Melody M

In the fall of 2008, I experienced my first acute manic episode and, quickly thereafter, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My mania had paved the way toward full-blown psychosis before I was hospitalized and, by the time I was admitted, my delusions and hallucinations were so intense that I could no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. I was seeing and talking to bands of imaginary little people; I believed I had a fictitious new job waiting for me in Rome, despite never having applied for one; and I was certain that God was sending me messages. In short, I had lost my mind.

I was blessed to have a family full of physicians who quickly recognized my mania for what it was and got me to the hospital before I could do permanent damage to myself or anyone else. While a psychiatric hospital was certainly the best place for me at first, as it helped me get stabilized, it wasn’t the best place for me to actually get well.

I needed more than temporary stabilization after my psychotic break. I needed the support, education, compassion and guidance that lead to true recovery. I found all of that and more at Skyland Trail.

Upon arriving at Skyland, I was terrified. My family had chosen Skyland Trail because of its stellar reputation in treating bipolar disorder in particular, but I was not in on the decision, as I was still too fragile to engage in any higher-level decision-making. I could decide to get up, brush my teeth, shower and eat, but that was pretty much it. So, I trusted my husband and my parents to make the right decision, and true to form, they did.

The fears that I felt upon entering the doors of Skyland Trail were allayed within minutes. I was immediately aware that this place was nothing like the psychiatric wards I had become used to. The staff looked me in the eye when they spoke to me; they didn’t patronize me; they didn’t seem afraid of catching what I had, and they genuinely wanted to help. To top it off, the grounds were actually conducive to healing. From the greenhouse to the gym to the library to the music room, it was clear that this was a very special place. In the psych wards and hospitals, there were no flowers or gyms or greenhouses, no musical instruments or libraries, no yoga classes or nutritionists.

But Skyland isn’t just unlike any mental health facility I’ve ever attended. It’s unlike any other place I’ve ever been. In the nearly two months I spent in Skyland Trail’s day treatment program, I learned more about myself and my potential than I did in all my years in college, law school and public health graduate school combined.

The people at Skyland helped me believe in myself again. They taught me that having a mental illness didn’t mean that I had to scale down my dreams for myself. The staff taught me that I was still capable of so much more, and most of all, they taught me how to harness that potential to the utmost by learning about my illness and how to treat it.

Where other mental health professionals had previously told me to ask less of myself because of my illness, the staff at Skyland convinced me to ask more of myself than I ever thought possible—both despite and because of my illness. And they did more than persuade me to ask more of myself. They taught me how to actually achieve it by accepting the reality of my illness and learning vital skills to better control it, as opposed to letting it control me.

I don’t expect to ever be able to repay the people at Skyland Trail for all of the gifts they have given me (not to mention the fact that they granted me a scholarship through the Financial Aid Program), but my hope is that by continuing to volunteer—by teaching writing workshops to current clients, speaking about my experiences and doing anything else possible to help—I can at least give a little back to a place that gave me so much.