By: Lydia Scott
I am really bad about wanting to be helpful. Therapy has taught me about my “helper” persona and how it’s a blend of being a little bit of a hero and a little bit of a victim all rolled up into one. Helpers, like all the other personality styles out there, are awesome and important to have in our lives. Helpers want to make a difference, find the solution, make life easier, make things happen, and help you excel. We don’t want our needs to be ignored; yet we will be the first to turn down offers of help, questions of “are you okay?” and suggestions of rest. A little bit hero, a little bit victim. There’s not a thing wrong with our helpful ways, but it can cause us to crash and burn when life gets mean. And I’ve done that – crashed and burned. I was ashamed of it every time, and every time was really unpleasant, but I don’t regret any of it.
On three occasions in my life, I’ve crashed and burned to the point of having to take myself to what I call “the happiness hospital.” Behavioral counseling centers, psychiatric hospitals, inpatient stability centers…whatever you call them, they are where people go to get concentrated, inpatient help for addictions, suicidal issues, severe depression, or even just sheer emotional exhaustion. During one of my stays, I met a lady who said she admitted herself because she needed a vacation from her life and needed to be forced to take care of herself. It can be a really humiliating experience to take oneself (or be taken to) the happiness hospital, even though it should not be humiliating. While none of these experiences were high points in my life (and in fact occurred during the worst times of my life), I don’t regret any of them.
A middle class, stay-at-home mom “shouldn’t” have debilitating depression and severe emotional instability. Looking back at all three instances, I totally see what lead me to lose my grip on myself: feeling completely alone AND not taking care of myself on the inside. I was going and going, losing one thing or person after another, and never stopped to deal with any of it. I didn’t feel like I had anyone who could wrap their arms around me and help me feel stronger and not alone, even when I was married (the first time) and had family trying to support me.
It just snowballs until one day you physically can’t stop crying or you’re researching just how many pills you would need to take to not wake up tomorrow. If you’re lucky, you’ll realize you need help and you’ll stop the world in order to get it, even when the person who should be your biggest supporter responds to your plea for him to take you to the “mental hospital” with eye rolls, protests of “Why did you let yourself get so bad?” or, “Your problem is you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try harder.” You keep trying, even when that person instructs you to not “come home until you’re well” when you ask what will happen to your marriage because of this. (Big hint…my first visit resulted in the staff psychiatrist telling me the primary cause of my issues was my marriage.)
Each of my stays at the happiness hospital lasted from five to ten days, and I was on suicide watch for all of them. I learned how to make do without a lot of comforts (my regular deodorant, shoelaces, shaving alone, eating what and when I felt like it), and I learned a lot about both myself and humanity in general.
There was the heavier set lady in her 50s who came in straight from home, had no one to bring her any of her things, and was in tears because she had no bra and was humiliated to be walking around with the girls swinging free. (We happened to be close in size, so I gave her one of mine). There was the elderly lady in a wheelchair who adopted me as her confidant, and would sit next to me for hours telling me about her life and sobbing over everything and everyone she’d lost. There was the high-powered, well-known attorney in the robe and slippers pacing the hallways, who turned himself in for drug and alcohol abuse that resulted from the horrors he dealt with in his cases.
There were wealthy people, homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics, sad people, exhausted people, confused people, young people, old people, employed people, jobless people. And we all had common ground…we were all here because something wasn’t right and it wasn’t getting better. We didn’t need a new kidney or stitches. We needed teachers, guidance counselors, and friends to lean on, talk to, cry with. We needed to learn who we were and how to live life.
When I had to give up my kids and the alcohol and nightmares took over my life, leading to my last happiness hospital trip, I especially needed an identity and a purpose. I felt useless, worthless, lost, and like the biggest failure to ever exist. That visit helped me learn who I was, deep down inside, regardless of what role I was playing in life at any given moment. I was no longer a wife. I felt like I was no longer a mother, no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, no longer Daddy’s girl (he had passed a few years earlier), no longer had a home, and no longer had my friends. The counselors helped me figure out WHO I was, not just WHAT I was. They taught me to identify people who always wind up hurting me and how to keep those people from hurting me again.
Most of all, although it took three times, I finally learned how to say “I need help” before crashing and burning. I can never regret the incredibly human people I got to know, and the glimpse into the rawness of what really being a human being is built of. It’s built of pain, smiles, and hugs. And it’s built on not being alone.
Have you ever really identified WHO you are, rather than WHAT you are? How hard or easy is it for you to say “I need help?” Did you go through something extremely hard and unpleasant, but don’t regret it? What did you learn?