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5 Questions Going Through My Mind Before Residential Mental Health Treatment

Here I am, two nights before heading off to a residential treatment facility where I will (hopefully) get some help with my mental illness. It seems that my symptoms have become to be too much to bear on my own so I am seeking help from people who say can help me. Unfortunately, this means traveling across the country by myself for six weeks. It means leaving most of what I know and love behind, and it means leaving most of the people whom I know and love behind along with the rest of it. And, as I sit here contemplating what is about to happen to me, I have compartmentalized my thoughts into five different questions.

1. What do other people think about me?

I feel like there are several different answers to this question, and each depends on my relationship with that individual:

I think that the people who know me but aren’t very close to me are looking at me and wondering how mentally ill someone has to be to need to leave their own home to get better. They’re asking each other how “sick in the head” a girl has to get to warrant traveling out of state for treatment. Without even looking, I can sense their eyes clawing at my skin. I can hear their judgmental thoughts, their callous gestures, but mostly, I can feel their relief in knowing that if they’re watching it happen to me, then it isn’t happening to them.

I think people whom I am close to — the ones who have helped me along the way — are just severely disappointed in me. I imagine each of them asking themselves questions like, “how could she let this happen?” Or making statements like, “What a failure, look how far she fell.” Maybe they question their efforts spent on me. Maybe they think about how they won’t make the same mistake twice.

2. What will it be like to live with a total stranger?

What if we don’t get along? What if we fight incessantly? What if we are complete opposites? What if she likes Hello Kitty and tiptoes around in pink ballerina slippers, or wears tons of black makeup and blasts death medal at all hours of the night? What if she’s dirty and leaves rotten food and balled up snot tissues around the room? Or even worse, what if she doesn’t like me? She might look down on me or think I’m pathetic. She could think I’m a bitch and talk about me when I’m not around (I am kind of a bitch). Or maybe, the whole six weeks goes by and we never once speak or even look each other in the eye.

What I know for sure is that we will share a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. We will eat together, sleep together and attend groups together. But we will each have our own personal histories filled with stories of heartache and tragedy, triumph and glory. I know we will each have faced the challenges of mental illness, been brutalized by its symptoms and side effects, and we will have both made it this far, up to this point in our lives where we can sit together and share a room (whether in Hello Kitty slippers or oversized Metallica t-shirts), knowing we are somehow in this together.

3. Will life go on without me while I’m gone?

Will everyone just keep moving on after I leave? What about the kids I work with? Will a different behavior tech teach them? And how about my husband? Will he eat dinner alone? Will another woman take my place at the table? What about my therapy appointments? Will someone else fit into my box on her schedule? Will it be so simple as to cross out my name, maybe even erase it altogether?

I wonder what the world will look like with my empty presence. Will I be missed, thought about, remembered? I like to think there will be a moving, ghost-like figure doing what I would have been doing, if I were there. She doesn’t look like me, or talk like me, but she is a placeholder, saving my spot until I return.

4. What will it be like to live without my cats?

Without my cats, who will sleep on my head at night? Who will purr in my ear and nudge my face to wake me up in the morning? Talk about creature comforts and coping skills — what will I do without the soft fur of my brown and black tabby, Peter? Whose cat dander will I smell when everything feels wrong? I’m using my cats as an example, but anyone in a situation like this has to leave behind something or someone they love, and it’s completely and utterly terrifying.

5. Should I bring tampons?

I mean really, should I bring tampons? Maybe this is me trying to pretend I won’t be there in a month, so to pack them would just be a waste of space. Or maybe, I just don’t want to go out and buy them. I’m really not sure.

So, it turns out that the five questions one thinks about right before leaving for a residential treatment facility… lead only to more and more questions. Unfortunately, I think the only answers that exist are two days and 981.6 miles away from me.

Photo by Mitchell Hartley on Unsplash

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