By Sterling Pohlmann
Accepting help for mental illness is hard, especially while experiencing delusions. Many people don’t trust that their doctors have their best interests in mind, do not want to take medication or stop treatment once they start feeling better, thinking they no longer need it.
Treatment is a matter of trial and error. If you need medication, it is often a battle to find the right one. I certainly had a hard time, myself. It took a while to find meds that worked for me, and I didn't trust my doctors at first. Eventually, I learned to entrust my doctors with my life.
I still understand why it’s difficult to get to this point. You probably feel scared or vulnerable and it’s hard to let others in. The thing is, unless you accept help, progress to stability is impossible.
When I was first diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I didn’t believe I had mental illness. I thought the government was involved in the experiences I was having. I thought I was being poisoned. I refused to ever set my drink down and leave it in a different room. I took my drinks everywhere I went.
At one point I had been brought to the hospital after I attempted suicide. I didn’t trust the doctors that were treating me. I just wanted to get out of the hospital and said whatever it took to make that happen. I turned down their help.
I struggled for years after battling the drugs which pushed me into toxic relationships, which in turn pushed me toward more drug and alcohol use. It didn’t end until I finally opened up to my doctors and was honest with them about everything.
Doctors can’t do their job to help you unless you are honest, even about the most seemingly insignificant details. They need to have a lay of the land before they can guide you along a healthy path. Think of mental illness like you would a physical injury. If you lie, that affects the quality and efficacy of the treatment, and could result in your health worsening.
Now, I am open with my doctors about everything. Even when things are going well, I still tell them every last detail. I have a lot of responsibilities that hinge on me being stable. And it's easier to prevent an issue than it is to come back from rock bottom.
For example, back in March, I started having nightmares every night in which my wife was dying of COVID-19. I started going to bed later and later because I was afraid of having another nightmare. I’d wake up after only a few hours, unable to go back to sleep.
My overall stability and mental health soured as the stress of the pandemic heaped itself on my exhausted psyche. The final straw was one nightmare where I went to check on my wife, and I found her dead in our bed. I remember sobbing, barely able to catch my breath, crying that “I’m not ready for this. I can’t do this!”
As soon as I woke up, I called my doctor, who then prescribed a new medication. It resulted in me not remembering my dreams, but it meant I was free of the nightmares.
If didn’t think telling my doctor was worth it, if I thought wouldn’t listen or believed she was out to get me — I would have had to continue living my life on two hours of sleep a day. Like a series of dominoes falling, it would have been only a matter of time before I would have been hospitalized. Being hospitalized is not a failure, but in many cases, it can be prevented.
Accepting help allowed me the necessary momentum to crawl out from rock bottom into a stable, happy life. I haven’t been hospitalized in seven years. After nine years of marriage, my wife and I are happier now than in the beginning.
My accomplishments are not worthy of a movie, but I think the circumstances make them worth mentioning. I still struggle, even now. I just struggle less. Struggling is inevitable in this life regardless of who you are. You may not be able to avoid it, but you can accept help to make it a little easier.
Sterling Pohlmann has lived all across the country, at one point or another, even Hawai’i. He plays the guitar as a form of art therapy, and practices many types because he believes music is the best way to celebrate being alive. You can contact him on his website: sterlingpohlmann.com.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
In a crisis? Call or text 988.
Find Your Local NAMI