Hope After the Psych Ward

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A few hours after my discharge from the psychiatric ward of our local hospital, I walked over to my daughter’s elementary school to pick her up from first grade. It was the end of October, and the trees bore fewer leaves than when I’d last seen them, four days before. As the leaves crunched under my feet, I anticipated my little girl’s excitement when she saw me, for she did not yet know I’d come home. But then I came around the corner onto the playground and remembered that my daughter would not be the first person I would encounter here.

The smiles of the two other mothers pulled me towards them before I thought better of it. “Sarah!” they exclaimed. “How are you?”

“I’m doing better now,” I replied thoughtlessly. “I was just let out of the psych ward this morning.”

I watched their faces contort with confusion and horror, and I realized too late the ridiculous awkwardness of what I’d just said.

“I… I mean… I was… diagnosed with postpartum depression,” I lied. Suddenly the truth seemed utterly unfit for public consumption. “But they gave me medication, so I’m doing better now,” I sputtered.

“How awful!” One friend finally found her words. “But… I thought antidepressants took a long time to take effect?”

Did they? I didn’t know that. I felt no choice but to edge back toward the truth. “Oh … well… I’m not actually on antidepressants. They gave me… anti-psychotics?”

The other woman erupted into nervous giggles. “Anti-psychotics! You don’t mean you were delusional?”

She stared at me with derision. I stared back, shocked into silence. How was I to explain what had just happened to me when I didn’t understand it myself?

I get her laughter, now. I know that mental illness is the accepted butt of many a cultural joke. We laugh at what we fear. But the sad truth is that I was silenced by that other mother’s laughter for a long time. It would be months, after that encounter, before I could speak my truth honestly to anyone outside my closest circle.

We do not all face mental illness, but we all know brokenness. Your brokenness may be chronic illness or addiction or marital difficulty or financial struggle or something else altogether, but I know it’s there.

Jesus knows something about brokenness, too. And He who was broken to the utmost for our sakes tells us that we too must “take up our cross.” Does He mean that we need to heap more suffering onto our already broken lives? I don’t think so. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, I wonder if he’s really just telling us to own the brokenness that’s already present in our stories. Take it up. Own it. Be real.

The story of how I let go of my fear of sharing what really happened to me in October 2011 is bigger than this space will allow. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: Perfect Love casts out fear. The perfect love of Jesus allowed me to let go of my defenses and share my real story with the world.


After all, this is the particular brokenness God has seen fit to allow me to carry. I can’t hide it any longer, so I am speaking the truth: I was hospitalized for postpartum psychosis. Now I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You don’t need to laugh. You don’t need to be afraid. Let’s just be real.

Will you join me in taking up your cross? Can we be honest together about our own private battles? Can we show our scars to the world? It is difficult, yes; but oh, so liberating. Only when we share our truth can we draw strength and courage from one another’s stories.

 ~~~
Readers, What do you need to be real about today?

Sarah Sanderson is currently working on a memoir about God’s presence throughout her psychiatric hospitalization and subsequent healing journey. She is in the process of transitioning from a blog, confessionsofahumanmom.blogspot.com, to a personal website,www.sarahlsanderson.com. Sarah lives in the Portland, Oregon area with her husband and four children.


5 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I have a family member who walked that road and no one truely understood what to do or say.

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  2. wow, your bravery is inspiring. Mental Illness especially one with the word psychotic in it is so unknown and scary to most of us. I am sorry for how you were treated upon your discharge but I know it is out of fear and ignorance that we don't press in to the hard things. Im now going to go read your blog to educate myself better. You are full of courage and grace.

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  3. A friend shared this with me, Sarah. I had a psychiatric hospitalization nearly 2 years ago now and have written as openly about it as I can on my blog. Mine was for acute anxiety disorder and depression. No one ever seems to want to talk about it, no one asks about the experience - at all. But I need to process, so I write, and I want people to know this is part of life too. Thanks for sharing your story here. I share my story because I never want others to feel as alone and afraid as I did. My blog is www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com most of my mental health writing is under the tag "anxiety."

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly! I will check out your blog! Let's be real together! :)

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  4. I read this and my heart leaps to realize there are other christians who have struggled like me. I was hospitalized for psychosis in 2011 as well. I appreciate your writing about this

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