Taken from SC Times which is found HERE.
St. Cloud resident Marsha Hagfors can quote a frightening statistic: From 2005 to 2012, she had 38 inpatient treatments for her mental health.
And that’s counting only those at St. Cloud Hospital.
She was isolated and alone, facing the ups and downs, the push and pull that her combination of illnesses was putting her through.
Three years later, she’s stable, living independently in her apartment, maintaining a job at Independent Lifestyles in Sauk Rapids and paying her own bills.
She’s connected to other people with mental illness, helping them through their struggle with lessons she’s learned.
“This may sound weird but, I’m … blessed to have had that experience,” she says. “Because I feel like I’m a stronger person and I can better understand people that do struggle with mental illness because I’ve lived every dark corner there is.”
And she hasn’t had any hospitalizations since 2012.
Hagfors’ story is an example of the sometimes revolving door of the mental health care system.
“When people ask me, I’m like, I’ve been through hell and back. That’s exactly how I feel. But I’m so grateful to be here,” she said.
Now, at age 32, Hagfors is doing what she can to make that system better.
She tells her story in hopes that others do the same.
“One in four people will have mental illness,” she said, in their lifetime. That’s a lot of people.
Hagfors’ story centers on a sexual assault in college in 2005 in her early 20s. It started her on a downward spiral that would lead to three suicide attempts and numerous occasions of dangerous behavior such as cutting and erratic driving.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“People think of you for (your diagnosis). You shouldn’t live your diagnosis. That’s what I’m trying to get out to people,” she said.
But it didn’t start there. Hagfors had a hard time making and keeping friends as a child. Borderline personality disorder isn’t something that just happens. It develops over time via the environment, usually in childhood.
“I was very emotional growing up. Like every little thing bothered me,” she said. “In school, I’d maybe have one friend. I tried to be in things like band. But I would come home from school and just cry all night long.”
Because of stress, Hagfors has been grinding her teeth since she was a year old.
She was really good at basketball, but anxiety won.
When other teenagers were partying with their friends, Hagfors was home with her parents.
“I turned into myself and didn’t talk about it because it wasn’t OK,” she said. “I did have a problem and I wish I could have gotten help sooner.”
After high school, she went to St. Cloud State University. At first, she lived on campus. But when her parents dropped her off that first day, signs weren’t looking good.
“Literally felt I would die because I was not ready,” she said. “I cried every single day for the first month.”
Her mom helped her through, listening to her over the phone.
“She was my rock during that time,” Hagfors said. “I think at that time she knew something was wrong.”
She’d go to class, go back to her dorm and stay there. She didn’t have any friends.
“Always inside me, I had the inner drive,” she said. But mental symptoms got in the way.
The assault triggered her borderline personality disorder.
“I just completely fell apart,” she said. “It all just kind of spiraled down from there.”
Her symptoms started with depression and anxiety.
Hagfors cut herself as a release because she didn’t have coping skills.
“That’s just what I went to all the time. It was awful,” she said.
And so began her revolving door.
The next few years were a blur. She can’t remember much.
Hagfors was self-medicating with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, landing her in the ER with a dose of charcoal, used to treat drug overdoses.
Police would perform welfare checks and take her to be institutionalized.
“I’d generally go in, be there for like a week, and then get out for a couple days, and then I’d go back,” she said. “That was like my cycle for two years.”
She was able to talk her way out of the institutions, and she wanted to get out because she felt shame being there so often.
“With the borderline, it’s very easy to be manipulative,” she said.
She was seeing a therapist once a month during that period, but he was a man, something that was hard for her to cope with following the college trauma. So she’d skip a lot of appointments.
During that period Hagfors had jobs on and off, in retail or doing office work, but sometimes only for as short as a week. For a while she’d do really well. Then she’d have a lot of symptoms. She’d miss work, then lose her job. Of course, that led to major instability.
“I moved a lot. And I lived in foster care for a year. I lived in three different group homes,” she said. Living in her own apartment didn’t work.
She attempted suicide three times. During that third attempt in 2008, she landed in an intensive care unit.
“That time was the life-changing event. OK, I really need to figure this out,” she said. “It scared me. Life is way more precious than this.”
The near-death experience was her catalyst for recovery. A month later Hagfors got her own place and started turning her life around.
Along the way, she learned coping strategies and outlets to express her emotion. She found purpose, in creating art and in helping people. Now, she hopes to break down stigma around mental illness.
Today, she has to listen to herself and take it easy on the bad days. For instance, she knows autumn can be triggering, and at one point, hearing an ambulance could make her feel sick.
The real key to her recovery was finding and believing in herself.
“If you don’t find something meaningful, it’s hard to go on.” Hagfors said.
Right now, she finds purpose in her job at Independent Lifestyles as a peer mentor, working with people with disabilities and mental illness.
“My consumers can tell me anything, and it won’t faze me because I’ve probably done it,” she said. “I can relate to them and I’m not saying any situation is the same or this is how I feel about it. Just genuinely listening, being like, I understand and not saying ‘that’s stupid.’ I’ve lived these situations and I can relate to them.”
She passes on wisdom she’s gained and tells her clients one simple fact: She believes in them. And whatever they do, let it out; they can talk to her. Leaving whatever it is inside is dangerous, she said.
When Hagfors thinks back over the last 10 years, she can identify the obstacles that, in her opinion, kept her sick.
That includes a lack of consistency in mental health providers. It’s particularly important for someone with borderline personality disorder, where trust doesn’t come easily.
“It’s nice to have consistency because you can gain trust with that person,” she said. “Once you have that trust and you feel safe, it’s easier to talk to somebody and get the help you need.”
Having the same provider for a longer period can also help with medication management. There’s a lot of trial and error in medicines that treat mental illness. It takes time to find the right drug, the right dose, the right timing and the right combination.
Changes in insurance and who would or wouldn’t accept public and private insurance meant it was hard to have that consistency. At one point, her therapist no longer accepted Medical Assistance.
“I was just devastated because I’m like ‘Look, I just started trusting this person and now I have to change again,’ ” Hagfors said.
In some ways, it seemed the system was set up to keep wounding her.
“(I) felt sometimes, ‘OK, I’m doing everything I can but I’m still having all these issues.’ (It) kind of felt they were making me stay in the situation,” she said.
She was either institutionalized, with intense supervision and structure, or out on her own, with neither. There was no middle ground.
“It seemed like I’d get out of hospital and wouldn’t have any services to get and I’d just end up right back in there,” she said. “I went from being institutionalized where you’re taking care of me every two seconds, to ‘Oh I’m on my own, what do I do?’ I’m freaked out. ‘Oh my gosh, I have to create drama to get my needs met.’ ”
Sometimes, the inflexibility of the health care system complicated matters, she said.
“I think most people look at your diagnosis and say, ‘Oh you have this, you must be like this.’ But everyone is different,” she said. Bipolar isn’t bipolar isn’t bipolar.
Then there’s the way conditions can interact. For instance, Hagfors’s bipolar medications can make the borderline worse and the conditions can trigger each other.
As she looks forward to the rest of her life, Hagfors hopes to continue helping people with mental health issues and educating the community about mental illness stigma.
She’s off to a good start: “Know me by my name, not my diagnosis.”
Bipolar disorder: Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings from emotional highs of mania to lows of depression. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year or as often as several times a week.
Borderline personality disorder: It effects the way a patient thinks and feels about themselves and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness. Patients have an intense fear of abandonment or instability and may have difficulty tolerating being alone. But inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings push others away.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: A mental health disorder triggered by a terrifying event — one that’s experienced or witnessed. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts.
Depression: A mood disorder that causes persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Patients may have trouble with day-to-day activities and may feel sometimes that life isn’t worth living.
Source: Mayo Clinic.