Note – This post discusses prayer as part of my mental health story from 2018 to 2020 and may trigger unwanted thoughts or emotions in those that have suffered traumas. This post is part of a story told chronologically.
When I returned to Raleigh in early January 2020, I had problems adjusting to the new life of a writer. I didn’t have to attend a meeting, write an email, or show up at a place of work. I could sleep late if I could sleep. Nevermore did I wish from my work desk that I was home taking a nap. My nap schedule became flexible. Despite this, I wanted my old life, where I wasn’t depressed, and I looked forward to the next day.
None of this ideal picture happened. Depression still consumed me. I was being deprogrammed, and I was unlearning many things. I certainly had those mountaintop moments, but during most of my days, I stayed in the valleys.
My senses started to work again, however. One night while doing tai chi, my hearing suddenly came back. I didn’t realize my hearing had been dulled until I heard sounds more clearly and louder. My eardrums didn’t pop with an elevation change; rather, a switch turned on. Similarly, I saw things more clearly without the nagging, throbbing pain in the back of my head as the cloud started to lift in early spring. For the first time in years, I felt every movement of my body. Reality untangled from its amplified distortions. An alien didn’t control my body, and I no longer questioned why my hands or legs were positioned the way they were.
I officially left Caterpillar on the morning of Friday, 1 November 2019. In the afternoon, I went to Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh and basked in sunlight that shone more clearly. The light struck me more intensely and more tangibly than I had remembered in a long time, similar to my last day at the mental hospital as a kid.
Each of these experiences became a prayer for me as I remembered how Padre taught me to pray with all of my senses. Moreover, an Ignatian retreat I attended in late February 2020 encouraged us to place ourselves in the life of Jesus by using our senses and imagination. I didn’t have the same level of intimate experiences at the retreat as I had with earlier events. However, the Holy Spirit flowed through each speaker that gave testimony. We learned how to pray the daily examen, and I added this to my list of prayer practices.
Sitting on the floor cross-legged with a blanket over my shoulders became my prayer position. The floor beside my bed grounded me. Prayer started with five minutes, then gradually built to an hour before I tried to sleep. I read Scripture passages from Magnificat, then meditated, then prayed for specific intentions. I reviewed my day, thanking God for blessings and asking forgiveness for moments when I strayed from God. Many nights, I sat in silence for the opening ten to twenty minutes. If my mind wandered, as it usually did, I refocused on a word or phrase from Scripture. This time with the Lord became very intimate as I still waged battles against evil thoughts.
This hour of prayer became my refuge and defense, and I looked forward to it each night. My mind was still sticky, and I continued to worry about my heart. Throughout the day, I heard that terrifying beat of my heart as my mind fixed on it, worrying when the next attack would come. Everything threatened me, and my flight or fight response remained very elevated. I tried to jog, but I couldn’t run more than a few steps without thinking I would pass out and die alone.
This thinking seemed irrational to me on one level, but my emotional brain kept winning the arguments. I scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist with the hope the doctor would ease my fears. When the doctor saw me, he looked at my chart and the reasons I came to see him. “Peace of mind,” he said. Looking me over, he added, “I can certainly help with that.”
He told me I was at very low risk of having heart problems. When I left the reception desk, a nurse commented, “See you in twenty years.” At this remark, I laughed and recalled a similar statement a nurse had said on my last day in the mental hospital twenty-five years earlier. “You’ll be back here at some point.” She was right, I told myself as I left the UNC hospital in Raleigh. I never expected it, but I had been back in another form.
Rather than being joyful after the doctor’s visit, I became sullen. Intellectually, I knew my heart wasn’t an issue, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I continued to hear my heartbeat audibly throughout the spring. Fortunately, evil thoughts hammered less frequently beginning in the spring of 2020.