“The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
A few weeks ago, I again found myself in the position of deciding to admit myself into a hospital. It has been more than seven years since my last hospitalization, and this was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately it was what I needed to do in order to be safe and to restore health. It was a decision I made for myself and for the friends, family, and colleagues who care about me.
As I’ve given various talks and presentations over these past few years, I’ve often cautioned that I don’t view myself as a motivational speaker. My story isn’t, “Look at me, I overcame mental illness!” I have insisted on this, in part, because if the time ever came when being back in the hospital would be the safest and healthiest choice for me, I didn’t want to feel like some sort of letdown or failure.
That time finally came, and I am, indeed, struggling not to feel a sense of failure, disappointment, shame, and self-blame. But I am also feeling so genuinely grateful. The fact that it has been so long since my last hospitalization is true by the grace of God; and going back into the hospital was also by the grace of God. The grace of God made manifest through a loving and caring spouse; through supportive friends, family, community, and helping professionals; through safe hospitals and medication; through my fellow patients who were grappling with multiple challenges in their lives but still reach out for mutual aid and support; through the enthusiastic greeting of a goofy dog upon my return home; through each breath and each movement; through the call to healing, to wholeness, to life itself. I am grateful to be at home now, and on the mend. I am taking some time off of work to rest, recuperate, and recover.
Facing the reality of relapse and recovery is daunting. Our Christian narratives present us with many stories of healing, of redemption, and of hope, and for good reason. But in the midst of faltering, the familiar stories feel harder to grab onto. I blame myself, I wonder what I should have done differently, and then, to borrow a turn of phrase from a friend, “I should all over myself.” In this case, there certainly were healthier choices I could have made that might have improved my situation. And yet, here I am, walking the road to recovery again. I can’t go back and change past choices; I can take the next step and seek God’s abiding presence.
I am reminded of the words of Psalm 121, which says that God “will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” The psalmist prays for God’s presence in their comings and their goings, their leaving and their returning. I pray this prayer for myself, and for all those experiencing relapse and recovery: that God will watch over our going out, and our coming in, whatever direction in which we may be moving.
David Finnegan-Hosey is the author of Christ on the Psych Ward and Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare. He serves as College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College. He holds an M.Div from Wesley Theological Seminary and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. He is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA to provide initial help to people experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson, NC with his wife Leigh, their daughter Laila, and their dog Penny Lane.