Growing up, I had a relatively normal childhood. I grew up in the church and I remember committing my life to Jesus when I was just five years old. My school years were fun, and in high school I enjoyed being on the wrestling team.
In the fall of 1991, I started attending a local Christian university. But by the spring of 1992, things rapidly deteriorated in my life. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, struggled with hallucinations (both visual and auditory), and I was troubled with delusions. These are classic symptoms of the disease.
I still remember my first psychotic break. Over a full week, my mind became increasingly filled with irrational beliefs — both paranoid and grandiose. I began to see and hear things that weren’t real, but they sure felt real to me. My illness came to a pinnacle where I felt that if I killed myself, God would somehow be glorified. My plan was simple: I’d use my dad’s gun underneath his mattress to end my life.
By God’s grace, my wrestling buddies intercepted me as I was headed to carry out my plan. A struggle ensued, but they overpowered me. Later that night, I found myself in a locked psychiatric unit in a hospital. That night, as I lay strapped down to a small hospital bed in a big white room, I felt my mind — and my future — were gone. The door was locked, but it had a small window in it. I remember seeing my parents peek through that window at me. It was one of the darkest times in my life.
I come from a Filipino family, and many aspects of Asian cultures are “shame based,” so we don’t typically talk about problems we feel ashamed about. My mental illness brought great devastation to my family, friends, and community, but we didn’t talk about it. Looking back, I now know that the stigma, the shame, and the many misconceptions about mental illness we all held were enormous barriers to me getting help. So instead, I sought support from friends at college.
During seven years of recovery, I went through six relapses. That sad season of my life was marked by isolation, tumultuous feelings, and great suffering. When I ran across that famous painting called “The Scream,” I framed it and hung it on my wall. Strangely, it was comforting to me, because I felt that someone actually seemed to understand the suffering I felt.
People often ask, “How did God help you through recovery?” While I still take medication and have used medical therapies, I am absolutely convinced that God gave me the “resilience” or “bounce-back power” to get through my recovery. My church was helpful in so many ways — even though I felt misunderstood at times. And the Bible brought me great comfort. When I was sick, I regularly recalled Hebrews 13:5, a verse my mom gave me on a 3×5 card. It was a simple promise from God where he says, “I will never leave you and I will never forsake you.” When I felt I had no one to turn to, that promise reminded me that God was with me, and that gave me great comfort, love, and strength to keep going. He never abandoned me — even in my deepest pain.