Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Story of the Wicked Girl

Once upon a time, there was a wicked girl who often vacillated between Self-Hate and Sadness. She wasn't all wicked, because she understood this wasn't how she was supposed to feel. In fact, she knew an evil force cast the spell of Depression on her. So, in her attempt to free herself from the grip of Depression, she sought out three good fairies.

The first good fairy told her to travel to the Land of Medicines and seek out a remedy. The wicked girl did, and she slowly began to felt better. Alas, the remedy wasn't enough. The wicked girl soon fell harder into Self-Hate and Sadness. Unnatural Urges tickled at the sides of her brain. They told lies of knives and flame to the wicked girl, promising relief from Depression.  Not unconscious of these lies, the wicked girl sought out the second good fairy.

The second good fairy took the wicked girl to a land called Group and surrounded her with others like her. For three weeks, the wicked girl grew to understand she wasn't so wicked after all. There were many like her, people whom Depression sought and for whom Self-Hate and Sadness made the same evil promises. The second good fairy bade the not-so-wicked girl to once more venture to the Land of Medicines in search of an additional remedy the first good fairy hadn't suggested.

As time passed, the not-so-wicked girl became happy. Unnatural Urges slowly disappeared. Self-Hate and Sadness retreated. She began to picture herself once again in the world outside Group. She sensed something great was in her grasp. The second good fairy saw her desire to leave, understood it, and he deemed her well enough to leave. But then, on the eve of returning to the world outside Group, the Ringing came. Her ears filled with such sound! Her skin turned bright red and blotchy!

The second good fairy, in his attempt to make the no-longer wicked girl happy, had unknowingly given her poison. For many of the people in Group, this remedy from the Land of Medicines was not poison, but even though it banished Self-Hate and Sadness, Unnatural Urges and Depression, it was still poison to this girl. Unfortunately, the second good fairy had already released the girl from Group, so to find the antidote to this poison, the no-longer wicked girl sought the third good fairy.

Distraught, the no-longer wicked girl continued her journey. She was scared Depression, along with its promise of knives and flame, would return to her. The third good fairy gave the girl an antidote. The ringing disappeared. The blotches vanished. But the fairy told the girl she could not find what she was looking for there. She must continue to seek it elsewhere.

To this day, the girl journeys. She fears she'll forever be bound by Depression's wicked ways. Unnatural Urges threaten to appear from the shadows of her mind, so she is ever vigilant, ever careful to avoid the horrible promises of Self-Hate and Sadness. Despite the darkness that surrounds her, she feels confident--optimistic--that she will find what she needs to be happy. She refuses to be the wicked girl ever again.

Not The End.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Progress Part 2

To relieve some of the stigma of hospitalization for mental health, I want to walk you through a typical day of therapy for me.

Check-in: We rate our moods (on a scale of 1 to 10); report how many meals we ate in the last 24 hours; report if we've taken our meds; report if we have any suicidal, homicidal, substance, or self-injury ideation; set a treatment goal for the day. We also talk about what happened to us yesterday evening and this morning.

Group1: Usually a continuation of the previous day's topic. We read literature on subjects on everything mental health: self-esteem, perfectionism, anger, health anxiety, improving perception...No one is forced to share their stories, but everyone is welcome to, and many do.
Part of an assignment during group.

Group2: Generally a different topic from Group1, but still focussed on mental health. Those people who are in the substance abuse track generally leave to attend a group specifically for substance abuse.
We had to draw what life felt like to us today, and envision what we want it to be tomorrow.
Two versions of the same scene.

Lunch: Provided and generally icky.

Group3: Usually some form of meditation or recovery session. We've done journaling, dance, yoga, zen meditation, improving perceptions, karaoke. Depending on who you are, you're sometimes allowed to leave to go to a concert or a program in another building. I am not one of those people.
Writing about myself in the third person is extraordinarily powerful.
(excuse the spelling)

Check-out: We go back to our original groups, and repeat the check-in process. This time, we have to explain how we've met our treatment goal, what we're going to do in the afternoon, name a coping skill we used or learned, and say one positive thing about ourselves.

Throughout the day, we can come and go as we please. Some group sessions might be too intense for some people, others may need to leave to see their psychiatrist or therapist. Although, if you miss too many group sessions or break any rules, you can be discharged from the program.

And where am I in all this? My stay has been extended for an additional week, to be reevaluated later. At that point, they'll determine if I need another week, if I should move on the half-days, or if I should be discharged altogether.

Progress Part 1

After a particularly bad day, one of the clinicians in the hospital said something to me. Healing from depression is like having a bruise. The only way to make a bruise better is to treat it with care and wait for time to pass and the body to mend itself. But sometimes, we're more aware of our bruise than other times. It could be that something in our lives brushes against it enough to make us notice and wince. Other times, it could be something poking the bruise outright; in which case, it would hurt. A lot. She told me my day was the latter example. That doesn't mean I'm not healing, she said. It just means I'm not fully healed. And that, like all things, takes time.

So I'm here today to update you on my treatment, should you wish to know. I went into this hospitalization thing feeling very scared, very overwhelmed. My first few days were close to horrible. I couldn't stop shaking, couldn't stop crying, couldn't stop getting caught up in my head. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and I had no clue if this program was going to work for me. I even told my case worker I felt like this. Because I have a case worker. And a social worker, and a therapist, and a psychiatrist.

But I decided I want to get better, so I've stayed in the program. I've made progress. I have fewer nightmares. I haven't been raped, killed, been bombed, been attacked by dogs or coyotes or bears. Once, I got attacked by a moose, but it wasn't that bad because it was so clearly a dream and I had been trying to save the moose from people who were attacking it, which was nobel and right.

I'm much more open in group sessions now. Actually, group sessions are the best part of my day. These people. They're normal, everyday people. They are people that I want to be friends with outside of group (but the program forbids it), so we are friends within the program. We talk. We read packets about issues depressed people experience. We exchange stories, both happy and sad. We know what each other likes to do outside. We share many of the same hobbies and activities. We also know which meds we're on, if substance abuse is a problem, and who's been in a coma from a suicide attempt.

And it all feels very normal. I'm telling you this because I want you to understand that it is normal. We have an illness, and we're working to overcome it. We don't like to be judged by family or friends because we're depressed or anxious. We notice when a room quiets when we enter. We notice when you stare at us, wondering if we're going to break. We notice when someone cuts off the end of a joke because the punchline has something to do with a knife and, 'Oh my god, she took a knife to her wrist, if I finish this joke I'm being insensitive.' We notice when you text our loved ones instead of us or lean in and whisper, "How *is* she *doing*?"

It's because mental health does not *feel* normal. I want it to be. This is me saying it needs to be. If you can talk about the time you were in the hospital because you had pneumonia, went through physical therapy because of a bad car accident, and if you feel comfortable answering all your friends' questions about those incidents BUT you don't feel comfortable asking me questions about my mental health, it hasn't been normalized yet. Please, help me feel normal. Ask me about my treatment. Do so in front of others. Let's make everyone see that I am--and people like me--are still intelligent functional human beings with a family, and friends, and hobbies, and careers. So I've got a mental illness. So what? You broke your arm. So what?

And my diagnosis: major depressive disorder (recurrent, severe, without psychotic features), generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder.