Guest post by Ashley Peterson
It’s when the going gets tough that you find out who your real friends are. I had one of those times recently. I have major depressive disorder, and my mental health had been tanking in the first couple months of this year. While I’m very comfortable talking about the really low points of my mental illness after the fact, I tend to have a harder time talking about it when things are declining quite badly. It’s not so much that I think people won’t be supportive; it’s more that I feel like I would get annoyed if people were supportive, and I don’t want to deal with that.
Anyway, when it got to the point earlier this year that I was feeling quite suicidal, I decided that a hospital stay was needed. I’ve been hospitalized four times in the past and wasn’t keen on a return to hospital, but I realized that it was necessary for me to get things turned around.
I took myself into hospital voluntarily, but things went south very quickly after I arrived. They ended up committing me as an involuntary patient, and I was put in 4-point restraints (i.e. both arms and legs), which was incredibly traumatizing. It felt like a betrayal that I had gone into hospital seeking help and instead had been harmed.
I made it to an inpatient unit a few days later, at which point I had access to a computer to be able to write a post on my blog about all that had happened and how difficult it was. The outpouring of support was absolutely incredible. People I hadn’t seen around in the blogosphere in ages or who didn’t interact with my blog very often came crawling out of the woodwork to show their support. I felt propped up by this amazing community of people who just got it, and it was such a contrast to the feeling of not being supported at all by members of the health care team.
Mental illness can be so isolating, and I certainly find that it makes it very hard to be around others in person. But I’ve got this whole broad group of people who aren’t going to judge me because they know what it’s like, since they’ve been through their own struggles.
While I already knew before recent events that I’d found my tribe online, this show of support while I was in hospital really blew me away. Hospital was a difficult experience, and I don’t cope well with having my autonomy taken away, but having my tribe who stepped wholeheartedly up to the plate helped to give me strength, patience, and confidence that I could get better. When things were hard, I could write about them and count on getting support. I think my hospital stay would have been much more difficult had I not had my online support network.
Having come through on the other side, I continue to feel well supported. I know who my people are and I know I can trust them, and that gives me almost a sense of invincibility. I’m not even close to being alone; I’ve got this amazing group of people who didn’t miss a beat when things got really hard.
So yeah, when the going gets tough, you find out who your real friends are, and they just might blow you away. For each and every one of my tribe, I’m incredibly grateful, and I just hope that someday I’ll have the opportunity to return the favour. I’m a better person for having this much love in my life. That’s the power of community.