having a column. It meant more than that, too. It meant that I was well enough to commit to a job, one that I still have today, one that brings joy into my life.
With my blog and my columns, I even caught the eye of a local legislator who heard my story about mental illness, suicide attempts and recovery. He asked me to speak a symposium on mental illness and suicide, and, luckily for me, NAMI Greater Corpus Christi was watching. Soon the program director contacted me and asked if I’d like to join the team. I said yes immediately. I joined as the Communications Manager, and it was with this special group of people I learned the real meaning of recovery.
Looking back on my ups and downs, I think about how I was so naïve when I first left the hospital, thinking that getting better would be easy. Assuming that hat my medication and ECTs would do the work for me. I found balance and joy and success — but those victories required hard work and tough days.
Recovery is work. Recovery is not linear. I have awesome days, then not so much. What I can promise, though, is that putting in the hard work is so rewarding.
Since leaving the hospital in 2019, I’ve had the best years of my life. They get better as they go, and a big part of that is sharing my lived experience.
I was once suicidal. I was abusing my anxiety meds. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was lucky enough to go to a private hospital where I got new meds and did ECTs. I returned home to an amazing support system. I didn’t fall through the cracks. There are success stories. I won’t stop talking about this because people need to hear it. They need to know that mental illness can happen to anyone — and they need to know that recovery is possible.
I know, because this is my lived experience, and I’m so grateful for it.
Heather Loeb is a writer and the creator of Unruly Neurons Blog. She writes a mental health column in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and serves as Communications Manager at NAMI Greater Corpus Christi. Her goal is to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health.