Finding the will to live again
Seven years ago Mary Munsell hit bottom – or maybe it was a few years before or after that. Climbing out from the darkest days of her mental illness was a long process, so it’s hard for her to say when things were at their worst.
“I often speak of a painting I did called ‘A Thousand Deaths,’” Munsell said in a recent interview. “People with a mental health illness experience a thousand deaths; the death of their smile, the death of their ability to look at someone in the eye, the death of relationships, the death of their job. People become dead inside. We can see it in their eyes. They lose that little spark.
“I was at that point. I was dead inside. I was ready to die.”
Part of her journey to healing was returning to Cape Cod in 2008. In a recent video interview, Munsell described how she was helped by Cape Cod Healthcare’s Centers for Behavioral Health and especially by Julie Callanan, MD.
“She has seen me at my worst and seen me at my best.” said Munsell. “One of the best things that I think any healthcare provider can offer is consistency, because you want to get to know them. She allowed me to bring in my own ideas. She wouldn’t stop at the 20-minute mark and say, ‘We’ve got to go.’ She would sit and she would listen to me.
“She knew my story and she would engage. I might have a horrid day but she would sit and talk. ‘What else is going on?’ You need someone who believes in you and talks to you as a person. ”
As part of her healing, Munsell volunteered at NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Cape Cod and the Islands, where she learned a variety of skills. “I became a speaker, a writer, a volunteer coordinator,” she said. “I was building a whole, because a lot of times mentally ill people define themselves as just that. ‘Hi, I’m Mary. I’m bipolar.’ But there’s so much more, and it’s rediscovering all of that.”
Now Munsell is sharing what she’s learned with others as the director of Dance in the Rain, a Hyannis-based organization that provides peer counseling.
“What we believe here is that it’s all about healing,” she said. “Every day as you are right now, at this very moment, you have within you the ability to begin creating and building a new life.
“From the moment you are born, your body begins recording everything that happens to you. Like a tapestry, it’s threads that are interwoven. Everything is important. You have to bring color back to that tapestry.
“The power of Dance in the Rain is your engagement because we have all been there. We have that intimate understanding of the darkness. We can come in and be ourselves.
“If you could give one gift to a person, I believe the best gift would be the courage and the ability to want more in their life. You don’t need anything to begin creating a new life other than making the commitment and saying I’ve had enough and I want to move forward. Here we can help people do that.”