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.
I’ve been avoiding writing this post all week. Sunday night I came back home after ten days in Central America with my ex, Jessie. How did I feel? I felt like it was a dream. I was incredibly sad to leave that country that I had just barely begun to know, and yet relieved to be back home and confront my life again. During that week I could see the life I would have had with Jessie had we stayed together, and it left me with conflicting feelings. Jessie left me with conflicting feelings.
It’s heartbreaking to love someone, really love them and let them deep into your heart, and know at the end of the day it’s not meant to be. Jessie belongs there, and I belong back in the US so I can fix the life I broke… It’s the hard truth that I kept avoiding by saying things like, “there’s nothing between Jessie and I.” In fact, there are lots of things between Jessie and I. There’s a whole history of moments, of laughter and love and sex and tears, where we discovered hidden parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed. There was a present, filled with tension and anger and sadness at everything that couldn’t be changed. And there was a future, one we dreamed of together, in the countryside of California and all over the world, where we started a life and a family that will ultimately never come to be. There’s a world between us, literally and figuratively, and it’s a world we both had to walk away from on Sunday.
I am a person who is without direction, ambition, or hope. My mind unravels and weaves together my experiences each day in ways that either pull me further, or further into, my depression. I don’t have much in my life—no job, no dream, no motivation, but I do have love. You don’t feel this much hurt and pain without it…because only love brings you truths so important that they become integral to your person. I have loved some wonderful people in my life, and it has given me wisdom that I will never forget. I’m so thankful I was given the opportunities to love and be loved…but the time has come to learn to love myself. I can’t keep disappearing into relationships in order to feel motivation to live…it’s time to find that motivation inside myself instead of getting it from someone else. I won’t lie, I’m terrified that I will never be able to love myself again, or find my own reasons to keep living, but I have to try.
Now that Jessie and I have gotten closure, and have freed each other from expectations and hopes of what could have been, there is nothing from my past standing in the way of my future. I can rebuild my life, with a new job, a new college, new friends, a new apartment, and a new relationship with Fred. I don’t know how any of it will work out, but I think that there is a real possibility that my life will take a turn for the better. My only goal now is to literally be happy, and it won’t happen overnight. On Monday I start intensive outpatient treatment, and while I feel dread I know it is for the best.
One chapter of my life has closed, and I do feel very sad that it is over. But maybe this next part of my life will be the best yet…
In a nutshell, that’s why I’m still here.
It’s the guilt that weighs me down. I live in a constant state of guilt. When I do things for myself, like watching Netflix or taking a nap, I am wasting time not being productive. When I do things for others I am being a people pleaser, and living my life for other people. I can’t win.
I hate that in our society you grow up thinking that you’ve not only got to be something, but be the best at it. That’s one thing I hate about being a writer. I am not competitive–in fact, I am anti-competitive. I don’t give a damn if I’m never number one or the President of the United States or Britney Spears. I don’t want honor from anything but my own heart. All I long for is to be content. I long for helping others and appreciating sunrises and walking to most places and eating good food. I don’t care about prizes. But at the same time I am young and scared that I am wasting the precious time I have by doing nothing.
It’d be cool to join the Peace Corps. And I want to go to Europe. And I’d like to go out with my friends and take a crazy road trip. I’d like promote women’s health rights in local legislation. I would like to paint a picture, even if it sucks.
But I am stuck at school, and if I’m not stuck at school I’m stuck at home. I’m stuck. I want to explore and figure out my life, but I don’t want to be far from my boyfriend like I’ve been all school year. And I need to work so I can save my money to start paying for things for school. And maybe I’m also scared because I don’t really know what I’m doing with life.
So I feel guilty because my solution to all of this is to watch Netflix, or nap. Or just focus on other people instead of myself. And that just doesn’t do anything about all of this guilt, pinning me to the floor.
Maybe all I’ll ever be in life is average, but I won’t stand to live my life anything less than happy.
Happy Friday everyone! While some of you fellow students may be impatiently awaiting the end of the day so you can start your spring break, I’m spending my weekend mourning the end of a beloved Netflix series I’ve been obsessing over. Last night I finished the second-to-last episode of The Tudors and I’m so excited and sad to end the series later today. I know the show is historically inaccurate, but I really have this thing for period films and TV series’, and Downtown Abbey isn’t available to stream…what a pity. All of this points to the conclusion that I’m slowly becoming my mother, but that’s ok. We used to watch Project Runway and House Hunters together, and I sometimes I really miss those times. I know she does too, because she can’t do that stuff with Dad or my brother. In a way I kind of feel bad that I don’t live at home anymore because we used to spend so much time together, but I know once I get my own place I’ll invite her over a lot.
But wow, I really got off track there…So yeah, my spring break is next weekend and I can’t wait. I’m not really doing much, just going home and spending time with my friends and boyfriend, but in my book it can’t get better than that. I’ll save going somewhere cool for this summer, when I’ve got more time and hopefully more money. There have been plans tossed around about going to Chicago for a weekend or Vancouver for a music festival. I just want to do something besides work at McDonald’s this summer, which I will probably end up doing…ugh.
This weekend I don’t have too much going on. Saturday night I’m hanging out with a few of the girls from my french class last semester, Amelia and Cameron. I’m pretty excited. They both are really chill and artsy, but introverted like me. Amelia is super shy and one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. She grew up in South Africa and has great taste in clothes and music. Cameron is more edgy and quirky. In her house she has a random wall full of pictures of Robert Pattinson, that she decorated for Christmas with little elf hats and antlers. She’s not a fan or anything, either. She also recently buzzed off her hair which I totally wish I had the balls to do, and is a great listener. Together, we all make a weird and fun group. We’ll probably just watch movies and talk, which is more my idea of fun than going out.
But tonight I am going out to the frats with Caitlin. I haven’t been out there since Halloween, and am sorta nervous about being in that scene again. In all reality, it’s sort of boring to be at those parties, but it’s something to do. I just hope I’m not constantly thinking about what it was like last semester. My brief relationship status of an open relationship with my boyfriend is something I hate to think about, and even though I think it is what made us appreciate our relationship so much more (despite the distance), I don’t like to think of what a fool I was. But tonight will be different, because I’m different than I was then. And hopefully it will fun, although I don’t have high hopes. But I’ll be hanging out with Caitlin, so at least there’s that.
I’m just trying to keep a grip on things until next Friday. I want to be on spring break and see my boyfriend so bad…but I guess you have to wait for the worthwhile things. (Even though it sucks. A lot.) Despite that, though, school has gotten better and I know I’ll see my friends back home soon. The semester is drawing closer and closer to its end, and so I’m going to take all the steps I need toward that light at the end of the tunnel.
Here’s one of my many problems with Facebook. Whenever I log onto it I expect to be emotionally numb. After all, I really don’t care about how much you hate your job at Wal-Mart and are about to dye your hair red again, even though your eyebrows are a totally different color. I just sift through this information as I drink my coffee in the dining hall, silently musing about how rare it is that people who are actually interesting never post on Facebook, yet people log on it all the time. Oh the information age, how you have lowered our standards… Anyway, what gets my gears going, though, is how you can be friends with someone on Facebook and out of the blue you can have this strong emotional reaction to it.
We all experience this–whether it’s your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, your old best friend from high school, or that crazy relative we all have in the family. Someone starts posting stuff about politics, how unhappy or happy they are, or even shares a link to one of those YouTube videos where someone with cancer is asking for help, and BAM! Suddenly while you’re waiting in line at Taco Bell you’re pissed as hell or on the verge of tears.
And it can be the dumbest things, too. SoAndSo is off surfing in Hawaii while you’re at home doing laundry on a Saturday night, or just got engaged to someone they met six months ago, or just uploaded a bunch of horrifying selfies and all of a sudden we are sitting there wondering why the heck we care as much as we do. After all, it’s Facebook, the website made for keeping track of people you won’t bother to text or call. You’re not supposed to give a damn–so why do you?
Life, that’s why. None of us have the perfect life we want, and few of us are content to be happy with what we have. So we pick at other people’s lives to make ourselves feel better–or compare our lives to theirs to make ourselves feel worse. It’s a vicious cycle that crops up at the worst of times, like when you are sitting at work taking a break from studying and BAM! There’s that asshole who never texted you again after a week of blowing up your phone. And look at how happy they are! And look at what one of their friends said in the comments of that picture! Don’t you flirt with them and say they have a great smile! They’re mine!
…Well, they were….
And there you have it. Bam, just like that, you start to feel crappy. Why did you even like that asshole? Didn’t you see it coming, how they’d ditch you so suddenly? How could you be so stupid? The real question is, though:
When did treating ourselves like this become a part of society?
And I’m not just ragging on Facebook, because after all, it’s not the website’s fault. It’s how people use it. Why do we analyze every aspect of our lives and compare them to this unrealistic image we have of the lives of the people around us? Why are we never content with what we have, and our goals all come from what we think would make our lives that much more perfect. Why is it all about trying to be perfect? Why do we think that equals happiness?
The happiest people I’ve met are the ones with average lives, who are content with their crazy families, their small houses, their run-of-the-mill jobs, and their imperfect spouses. They are the people who know that what matters now won’t matter in twenty years, and that all you can ask for in life is to have things to be happy for.
Just some thoughts for the night that may be right or wrong.
Ah well, back to studying.
In the world of craziness, here is your Weekend Update:
So my whole plan to become less stressed and more happy has been topsy-turvy. I had a giant test requiring me to know over 300 Greek and Latin root words for English on Thursday, and the whole past week I had been freaking out because I hadn’t exactly studied until Monday. However, the test came and went, and I think I did really well! On the downside, last Saturday when I was at work I became majorly stressed. So stressed that I cut myself. It was a dumb way to relieve tension, but unfortunately it works. So since then I’ve been trying to find different outlets for my stress, and preventing stress altogether. Another test of my happiness plan was when my ex suddenly made a move on me Sunday night. Um, whoa whoa whoa! Turns out he still loves me and wants to be with me. I had to remind him that I am still wonderfully wonderfully happy with my existing boyfriend. All of that gave me greater appreciation for him (my boyfriend), and so I’ve spent the last couple of nights with him, which were wonderfully wonderful as well. I even accomplished a few things off my bucket list in the process! Friday was just an amazing day… So as for now, I am determined to keep on top of my school work, keep applying for a new job, selling my car (which is both sad and happy), and remember that it is MARCH and fourth quarter of my senior year has officially arrived!! My whole life is about to turn upside down, with all the preparation for leaving high school and starting college, but I’ve never been so excited… I have the school play, prom, graduation and graduation parties, and the whole summer to look forward to!
Knowing that, I’m keeping all my craziness (and happiness!) in perspective.
As someone who has chronic depression, it’s not surprising that when I am disappointed I have to put up major defenses to make sure I don’t let it go too far. You have to fight to be happy, and when you have depression you have to make sure you’re fighting with full body armor and some serious artillery. What I mean by that, is that you have to work to be happy, and be your happiness in safe places.
For instance, putting 80% of your happiness in the stability of your life can lead to trouble when life gives you sudden changes. What if you have to move? What if someone dies? What if a hurricane destroys your home? Plus you have the side effects of being a control freak.
Today I had a little test of one of my happy places. See, I’ve been dating this guy for some time now, and I care about him a lot. So, I get a bit antsy about seeing him, especially because he doesn’t live close by. I was really hoping after work I could go see him for a while. After all, I have school tomorrow and I need something to get me through that nastiness. But then he texted me that he was visiting his family, which comes before cuddling and playing Portal (video game). So I was left stuck in work’s boredom without something to look forward to…yippee. However, to try to salvage my evening, I went to this store I’ve been meaning to go to since I have a gift card. I bought a really cute dress. But when I got home I began to feel grumpy because I’ve been home a lot lately due to snow. It’s so boring and lonely sometimes…I texted one of my friends to see what they were doing. No reply. I listened to a sad song on repeat and tried to sleep. No dice. I ate a couple of brownies and tried watching a TV show I like. Eh. So, I went online to this scholarship site I have an account on. And, instead of becoming stressed and crummy, you know what I did? I decided to sit my butt down and crank out an essay. And I did! And I felt great about how it turned out!
I know this post isn’t exactly riveting, but I’m just so proud of myself for turning this night around. Little stuff like this are big accomplishments when you add up the whole depression solution, I guess. It’s great to distract yourself and be busy, but you also have to be able to handle being by yourself and the down-time, too. Which is pretty difficult for me, I’ll admit. So sharing this stuff makes it easier for me to have faith that I can do this all the time.
If you have anything you’re glad you did lately, even if it’s something like cleaning your bathroom or going through all your junk mail, I’d be happy to hear about it! Feel free to leave comments! We all can accomplish something everyday that makes ourselves proud; I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to make that happen more often!