It was April 2018, I was in the middle of the second most difficult manic episode of my life. The first time I had an episode in 2006, I took a cab to an airport at 3 am and tried to get a flight to Florida or Puerto Rico (with no plans/no one was expecting me). I had one credit card maxed it out by buying the ticket and didn’t have enough money to get back home. Angels must have intercepted because the airline did not give me an actual ticket. They gave me credit towards a flight. My questionable behavior must have been a red flag.
In a manic state a person has extreme highs and lows, I personally experience psychosis (psychotic features) which can include hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. These symptoms occur during episodes of mania.
I have no idea what I would have done had I been able to board the plane. All I wanted was to escape my reality any way possible. I had just stopped smoking marijuana and heavy drinking, all of my pain and trauma surfaced and I didn’t know what to do with myself. This was 2006ish.
I’m writing about my recent episode because I went through it with my husband and parents. No one else knows the details of what happened and I don’t want anyone to experience something like this alone. Maybe you’re reading this and you have experienced mental health issues or you’re reading it to educate yourself. Either way, I want you to know it’s real, very painful and I will not remain silent about my struggles.
After weeks of not sleeping more than 3-4 hours a night, intermittent fasting and exercise… I lost it. I was adding way too much to my plate without removing anything. I was doing good things (things that are important to me) and being “productive” but not pacing myself. For me, a number of simple stressors can trigger mania.
The last straw was fainting in church. That’s when we knew something was wrong. I took the next day off from work and slept over my parent’s house. This usually works. It’s still home after all. If I am about 3 days into an episode I can usually pop a Nyquil, rest, and slowly start to get better. Rest is key. No other intervention needed, or so I thought. But this time that was not enough.
I couldn’t sleep. I made an honest effort but after much convincing from my parents and husband, we decided I had to voluntarily admit myself into psychiatric ER.
Upon arrival, I met a few social workers who were trying to assess me and the one question they kept asking me was, “Why are you here?” I was confused and couldn’t answer them. I just didn’t understand why or how I got to this point so fast. I had racing thoughts and the sudden fear that my husband and daughter were both going to or had died. I knew I was not ok because I had constant thoughts of death and a fear that I would never be safe or healthy again.
I searched for the truth and it slipped through my fingertips. In a manic state, you can see with your physical eyes but you question everything. One second you understand the world around you and the next it feels like a movie reel and you are watching from a distant seat in the audience trying to figure out how to jump back in. You feel hopeless and alone.
I could see Papi fighting to hold back tears and Mami would just nod and encourage me, whenever I asked questions and tried to get clarity. Without words, her spirit spoke to mine and I knew she understood exactly what I was feeling. She’s been in my shoes. She guided me gently. Allowing me to choose voluntary hospitalization.
In the middle of processing paperwork and meeting with social workers. I had to take a break and just get away from the chaos for a moment. I told my parents to join me for lunch briefly before I was admitted.
The three of us sat at Au Bon Pan at Jacobi Hospital. I was intentionally procrastinating sipping soup as slow as possible and eating half a sandwich one bite at a time. I was ashamed to look at my parents. I couldn’t look at them in the face. I felt I was being a burden, a failure to my family. How could I allow this to happen? Why didn’t I see the signs? Why did so many little things overwhelm me to this point? What’s wrong with me?
As I sat there, one of the most terrifying thoughts crossed my mind. I kept visualizing myself walking in circles around our church sanctuary but no one could see me. It was as if I was lost.
I replayed the day I fainted in church, just about 48 hours prior to this. I was standing in the back of the church in a pew with my daughter. As the worship began I became exhilarated. I was full of emotion and joy and started expressing that by dancing. Somehow I got dizzy and passed out and as I was laying on the ground I started kicking my feet in the air, flailing my arms with my eyes closed. I was starting to have a hallucination.
The worst part was, my daughter was with me. An usher rushed over and told me to calm down. She gently laid her hands on my chest and told me, “Sister, you’re ok. Your daughter is scared. Can you stand up, please?”
That shook me. And I immediately stood up. I was terrified and didn’t know how to ask for help. I was afraid to leave the building because I felt safe there so I stuck around for the second service. I went down to our lower level. Talked to someone I trust but didn’t have the words to describe what I was feeling. So I just carried on as if nothing happened. I shared I was struggling a little but still wasn’t clear about what I was going through because I truly didn’t know. An hour or so later I fainted again. This time security intervened, a nurse took my blood pressure and a darling sister drove us home. She encouraged me to go to the ER.
Fast forward to the present, sitting in Au Bon Pan, sipping my soup. The devil… the accuser… came for me.
You’re not really saved, Pilar.
You’re a hypocrite.
You’ve lost your mind and you’ve been this way for years.
You’ll never be healthy, again.
You’re actually satan and you’ll be roaming the earth lost forever!!
You’ll be separated from God.
Now, this is why I am writing today.
These are all lies that the enemy was trying to use against me.
The Bible says to beware of the devil who roams the earth like a lion waiting to attack you. He is evil, deceitful, full of rage because he knows he is already defeated. His future is death and he doesn’t want to go to hell alone.
For that very moment, sipping my soup with my parents staring at their sick child. I believed them. These are just some of the many thoughts that crossed my mind at once and they could have killed my spirit and robbed me of my future. This was a spiritual attack while I was in a manic state. The good that came out of this was I signed myself into the hospital. My employer was gracious enough to give me the time I needed to get better. I was placed on medication. And for the first time in over 12 years, I made a plan to take medication, seek professional help and continue therapy.
What I’ve learned from this experience is this…
I can now identify when the enemy, the father of lies accuses me. I got his number and I’m not buying what he is selling.
But what if…
What if I believed him?
What if I continue to believe what he says about me, today?
What if someone you love feels this way and commits suicide because they just can’t take it?
In her book, Fervent, Priscilla Shirer, sums it up perfectly. She says, “He condemns for the purpose of destroying and humiliating”.
While I have to take personal responsibility for my health. Sleep and eat well. Take medication and seek professional help long term. I choose to believe that I am walking in the light of my testimony. And God has and is restoring the years I have lost.
His word says,
“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming [a]locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God.
This episode was one of many and there are many details I am leaving out. They all have one theme in common. They happen after I try in my own power to achieve too much, when I strive for perfection.
Slowly but surely, I have regained my confidence in who God says I am. God is uplifting, rebuilding and giving me hope that he will use this invisible illness of mine to connect me to my purpose and his plan for my life. That is what God does with our weakness. He can use anything you surrender to him. He will use me and my invisible illness the way he sees fit. In him the weak are strong.
If you’re reading this I encourage you to get comfortable talking and asking questions about mental health. Anxiety, depression and psychotic episodes are real. There are brothers and sisters in your church, friends and family members battling these things in silence. It’s time for us to open our mouths and have honest conversations about these issues. Let’s silence the enemies lies and remind him, his plans to harm us will never prosper. God has the final victory.
Read Jeremiah 29:11
Our Fathers word says, I have plans to prosper you (insert your name), not to harm you. I have plans to give you a hope and a future, (insert your name).
Trust the Lord. Walk in his light and he will guide your steps.