For some reason, I feel like talking about mental illness this morning and where God plays in that. Have you ever been struck by a bout of mental illness? Know someone who has? Well, just as a warning, I can go from sane to insane in about five seconds. I don’t do it very often, thank God, but when it happens, it is the most debilitating thing that has ever happened to me.
Right after I experienced the miracle that started this series (Miracles post entitled "Not Your Will!"). Tom and I had been married almost a year when I had the hysterectomy that sent me into the thoracotomy and all the resultant things. By scheduling the hysterectomy over the Thanksgiving break to avoid using so much sick time and trying to be off on the holidays, by the time they found the mass in my chest and had the surgery at Christmas, I was about out of time and had just had another HUGE surgery that required much more recuperation than the first one. That said, you do what you need to do, and no one has ever accused me of being a slacker. So back to work I went, before my body was ready, and we had a big medical malpractice trial that wanted daily transcripts and all these extras, which I was able to do, but barely.
When we got married, we both made a commitment that every year that we would take a trip, just the two of us, on our anniversary, to keep our relationship alive and make sure we didn’t lose each other in the fray of all these children and work. So, that meant we had a trip scheduled right after I’d gone back to work. It was a cruise, and we had paid for it well before all these other things happened, so we didn’t feel we could or should back out, so I got my trial done and we packed up to leave on our cruise. We had done a cruise for our honeymoon and knew that was the easiest and most restful vacation we had ever had, so another one seemed the perfect plan.
The first night on the boat, I woke up around 2:00 a.m. in a total panic – I mean a panic, a scream-your-head-off terror. I was so claustrophobic, I thought I was literally going to die. This is out of NOWHERE! I jumped up, grabbed whatever clothes were available on the floor (which happened to be Tom’s), ran out the door of our cabin, pulling them on as I went. I was pretty much half naked as I was going down the hall. We were probably on the 7th or 8th floor down, so I had to get in the elevator to get to the top. I thought if I could just get to the air, I’d be okay. I’m crying and sobbing and wheezing as I try to hold myself together to get outside. The elevator opens and I’m on the deck and OH NO, there is a fog that is so thick, you cannot see through it! It was like I wasn’t even outside. That brought more panic. I’m crying and begging God to help me, to fix my mind, to turn this off, to help me, help me, help me.
I sat down on a chair on the top deck, praying and crying and begging, wondering all the while if God has saved me from this mass in my chest to let me go completely nuts. What in the world? Where is the God that saves me, gives me miracles? Did he use them up? The really scary thing for me was that I was totally crazy, but I was sane enough to know I was crazy – know what I mean? One of the most upsetting things when Tom’s mom had Alzheimer’s was that he constantly wondered if she knew, if she knew how she was but couldn’t help herself. He would say over and over, “Oh, she would die if she knew.” Well, I’m bonkers, and I know it! It was awful. I prayed and prayed and prayed and cried and begged and planned in my mind how I was going to deal with this thing. We were just going to have to go home – that’s it, we’d just go home. Oh no, couldn’t do that – we had $3,000 invested in this trip and that would be a waste. But yeah, we gotta go home, that’s the only way I’m going to make it. Oh, wait, that would mean getting in a plane, and no way I could do that. What are we going to do, what are we going to do?
After an hour or so, I got to the point I thought I could go back to the room. I don’t know how I even had a key, if I thought to get one in my panic, if it was in Tom’s pants pocket or what, but I let myself back into the room, scared the whole way down the elevator but trying to be strong. The minute the door made that click that it was shut, back the panic came and out the door I went. This happened about seven times (yes, my husband SLEPT THROUGH THE ENTIRE THING!) On about the eighth trip, I decided that this must be stress, I need to work through this and get this stress out of my body. So on one of the trips, I get some of my clothes that fit, a pair of tennis shoes, and I went back up and began to walk/run the upper deck in this fog, praying the whole time for God to restore my mind, to take this from me, to let me be sane again.
After maybe another hour of that, it was starting to get light, maybe about 5:00 a.m. I went back down, woke Tom up and said, “You’ve got to get up, I’ve gone insane in the night.” He’s squinting his eyes and trying to look at me as I tell him the whole story. First thing he says is, “Well, can’t you talk yourself out of it?” I practically screamed, “NO! I obviously cannot talk myself out of it, or I wouldn’t have stayed on the deck all night while you slept through the entire thing! You’ve got to get up and take me to a doctor so you can be my witness that I’m not a drug seeker and that I’m usually halfway normal.” He says, “Wait, there’s tons of bars on this boat – let’s get you some alcohol and that will settle you down.” Well, WRONG THING TO SAY. I said, “Listen, buster, I may be totally insane, but I’m 34 years old and have never touched a drop of alcohol, and I’m not starting now! Get up and take me to the doctor so I can have some real drugs!”
He says, “What have you been doing? You stink.” I said, “I’ve been running the top of the boat just so I could get myself to the point I could stay down here long enough to have this conversation!” He says, “You can’t go to the doctor like that, you’ve got to get a shower.” If you’ve ever been in a cruise bathroom, I can tell you, they aren’t spacious. I’ve often wondered how a heavy person can even take a shower, as every time I’ve tried to wash my hair, I’ve knocked the walls and slopped water out and all kinds of things. I said, “I’m not getting in that box! You’ve got to be crazy!” “No, Teresa, you are the crazy one – you ARE getting in that box.” We fought around for a while, and I had to make another trip up deck, but I came back and agreed to try it. I took a shower with the shower curtain open while Tom stood there with that white robe they provide in case I had to run while in the middle. Oh, I was a mess, a total mess.
I eventually made it through the shower and we went down to see the doctor. Guess where her office was? Bottom of the boat. Every floor down we went, I could feel the panic arising. We got in there, waited a bit and got in. She was this gorgeous Swedish blond-haired woman, and I begin to tell her my story. Tom starts interviewing her, “What made you want to be a cruise doctor? Where did you go to medical school,” blah, blah, blah. I looked at him and said, “If you do not shut up and let me get some medicine, I may kill you while I’m in this state.” Unreal – here he is flirting with the doctor while his wife has gone totally loco. We got some meds and were able to make it to breakfast. I wish that was where the story ended with a “happily ever after,” but it didn’t. It was the hardest trip I have ever taken in my life. We’d get in an elevator, other people would get on, I’d have to push from the back to get off. I couldn’t hardly stand to go to bed at night, had to make several trips up and down to get settled down and had to have meds to almost knock me out to make it. And I have to brag on him, once Tom got past the initial shock of my insanity, he was incredibly supportive, not seeming embarrassed as I jumped off elevators, moved out of crowds, whatever was setting me off. My doctor later told me he believed it was my body’s reaction to the stress of the two surgeries and returning to work too early, the daily copy trial, just all of it. Either way, while I was going through it and my mind would NOT STOP, I had to wonder, why does God allow mental illness? Is there a more debilitating thing, to have your body be perfectly healthy and your mind totally off the charts?
I prayed for God to show me what He was trying to tell me with this, as Tom said it was God’s way of showing me I wasn’t always in control. It was a good lesson, if that was the intent, and I learned very well that I sure wasn’t in control if my mind decided to check out on me. But what God showed me was that I had not looked upon people with mental illness with the compassion He calls for. I had never, ever made fun of or harmed a mentally-ill person, but I will admit I had thought things like, “Just get a job, start doing something to make yourself busy and you won’t be such a mess.” God help me, how could I be so stupid? I will NEVER EVER NEVER EVER look at a person struggling mentally and think anything other than “God, help them, help them, heal them,” as but by the grace of God, there go I or there go you. My lesson was that within a blink of an eye, each one of us could be in that person’s spot – whether mentally ill, whether physically ill, whether handicapped or not very intelligent or not very nice.
I praise God that he restored my mind to me (other than the other incidents I may tell you about next week – yeah, they were fun – NOT) – and I praise God He keeps me and stays by my side so that if and when I do need Him, He is right there! Never has he made me walk through this valley of insanity alone - I knew He was there, even though I wasn’t made whole in my timing. May you seek Him so that you too can know that no matter what you’re going through, even the most bizarre thing you could ever imagine, He is in control and He is by your side…..may we begin to turn not only our bodies over to His control, but our minds, our entire being, so that he may remove thoughts and ideas and prejudices and judgments that are not of Him and show us how to really live like Christ lived. Praise His name, He is able to take your mind and cleanse it of bad attitudes and negativism and lies and replace it with peace and joy …… and yes, sanity!
My name is Teresa Evans. I am a wife to Tom, a retired Circuit Judge, and I am a court reporter by trade, a mother by God's grace and a lover of Jesus Christ. I've grown up in a family blessed with many miracles, and have received multiple miracles myself.