My Mental Illness Recovery Story, Part 3
by Shannon Hutchison
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I tragically remember the day of March 15, 1990, the day I got expelled from tenth grade, for doing something I didn’t mean to do.
For too long, I tried to get class attention by saying impulsive things. I had done this habitually throughout my years in school. But on that day, I went way too far.
My tenth grade English high school teacher was Kelly Cook. Before March 15, I would constantly get kicked out of class for misbehaving. And many times principal Gordon Pace would give me a “disciplinary speech” in hopes it would change my behaviors. One day, tired of its futility, Pace contacted my stepdad, and the three of us had a talk.
My stepfather told Pace that “if I got in trouble again, call him, and he would take care of matters at home”. This created much fear in me as I feared getting abused again. Unfortunately, my bipolar impulsiveness would have the best of me again.
On March 15, the teacher asked the class “what is your most prized possession?” When it was my turn to answer, I made a sexual comment. Even though the entire class thought it was funny, Cook didn't.
Once I heard Kelly tell me, “Let’s go to the principal’s office!, I suddenly panicked, in fear of getting abused at home. “Please no, I am sorry. Please don’t send me the principal’s office”, I begged to Cook. Unfortunately, she had her mind made up.
My thoughts suddenly started to race as I took one step after another toward the principal’s office. Cook being, several steps ahead of me, didn’t know what would happen to me if she told. So I paced faster and faster until I caught up with her. “What do I do? Oh God, he is going to hurt me”, my frantic mind thought.
The next thing I knew, I put my arms over her shoulders, and turned her body around so I could talk to her. Meaning no harm, my mind desperately wanted to tell her: “Please no. Please don’t take me to the principal’s office. I am going to get abused at home if you do.” But unfortunately, my mind traveled so fast I couldn’t say a word.
Meanwhile, Pace, who was walking in the hallways, suddenly saw my arms around the teacher. The principal, fearing I was going to hurt her, immediately took control of the situation, and separated me from the teacher. The next thing I know was being expelled from school for “trying to choke a teacher”, which I had no intention to do.
I felt so scared when my stepdad took me home that day. I remember it rained extremely hard that day. After getting hit a few times, he made me eat a major portion of a Dial soap bar, outside his garage. I remember feeling ashamed as he chewed me out.
On that early afternoon, I was forced to go to bed (for the night) without any food or drink. The lye of the soap made my gums and lips of my mouth swell and bleed. That night, I felt so alone, scared, and ashamed. It was one of the longest nights of my life as I heard my mom and stepdad arguing. At night, when they with them asleep, I snuck in the bathroom, getting a quick drink of water, as the soap tasted awful.
I spent enormous time in bed crying, asking God, “Why, God? Why?” I also started worrying of my reputation at school, what everyone thought of me because of the incident. I wanted badly to escape, somehow escape from this trial.
The school didn’t want me back in school until I got psychological clearance to return. They viewed me as “a dangerous person who could cause harm to anyone at any moment”. So I talked to someone in the psychology field, telling them all about the abuse, including the soap eating. My stepdad later told social services, “I didn’t know the soap had lye in it.”
After the psyche evaluation stated “I was stable enough to return to school”, the school still refused to let me back in, “until I went to a psychiatric hospital”. Until the Tecumseh hospital found out my grandfather had “100 percent mental health coverage of me”, they didn’t think I deemed to be hospitalized. The fact that I mentioned the word “suicide” in a conversation also had an effect in me going there.
It was a very scary situation in the psychiatric hospital. Not knowing when I could go home, being around “unstable people”, being asked a bunch of questions by strangers I didn’t trust, being disallowed to go outside the building, and other restrictions, created much anxiety as I wasn’t used to the culture shock of the situation and the hospital.
I was in the hospital for an entire month. Even though I immensely hated the place, I was safe from my stepdad. While hospitalized, I often wondered how my stepdad, and teachers and students would treat me when I go back to school. There were a lot of questions without answers in my mind, which made me anxiously obsess and worry.
After grandpa’s insurance company told the hospital they would no longer pay for my visit, I immediately got released. But before my termination happened, the hospital gave me a brain scan. According to a doctor there, I had a “chemical imbalance in my brain”. At the time, my family and I naturally believed they were “concocting a reason for me to continue staying there”. However, ever since my mental illness got diagnosed, I wonder if they actually found something, as both bipolar disorder and OCD involve neurotransmitter imbalances.
I never did return to school my sophomore year. It almost seems absurd, though, they allowed “a frail, 100-plus pound, female substitute teacher” to stay alone in my house to homeschool a “mentally unstable teenager”, but wouldn’t permit me to be in school with “supervising adults” around.
After the hospital visit, my stepdad seemed to work real hard to be good to me. I believed this happened due to three reasons. One, his past abusive behaviors became known to people, which caused increased scrutiny of his future actions by social services, the school, etc. Secondly, I believe my stepdad felt real sorry for his actions, which I will discuss later. Thirdly, the process of “fighting the school system”, in hopes of me returning to school, galvanized the relationship of our family (stepdad, mom, self).
A few years ago, it was discovered that my stepdad, like me, has a chemical imbalance in the brain. Unfortunately, our unique behaviorisms that result from our neurotransmitter problem are often like oil and water – they don’t mix well when present.
In the past, when pressure kicked his chemical issue in gear, my stepdad would get real angry easily, which would make me real anxious when around me. My OCD would then kick in gear, making me overly fearful of making mistakes, often sabotaging my ability to perform well. My screw-ups would then intensify the problem, increasing his anger and starting the cycle over again.
For example, I remember him trying to teach me how to drive when I was seventeen, when he got irritated from my inability to learn from his instructions. Fear of getting hurt by him made me nervous; thus, I repeatedly made mistakes. The next thing I know, he grabbed my throat and punched me in the face, breaking my glasses. Even though I today forgive him, and try to view him positively as he wants to do the right thing, it’s often hard to feel close to him in a son-father relationship.
Every day I experience fears of “doing something so bad in front of someone” which would cause people to “hate and reject” me, similar to how my stepdads (and dad) before did to me. In my daily encounters of people, I subconsciously view myself being that “little child being alone with my abusive father” – “if I don’t do this right, I get hurt by him”. So my OCD thinks of “worst case scenarios” and “horrible things to say or do”. Even though, life has become a daily battle of facing the anxiety involved with OCD and my past abuse, I am glad to say that I am winning the war, as my faith in God is dwarfing the size of the life giant that I perceive my illness to be.
Until the last few years, I believed in the lies “I am no good” and “I am not strong enough to overcome.” If I only embraced the truth of God’s grace and His power to overcome, sooner, I would have escaped much of the pains and sufferings of my earlier years. This includes many experiences, also including my encounters with my Dad, the Navy, college, jobs, etc.
Days and nights I felt depressed, defeated, and insignificant, as I pondered the fact I was expelled from school and stuck into a mental hospital. Life situations, though, was not what tyrannized me. Instead, it was how I labeled the events I experienced.
Anthony Robbins once said, “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” Three people can experience the same exact happenings, but have three totally different effects on them. Individuals who perceive themselves being in control of life problems, remain strong and stable; while those who label the “situation at hand negatively”, often make true their self-fulfilling prophecy.
During my childhood and early adulthood, I habitually viewed myself as being weak, unloved, and insignificant; thus, I was what I believed. Before I learned to embrace the fact that “I am a special creation of God” and that “I, through the power of Christ, am stronger than my fears and abusive stepfather”, I was never free emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. It was as if my negative thinking placed myself into a self-imposed prison. If I only habitually back then learnt to trust in God’s promises and think positively, the chains of life would have been released and I would be set free. As William Carey once said, “The future is as bright as God’s promises.”
“Let God’s promises shine on your problems” (Corrie Ten Boom). “The Bible has over 14,000 of them; perfect God has broken not one of them.”
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