After former advertising agency owner Madonna Badger tragically lost her two parents and three daughters in a Christmas Day house fire in 2011, her grief was immeasurable. There were days when Badger couldn't get out of bed, she fluctuated between manic and catatonically depressed, she made a "suicide gesture" in which she threatened to swallow a handful of pills and she was committed to a psychiatric hospital shortly after her daughters' funeral. After struggling with her grief at the hospital, Badger moved to Arkansas to live with a friend and ended up going to the University of Arkansas' Psychiatric Research Institute. That's when everything began to change.
Badger tells Oprah that the head of the Psychiatric Research Institute, Dr. Smith, is the one who finally explained her grief in a way that made sense. First, he dispelled the misconception that plagues many who enter psychiatric hospitals.
"He basically said, 'Okay. She's not crazy. Everyone's treating her like she's been struck mentally ill... She's not crazy. She's sad. She's really sad,'" Badger recalls.
What he said next clarified what happened to Badger in a way that no one else had. "Basically, that mother-child bond is so huge, and it's like having nerves... but they're emotional connection," Badger says. "Mine got cut. And it got cut in three places. And then it got cut between me and my mom, and me and my dad... I was just basically a great big, raw nerve."
In time, Dr. Smith said, this nerve would get a little layer of skin, and then another layer, and another until Badger would feel functional once again. "It completely changed everything," she says. "It gave me hope where I had none."
"I think that's so good for everyone else, too, because that's what it feels like when it feels like you've been severed and you have this enormous loss that you can't even explain to yourself," Oprah says. "The fact that you are raw and, in time, you'll get a little bit of skin and a little bit of skin, I just think that's a beautiful analogy."
It's also an analogy that Badger has proven to be true. "I have some skin -- a lot more than I thought I would have," she tells Oprah.
Developing this skin has been a two-fold process that comes down to both love and time.
"Letting other people love me has been a huge part of this journey for me. And letting other people take care of me has been a big part," Badger says. "And certainly, time. Time doesn't heal anything, I don't think... You just sort of learn how to live with it a little bit better."
Just as importantly, Badger followed Dr. Smith's advice and did not numb herself with alcohol, drugs or anything else. She has let herself feel in order to help her skin heal, as painful as it may be.
"You have to actually feel the feelings... In my experience, it's so much more painful to try and stay outside of that pain," Badger says. "The latest thing for me has been about figuring out that I can't outrun my pain. Just going as fast as I can or doing as much as I can... I can't do that. It doesn't work."
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