January 29, 2009

Take a Second Look

By Ruth J. Hartman

Sometimes it’s hard to love yourself. This is especially true when you’re fighting mental illness. I was diagnosed at age 27 with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My thoughts were a tangled mess of repetitive thoughts and unbelievable lies. Although I believed the lies my mind told me. How could I not? It’s all I knew at the time.

The people I love had a hard time understanding why I had suddenly become someone they couldn’t recognize. I realize now that I wasn’t giving those around me enough credit. At first, although I began seeing a psychiatrist and knew what was going on with me, I didn’t trust my family enough to tell them. What would they think of me? Would they disown me? But my parents, as well as my sibling and their spouses, were so very supportive and loving.

My friends were, as well. Maybe I should qualify that: I found out who my true friends were. It was a painful lesson, but one that ultimately showed me who I could trust with my life’s secrets.

My husband never wavered in his love and support. A lesser man would have run screaming through the door. Mine, however, showed me an even deeper love than I ever thought possible. He and I have always been best friends. Soul mates. This illness of mine threatened to shipwreck us, but true love prevailed. He showed me that love is so much more than what you think you’re getting on your wedding day. It’s deep commitment. It’s concern and empathy for someone, even when for the life of you, you don’t understand their actions.

Have you ever met someone who seemed so strange, you wanted to turn away? Pretend they didn’t exist? That’s how I used to react to people. Until I became one of those “strange” people. What I went through changed me forever. Now I find that I have more patience with others with any kind of disability, mental or otherwise.

In my job as a dental hygienist, it’s part of my job to go over a patient’s medical history at every visit. Occasionally, I come across someone who takes the same medication I do, or who has gone through psychiatric treatment. When I go over their histories and come to that section, the patients very often will lower their heads, and avert their eyes. But when I share with them that I’ve gone through something very similar, everything changes. Suddenly there’s camaraderie. A special trust that can only be known by someone who’s been there, who’s gone through something so horrible, only a very few will ever understand. It brings me to tears when I can actually help someone. Even a little. Maybe that’s why I’m here. Maybe that’s part of the reason God put me where I am.

So the next time you come across someone who seems different, unbalanced, “off” somehow, take a deep breath. Show more patience than you normally might have. Believe me, it will mean the world to someone who desperately just needs some understanding and kindness. And on behalf of those you take time to give a second look to, thank you.

Ruth Hartman is participating in the WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour, promoting her new book, My Life in Mental Chains: My Struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Check it out.


Anonymous said...


That's really touching about your husband and how he stood by you. I suppose it would be tempting for a spouse to just say, "This is not what I signed up for." Tell your husband I think he's great!

Ruth J. Hartman said...


You're so right! I told him what you said. You made his day!


Ruth J. Hartman said...


The blog looks great! Thank you so much!


ashley said...

Thank you, Ruth, for being willing to share your story and stories... touching others in many known and unknown ways.

with gratitude,