The Road of Faith

Even the word "schizophrenia" frightens, but she found the faith to come back from it.

by
- Posted on Dec 3, 2013

Rebecca Lyn Phillips

Someone was pounding on my apartment door. I could hear it through the walls of the bathroom, where I sat on the edge of the tub, face buried in my hands.

“Rebecca!” My sister. “Open up!”

I knew why Laura was out there on this raw February evening. If I opened the door and let her in, she’d take me out of my apartment to a psychiatric hospital. Where they’d lock me in a room and force me to take medication. Don’t let them! the voices in my head cried.

Laura pounded again. “Rebecca, please! I’m worried about you.”

Who wasn’t worried about me? No doubt Laura was here because my landlord had called my mom. He’d probably seen me tossing my furniture into a Dumpster out back. Why did I do that? Because I had to be ready to flee at any moment. People were trying to get me.

Like my neighbor–I knew he was plotting to kill me. The police didn’t believe me, of course. Well, I was ready. My apartment was pretty much bare. I even got rid of the shower curtain, because intruders could conceal themselves behind it. Besides, I didn’t take showers anymore.

“Rebecca, I promise, I just want to talk,” Laura called. “I don’t want to have to call the police.”

I pictured Laura standing out there in the bitter Kansas cold. Probably Mom was waiting in the car. I didn’t know whether to trust Mom. She always told me to take my meds. What good were meds for a disease of the soul? Because that’s what I had.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’d been afraid I was mentally ill. But wasn’t God supposed to heal things like that? I’d been praying for years to get better and I wasn’t better. Obviously God was out to get me too.

I didn’t have a good explanation for why I was sick. I’d had a wonderful childhood. Dad was a college professor. Mom was at home with us kids. In his spare time Dad helped pastor a small church. God was at the center of our family.

We were encouraged to ask questions, to learn, to make our faith our own. And of course school was a top priority. I got good grades, especially in English.

I had a book published when I was still a teenager, a collection of young-adult devotions. I think the publisher wanted to reach readers just like me, teens seeking God in their own voice.

Maybe it was my close relationship with my grandpa Kirkland that helped me write those devotions. He was my mom’s dad, and just about my favorite person on earth. He’d been a minister all his life but now he was retired.

He lived in Georgia. I loved calling him and visiting him. He was wise and faithful. He and Grandma lived in a small town in this wonderful old house with a big porch. I loved sitting on that porch in summer. It gave me such peace.

I wished I could hold on to that because around the time my book was published, I started feeling really anxious. As high school graduation got close I had no idea what I wanted to do. Adulthood seemed to come so fast.

I went to college at Kansas State. But a few months into my freshman year, I had a nervous breakdown. I stopped eating. I even made a halfhearted attempt to kill myself.

Mom came to get me and had me admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was a terrible time. She and Dad divorced right around then. Everything seemed to fall apart.

Doctors diagnosed me with schizophrenia and put me on medication. The pills helped–sort of. I went back to school but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt blank inside. Frozen. I dropped out and tried to work but couldn’t stick with a job. I moved into my own apartment.

At some point I decided I didn’t need my meds. I was going to church, I was praying–wasn’t that enough?

That’s what the voices inside my head told me, anyway. No one else said it. Not even Grandpa Kirkland, whose own faith was unshakable. Instead, when I called and poured my heart out to him, he always said the same thing: “Stay on the road, Rebecca.”

He meant stay faithful. Not blindly, but trusting God to be present on my journey. Grandpa’s words made sense while we were on the phone. But as soon as I hung up, the voices in my head took over again and I went back to being confused. I didn’t know what road to take. I was stuck.

I watched a lot of TV. The more I saw, the more I became convinced that there was a big, destructive pattern out there. Politics, wars, crime, you name it. It was all bad. And it was all against me. Even God was in on it. No matter how hard I prayed, he didn’t listen.

I kept getting worse. I threw my stuff away and warned everyone that something terrible was going to happen. I called my pastor. The cops. My landlord. No one took me seriously. They all just wanted to “help.” That’s why they called Mom. That’s why Laura was here.

“All right, Rebecca,” Laura called to me. “You can stay in there as long as you want. I’m not leaving. I’m standing here till you open up. I don’t care if I freeze. I love you and I’ll stay here all night if I have to.”

I looked up. The light was stark on the bare walls. The bathroom was a mess. My whole apartment was a mess. Whatever I hadn’t thrown away was strewn all over the place. Unwashed dishes. Food. Clothes.

I looked at myself in the mirror. I was filthy. My hair was stringy, my face gaunt. Why was Laura here? Didn’t she know God had abandoned me and the end was close?

The voices inside my head were so chaotic I could barely think. Out of sheer desperation I tried to pray. I knew it would do no good. I couldn’t even form sentences. But I tried.

And then I heard four words, almost as if my grandpa were saying them: Stay on the road. Just those words and a deep feeling. Were they an answer to prayer? I listened for more. There was only silence. Which road? I wondered.

“Rebecca, just so you know, it’s darn cold out here!” Laura shouted. “Would you at least come to the door and talk to me?”

Slowly, mechanically, I walked out of the bathroom and across my apartment, stepping over piles of junk. I stood for a moment at the door. Maybe it opened onto the road. With trembling hands I undid the lock and pulled the door open. Cold air rushed in. Laura stood there, shivering.

“Rebecca,” she said, wrapping her arms around me. “Will you come with me? Mom’s in the car. Please say yes.” I hesitated. Stay on the road. I nodded.

Moments later, clutching a bag of clothes Laura had rummaged from the floor, I walked outside to the car. Mom sat in the passenger seat. I will never forget the look of relief on her face when she saw me.

We drove to Kansas City, where Mom and Laura said there was an excellent psychiatric hospital. On the way we stopped at McDonald’s. I had my first real meal in ages. Just the feeling of warmth in my stomach from a burger gave me a surge of hope.

I looked at Mom and Laura. We were on the road. Maybe I really could get better. Maybe God wasn’t my enemy.

The hospital wasn’t what I’d feared. I had to say goodbye to Mom and Laura as I entered the ward, but they promised they’d visit as soon as they were allowed. I had my own bedroom, with a nicely made bed and a shelf full of books and magazines. I lay down.

I knew the next day I’d see a doctor and he’d prescribe new medication. Yet I wasn’t afraid. Grandpa was right. God was present on my journey. And my journey had led here, to a hospital where doctors knew how to help, doctors I needed to trust.

Staying on the road meant recognizing that God was here too. He would work through the doctors. He would heal me if only I could open the door the way I’d opened the door to my sister. I closed my eyes. “Yes, Lord,” I whispered. At last I felt safe.

A few months after I got out of the hospital, I went to visit Grandpa. It would turn out to be the last time I saw him. He died the next year. But that summer, we had a wonderful visit. I was on the right medication and the world was in focus again.

Grandpa and I talked and talked. We took walks together, prayed. I spent lots of time on the porch. Sitting there in the soft, still afternoons, knowing I was moving forward. I was on the right road now. And I would stay on it.

 

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