Once outside the locked-down unit I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I hadn’t thought any further than just getting out. Other people would mention “being upstairs” later, in group therapy, and they often spoke of it with longing. They said it felt peaceful and safe there. For me, not so much. And then the weekend at home was surreal. My house was full of friends and family and I felt very emotionally fragile. People brought food – which is totally one of my top “love languages“. Feed me and I feel loved. Some people wanted to talk about it (my best friend, who drove all the way from Atlanta with her husband for just a twenty-four hour stay) and some really didn’t. There was a UK basketball game on and I sat next to my mom and she told me every detail of every player’s life, his strengths and weaknesses, and kept up a running commentary on the game. We didn’t talk about the elephant in the room, and that was fine with both of us. It’s how we roll.
Then came Monday morning, and the start of outpatient therapy. I went with my notebook and pen, two ice packs in a cooler,scarves to hide the ice packs, my TENS unit, and extra pain pills and muscle relaxers. I only had to get through three hours, but that’s a long time when neck pain usually demands hourly lie-down breaks. I recognized one man who’d been “upstairs” with me, but everyone else already knew each other from the previous week. We had a schedule with a couple of breaks, and there was a recliner and even a sofa in the room, and a bathroom next door where I could apply my TENS unit. All my bases were covered.
There were forms to be filled out at the beginning and end of each day with goals, assessment of progress, yada, yada, yada. But the real start of the day was when someone read aloud from Believing in Myself, a wonderful daily meditation book that I bought a copy of as soon as I finished my two-week session because it was such a perfect start to the day. I keep it on my bedside table and read the one-page message for the day while I drink my coffee each morning. The first couple of mornings a charming and outgoing woman read, but then her sessions were over (decided by insurance companies, just like everything else in our lives). No one else seemed to be willing to read, so I volunteered. It warmed my heart when the next day several people said they’d particularly enjoyed my reading because I read with such emotion . . . so I read every day until I left the program 🙂 No matter what sort of group you’re in it feels good to have a role, no matter how minor.
Each day we discussed something different: the biology of depression, boundaries, self-esteem, trust, music as a therapeutic tool. The last portion of each day was labeled simply “group” on our schedules. People who wanted to talk could talk, and everyone else was encouraged to chime in with their thoughts. Confidentiality, of course, was essential, but the things some of these people – people who look and act just like you and me – had endured was horrifying. I felt perfectly comfortable telling my own story, and basically used “group” as a think-tank for my current day-to-day problems. Michael and John were hardly sleeping at all, and Michael was having full-blown panic attacks whenever I was out of his sight (even at group). My fellow patients had some marvelous suggestions.
Part of the beauty of our group was that everyone was so different, and yet so completely supportive of each other. We had people in their twenties to people in their sixties, a pretty equal gender distribution, many races, every marital status and financial status possible, high school dropouts to those with Masters’ degrees, and a wide range of employment, prior employment, and disabilities represented. We had people who could hardly stop talking, a man whose wife had told him not to talk, and a woman for whom each word spoken aloud was a painful battle. I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t attend more than three days in a row without needing to stay home in bed a day because of the pain, but it was worth it. I didn’t want to leave. This was my safe and peaceful place. These people understood me, didn’t judge me, and weren’t afraid to tell me when I was lying to myself. Group therapy was when I truly started changing and healing.
This is the sixth in a series of seven posts about my recent attempt to end my life. Here are links to the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. I’m sharing details and insights from my inpatient and outpatient experiences as well as my ongoing care. Please feel free to comment, but realize I reserve the right to delete anything malicious. And while Michael and I have chosen to be open about the incident I’d prefer anyone who knows my children “in real life” to respect their privacy and let them process this experience their own way, in their own time. I’ll be linking up each Wednesday to Pour Your Heart Out at Things I Can’t Say.