My 5 Biggest Takeaways After Leaving Long-Term Treatment for Depression
After leaving long-term treatment for my depression, here are some things that I learned:
1. Treatment is not a magical cure.
After my first stint in a 30-day treatment program for individuals with mood disorders, I left riding a pink cloud, feeling slightly invincible. Then, as it does, life occurred, and I fell flat on my face again. Friends and family didn’t understand. “But she went to treatment. How is she not better now?” I found those statements to be extremely hurtful and confusing. I felt pressured to be “normal,” which is rather impossible for anyone.
Depression can be a chronic, lifelong condition that requires constant self-monitoring and vigilance. I suppose part of me expected after treatment, I would be able to gracefully handle my depression with ease. This was not the case. No matter the length of the treatment, I had to remember that although I gained valuable insights into my disease and how to manage it, treatment is not a magic cure. Having realistic expectations upon leaving my next treatment centers made it easier to accept my situation.
2. I’m still human.
Surprise! I’m still scared to travel long distances alone. I don’t like sleeping without the door closed. My favorite color is green. I love my dark sense of humor. Loud noises set off an anxiety response. I am the same core human being I was before I went in to long-term treatment. Now, with new experiences, new knowledge, new pains, deeper understanding, regrets and memories.
Yes, treatment changes you. It made me grateful. It made me a bit angry. It took all my strength and the strength of loved ones to make it through. I won’t lie and say treatment “cured” me, but it did give me the hard-learned personal awareness of my uniqueness and my superhuman ability to endure. But guess what? I’m still human. I still breathe. Treatment changes you, but it doesn’t change you.
3. Reintegration is hard, sometimes harder than treatment itself.
I do not like movie theaters very much, but I really wanted to see a particular film the week it came out, which just happened to be the day after I got out of a hospital. Standing in line, the voices of my fellow movie-goers sounded like bombs. Every stimulus was an assault, the lights, the music, the talking. I only felt comfortable for the three seconds when the lights went down and the crowd was hushed. I slept the whole next day and don’t remember the movie.
Reintegration is hard. Not just for the senses but for the whole body and mind. Waking up at 3 a.m. to the sound of your cat purring instead of your roommate screaming takes some getting used to. Statistically, people who have been hospitalized for mental health issues are at a higher risk for suicide the first weeks after they leave the hospital.
Cars, television, technology, noise, lights, quiet, people who don’t know your situation, everything can be difficult. I think the longer the inpatient stay, the harder the integration. Reintegrating myself back into a society I had been locked away from for two years was a strange and uncomfortable adventure. I have to remember to be gentle with myself. Hospitalization itself can be traumatizing. It takes time.
4. Bad days will occur.
This is the nature of being human and has nothing to do with mental illness. Everyone will have a bad day. For those of us coming out of hospitals, we must fight the urge to label a bad day as a depressive episode, a relapse or never-ending anxiety attack. Yes, after I left the hospital, I had a period of time where I was more depressed than I was before I went to the hospital. I have also had singular, horrible days that passed quickly because I accepted bad days are part of the human condition.
Bad days will occur. Again, be gentle with yourself. Sleep all day. Pamper yourself. Take a day off work. Self-care is ongoing. When a bad day occurs, remember it doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you are human.
5. Our mental health system is tragically flawed.
When I was 24, I entered my first long-term treatment center. Then came a decade of brief inpatient stays, before another six-week stint in an upscale research facility in 2012. Then, three more inpatient stays, each one no longer than 72 hours. In May 2013, I moved away and stayed for a year and a half at my final treatment center, a long-term residential healing farm.
Though there are positives to any situation, overall, our mental health system is a horrible mess. When I had my own private practice, I was very patient-focused. I tried to ignore what the insurance companies told me, but to succeed monetarily in the business of psychology, unfortunately, one must make sacrifices. I was unable to do this.
As a consumer of mental health resources, I have seen both sides of the couch, client and therapist. I am appalled at what I have witnessed. Yes, absolutely, there are the empathetic individuals who shine through! I applaud them. In a one-size fits all system, healing can be very difficult. Needless to say, our mental health system is flawed. Though, in my opinion, it is not beyond fixing. With the work of many, I am confident it can change for the better.