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.
My meds ran out on Friday (maybe Saturday?) and already I can feel the little control I had over my life slipping out of my fingers. I wish I was 18 again, back in group therapy so I could feel some sort of validation. You never realize how comforting “I know how you feel” is until no one says it to you anymore.
There was a comfort in group that I don’t find in regular life. It was an unspoken knowledge that “I was sent here by someone who cares about me, because I worry them” and we all could see that underneath everyone’s layers of silence that they wanted to be there too, because they felt lost and scared/numb. It was really nice to feel like you aren’t weird or unstable anymore; everyone in the room had their own emotional baggage that made yours seem less burdensome. It was only after group, when we all went back to the real world, that society’s “what’s wrong with you?” weighed on our shoulders.
I bring all of this up because my mom texted me over the weekend. I asked about spending Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s (I’ll get to that part later) family earlier in the day, to which she said that was fine with her. But then I got this text:
I have been feeling sad all day; I confess that the idea of you preferring to spend Thanksgiving somewhere else instead of with us is bothering me. Especially because you don’t come home very much anymore. And I know what will happen when I tell your dad where you are instead–that it will be miserable for all of us here at home. I know you haven’t been feeling great lately and I do not want to place any additional “stresses” on you, but I have to admit that I am sad about the whole situation. I just feel that my family is being torn apart.
So I called her, and she was crying. It kills me that she was crying. My mom hardly ever cries…not when I told her I was depressed, not when I told her I was bi, not when I told her I swallowed a bunch of pills, not when she dropped me off at college. But her tears poured over me, and I did my best to be strong, though I wanted to cry too. “…It’s okay Mom, you can tell me anything…you don’t have to pretend that this makes you comfortable if it doesn’t, I understand that you’re having a hard time with it…I know I’m not the daughter that you and Dad expected…I’ll spend Thanksgiving at home if it’s important to you, it’s not big deal…” But what she was saying was a big deal. “…I don’t want you to never come home…I don’t want you to have one parent that doesn’t want to be around you…It’s hard to have one kid that doesn’t want to talk to the other…”
Readers, if I could have changed my sexuality right then, I would have. But I had ventured too deep into the rabbit hole, I had come too far to go back to feeling ashamed and disgusted by my feelings. So I was stuck, tearing my family apart.
Since high school, I’ve considered my group of friends to be my family. They were the ones I went to when I was crying, when I couldn’t stand to be in my house any longer, when I needed to rant, or when I wanted to share my hopes and dreams for the future. They were my best friends, my hooligans, my siblings. I loved them with all of my heart; they were the ones I was scared to move away from when I went to college. But my pseudo family is also being torn apart. Ashley and Brendan live together back home, and thrive off of the company of their families rather than the company of their old friends. Polly and Michelle are both off at their respective schools, and beloved Daniel moved with his family to Texas. Everyone is apart, and only four of us seem to care.
With no families to fall back on, I’ve gone back to my loner ways. Netflix, sweatpants, and junk food are my family now. And friends? As much as I love and treasure my college friends, I feel like a burden to them. Fred is a friendly reminder of the life I could have had, which brings up painful memories and anger, so I also try to avoid him. As of now, my strategy in life is to hide under my covers and block out the world.
But there is one bright spot. My girlfriend, formerly my ex-girlfriend. We got back together, and it was actually a simple decision. She loves me, I love her, she is good to me (despite everything), and I want to spend as much time with her before she moves to Costa Rica as I can. Sure, it’s a short-lived commitment, but there’s no one else I’d rather spend my time with. She takes care of me, and makes me feel strong enough to take care of her back. She’s the only thing in my life that makes me feel normal and lovable, and she makes me excited about things again. So I’ve quitting dating around, and am just dating her. In a way, it feels like we’re in our own little world, just holding onto each other until it’s time to let go. It might sound like she’s my lifeboat, but really she’s my wings. She helps me fly toward hope and perspective.
So that’s where I’m at. I’m sad and happy and struggling, but as much as I might feel to blame for the wrongdoings of the world, I’m still trying. After all, there’s only one more week until Thanksgiving Break. I can hold out for that long….right?
Twas the day before Thanksgiving, and Spotify was playing. I hear Mom rummaging around in the kitchen downstairs, too, so I guess that screws the whole part of the poem that talks about “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”. Eh, whatever. I don’t even like Thanksgiving that much. It’s a holiday that reminds me how I can be sitting in a room full of people who love me, and still feel all alone. One of my favorite book characters, Charlie off of The Perks of Being A Wallflower, describes it better. He says, “I am very interested and fascinated how everyone loves each other, but no one really likes each other.” For me, that applies not only to family, but also to the whole fair-weather friends phenomenon that high school brings. People are so fake to their bosses, their mother-in-laws, their neighbors, teachers, even the cashier at the grocery store. As much as I understand why people do this, I wish I didn’t.
But anyway, so it’s the day before Thanksgiving. I’m still in my pajamas, no bra, messy hair, and smeary glasses–true to the laziness that has always plagued me since I began kindergarten. Isn’t it funny how school motivates you to be lazier than ever? But hey, I’ll get to that French homework eventually (I was planning on doing it yesterday, but I took two naps instead. My bad). Today I’m going to hang out with…with…uh, a close friend (I’ll get to explaining that later) and then have dinner tonight with my old group therapy friends. I’m so happy and excited for both! I haven’t seen my group members since August, and I cannot wait to hear how they’ve been doing. They are unlike all of my other friends, because we learned the deep, dark things about each other first, and then the trivial stuff like favorite colors and what their favorite subject in school is later. They know the hard-and-fast truths about my life without all the fluff I spin to other people…if I respect anyone’s output and advice, it’s theirs.
And I really want to know what they think of my recent break-up. Because I woke up this morning and realized how fine I really am. I feel okay about myself, about being without him, and how things ended. I miss how things used to be with us, but recognize that it’s in the past. But I don’t understand this…He was the person I was with for a year, who I loved with all my heart and soul…shouldn’t I be in the fetal position now, crying my eyes out? I cried right after it happened, and then the next night a bit, but after that poof! No tears, no sighs, no loneliness. Am I being fake to myself about how I feel? Maybe my group friends will be able to tell if this is real or if my subconscious is just repressing the whole thing.
I’ll have to save the “close friend” explanation for a later post. See, in case my recent ex still reads my blog I’d like to save this part of my life that makes me look like a true-blue asshole for a time when our break-up isn’t quite as fresh in our minds. I have no regrets, and am happy with all the recent decisions I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about hurting his feelings. I always will, of course.
Alright. Time to shower, to eat, and get this show on the road. Why sit back and look forward to life when you could be out living it?