Outpatient Treatment: An Experience
For the past month, I’ve been receiving treatment for my depression via an outpatient program run by a nearby hospital. For three days a week, four hours a day, I am immersed in a world of people who know I have severe depression before they know anything else about me. Together, we all sit in a room and deal with our messed up lives. It’s an interesting experience.
The first day of outpatient is usually the worst. You walk into this place thinking, “This probably won’t work…” “What am I even doing here?” or “God, could things get any worse?” It’s like being in a zoo, only you’re the animals and spectators…you feel like everyone is looking at you, wondering why you’re here, but at the same time you are looking at everyone else and wondering why they are here, too. It’s a room full of strangers who know you have a mental illness before members of your family or your closest friends do. You are instantly humbled, and incredibly defense. “What will these people want from me?” you might wonder. Yet in outpatient, questions never last long…
The day begins in community group, where everyone in the program (roughly 30 people) congregate in a big room and listen to the group leader read off a little thing called “The Daily Promise”. “The Daily Promise” is a book that has a passage for each day that asks you to think about your life, your choices, and your attitude. For instance, one day might ask you to contemplate whether you dwell on the past, present, or future. The group leader will then go around and ask everyone this, and then offer some bit of advice about their situation. It’s not really met to be therapeutic so much as it is meant to start your day off with some positivity, and get you to hold yourself accountable for your feelings and choices. It’s also a little bit of social time, where you ask about people’s weekends and if they caught the game last night. Some people tend to utilize this more than others. You have a strange set of cliques: the middle-aged ladies who discuss cooking recipes, the middle-aged men who are gruff and bitch about traffic, the really old people who make occasional small talk to the people next to them, the young women who are gossipy and thrive on scandal, the young guys who talk about the same stuff you heard from guys in middle and high school, and finally the quiet people, who sit there and do anything except talk to other people. The cliques are present, but fade when it’s time to open up.
There’s a strange sense of community at outpatient. People say hi to another or smile even when they’ve never spoken to each other. While people may ask why you’re there, there’s never judgement in their voices or criticism in their advice. Everyone understands the hoops you must jump through when dealing with health insurance, and everyone takes some kind of medication. We are each other’s community, and we understand each other in a way that most people in our lives don’t. While my parents or friends don’t understand how or why I can say in bed for days, people in outpatient nod their heads and murmur “I know what you mean” in agreement. When I mention not having the energy to see or talk to people, other patients offer suggestions while everyone else asks, “Why?” Even though the people in outpatient don’t necessarily know your story or know who you are, most of them know how you feel, which is a really big deal.
In the real world, no one talks about their problems or struggles with them due to abnormal brain functioning. In outpatient, everyone has problems, everyone has an illness. You look at people and see that they have a history, a whole story that leads them to where they sit in front of you, and you see the possibilities in life. I see old men grieving for a spouse they had for forty years. I see middle-aged men fighting their addictions for their families. I see women who have been beaten up and betrayed by those who claimed to have loved them, and I see children who yearn for parents that love them as they are. We all have problems, we all could be worse off, yet we are here, we are surviving. Everyone in the room is trying and fighting for their life, for their happiness. And it gives you a sense of hope in the world…all from a bunch of strangers.
The day continues with group therapy. You’re assigned to a room with about ten people total, and throughout the day two or three therapists come in to give lessons or facilitate conversation. This is where you learn the famous coping skills, the relaxation techniques, and the tips for effective communication. It’s also where you are put on the spot and asked about your life. You hear a lot of stories in group…from spontaneous marriages and trouble with the law, to dead-end jobs and ungrateful families. Some people open up right away and others need prying. But we all get our turn to say what matters, and why. It’s been in these group meetings where I’ve discovered something I had long forgotten: that I have a voice.
Outpatient has given me a strange sort of confidence boost and slap in the face all at once. After many weeks, and many contemplative conversations (not to mention getting on meds), I’ve sort of woken up from my depression fog. The colors and happiness in the world are coming into focus, and actually seem within reach. By getting out of bed, driving to the hospital, and spending a significant amount of time with the sole intent of bettering myself, I feel productive and proud of myself for the first time in ages. I’m accomplishing something that is difficult but necessary, and I’m doing it because I am worth it. After months of a downward spiral, I’ve finally gained the motivation to start fixing my life, one baby step at a time. This isn’t to say that I haven’t gone over the mistakes that I’ve made. I look at the things I am learning, the skills I am building, and see all the times I should have used them. Throughout my depression I’ve broken a lot of trust, hurt many feelings, and pushed away a lot of wonderful people. Some of it I can fix, but others I’ll just have to learn from. Acceptance is a major part of healing, especially when there’s a mental illness involved, so accepting my mistakes and letting go of my self-hatred have been essential during my time in outpatient
I know no matter how much I describe it, there will always be people who don’t understand outpatient, or why I needed it. Depression is an invisible illness, and a lot of people have trouble accepting that, especially when treatment is expensive and/or intense. But, for the people who are reading this and learning about my experience in outpatient, I hope what you take away from this blog post is that you never know how deeply treatment can effect and help someone, so please do not judge it. Anytime anyone admits to having a problem and commits to fixing it, they are taking a fundamental step toward recovery. So remember that recovery takes time, and looks different for each person. I don’t know how long my recovery will take, and I don’t know how long I will be on meds, or struggle with depression, but I do know this: I am a strong person, I deserve to be happy, and I’m glad I chose to go to outpatient.
Posted on 05/01/2016, in This Whole "Life" Thing and tagged depression, group therapy, happiness, mental-health, outpatient therapy, self-examination, therapy, treatment. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.