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Reflections One Year After Being Discharged From a Mental Hospital

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It will be one year tomorrow since I was discharged from a private mental health facility. I was there to receive treatment for depression and anxiety. I chose to celebration early by “comforter crawling,” as I call it. I woke up, made coffee, fed the dog and went back to bed. The house is a mess and frankly I don’t give a sh*t. I have walked past the same dead roses for two days and I can’t seem to summon the will to discard them. I have no inclination to do the mundane tasks at hand.

Yes, the sun is shining. And I am well aware from a text from a well-meaning friend, that it is indeed, a beautiful day. I concede. It is. So why don’t I feel any better? Because I suffer from depression and anxiety, an illness which is not conditional upon the weather report. I suspect if I had the flu or another illness for that matter, the sun would not make a bit of difference. So why presume this illness is different from any other? People do, nonetheless. There are mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where mood is in fact affected by the seasons. That is not the case for people with major depressive disorder (MDD) like me. For me, summer can actually exacerbate my symptoms. It’s a reminder of all the things, things I could be doing outside that I enjoy. But I’m not.

So in bed, I scroll my favorite sites looking for quotes and articles of affirmation to counter the negative self-talk in my head about all the meaningful ways I should be “romanticizing” this accomplishment. I choose to reach out to the secret Facebook group of “Nutty Grads.” (As a psych patient I can say that without being intolerant.) Many are struggling. Others are doing phenomenally well. My post today is light and informative: “If you are constipated, Effexor is a great laxative, if not a great antidepressant.”  In true form, I use wit with helpful information as a means to cope with quite literally is very. crappy. day.

Sarcasm is the maladaptive defense mechanism we learn as patients, and you will never meet a better bunch of laugh-out-loud comedic folks than in a mental hospital. I equally encountered kindness, acceptance and honesty. To my surprise, all 38 patients were by far the most “normal” men and women I have ever met in my life thus far. Eight of us graduated a year ago: two students, a nurse, social worker, a teacher, a team leader, a police officer and a homemaker. Two gents did not receive a ceremony and certificate after succumbing to addiction, a week prior to completion. And what a tragedy that was. It hurt to see them fall. All of us. No judgement. No condemnation. We only had unwavering and unconditional compassion for each other.

There is no “type” of psych patient, as I previously thought prior to becoming one. Illnesses such as these do not discriminate. It knows no color, race, religion, social, marital or economic status, gender, sexual orientation or age. During my stay there were slightly more men than women. This surprised me. (My theory? I believe men are often conditioned to not talk about their mental health. This is not say that women don’t posses negative coping. Rather, I believe some women find it more socially acceptable to talk and reach out for help sooner.) The beauty of being there was that it was acceptable, for all of us. Outside the bubble, the world has not been so kind.

In retrospect, I suppose I should give myself more credit. One year ago I was unable to drive and barely leave the house from agoraphobia. Now I can operate a motor vehicle within my safe distance from home — though my children beg to differ. I have attended functions with family and friends, often without bailing. Most days I shower, get dressed and try to venture out somewhere each day. This may sound unusual, but for someone with depression, this is a monumental task. I generally complete my to-do list for the day. I seem to be sleeping better with mediation and medication, with less middle-of-the-night drenching panic attacks.

It all sounds so trivial compared to my life before I became ill, and knowing this perhaps is what makes it so f*cking hard.

So today, I salute all of us fighting this illness on the road to healing. Its terrain is rocky, unpredictable and not easy to navigate. Honor your journey my friends.

After one year out of hospital I can say, “I am not where I want to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.”

Originally published: July 1, 2016
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