If there's anything comforting about having mental illness, it's that the symptoms can be minimized and even relieved; that life can be lived in an acceptable and mostly enjoyable manner. Getting to this state in my case required the support of Dr. Lebensohn, ongoing medication, a stable job, a mostly quiet living situation, and a realization that I could - and must - manage my health through diet, exercise and minimizing stress. Most importantly for me, it required discovering the need for a set of values.
During my hospitalization and the years following, it became clear that the values my well-intentioned parents might have tried to instill in me had been bent and obscured. When it came to my values, the only things that seemed important was adventure, excitement, and the moment by moment thrill of getting away from the mundane and usual. I was living what felt to be a valueless life. Deep inside I knew something was desperately wrong; that I'd been defeated, used up, misplaced, drained of any purpose or feeling of self-worth. I was desperate to sense that I was somebody. The only recourse seemed to be getting away from the everyday quagmire of my parent's life, the upside down world that had drowned both of them, and the darkness of my childhood and early teens.
Over the years between my first hospitalization and my second episode, I began to associate my desire to find excitement with the need to escape. I was beginning to understand that instead of pursuing external stimulation I needed something positive and affirming.
It was this second episode that opened up a new pathway. All of a sudden I saw that my health, my job, my independence, my new found identity could be lost in an instant and that these things were valuable to me because life was valuable. I was valuable. People and nature were valuable.
It was at this point I realized just going to church as Dr. Lebensohn had encouraged was no longer enough. Yes I needed a faith tradition to pull me away from my self absorption and cynicism but I also needed to seek and find the foundation of a Christian life to satisfy something even deeper. With the support of my parish minister, I began to read the Bible to discover the roots of a faith.
To be continued ...