Illumination

This is a self-portrait I took in college after being diagnosed with major depression and starting medication, and I’ve felt this whirling in my head ever since. I’m somewhere in there amidst the craziness. It was taken with black and white film, which gives it the grainy almost ghostly look.

Every time a major change is done to my treatment – whether that’s changing meds, doctors, TMS, ECT, being hospitalized, and most recently DBT – I think either this time will work, or I’m done with it all. I think, this is my last chance. Every time. And even though I think nothing will work, somewhere beneath it all I can’t help but have the tiniest flame of hope and expectations. And every time I am disappointed. This is no exception. I am not quite as bad as before I went to the intensive DBT program, but I definitely made a slip back since I got home last week. I’m still not taking care of myself, I am still having trouble caring for my daughter, and I am still barely leaving the house. I see the benefit in DBT and how it can help people, but for some reason I’m keeping it at an intellectual level and not a practical level. I am using some of the tools – distraction, mindfulness, opposite action, radical acceptance, etc. – however, much of it is what I was doing before, so that doesn’t help. I feel like the skills were sand being dropped into my hand and as much as I tried to grasp onto them and hold them, most of them just fell between my fingers. Two weeks is just not enough to get it all. I reached out to a DBT therapist in a nearby town to see if additional support will help me retain it and use it, but still haven’t heard back. Besides the fact that I would need to drive to get there, and I have not driven in a long time because of the anxiety and panic attacks. I feel like I need the DBT to help me drive, but I need to drive to get to the DBT person. What a conundrum.

I really don’t want this slip back to go as far as I did the last few times with the TMS and ECT, so I’m going to try to do what it takes to keep the baby steps moving forward, but – there’s always a but – at the same time it’s hard to keep faith when I made a goal to go out 3 times this week and have not gone out at all. Fail. I know I need to force myself to keep looking through the materials, and practice them when I am not in crisis mode so they become more natural, and force myself to do things that feel difficult (going out, taking the train, driving…) over and over until they don’t, but it’s just so deceivingly hard to even make the first step. My whirling mind is so loud and the skills are so quiet, my mind always wins.

Released from the Hospital and Inked!

Released and Inked.

Check out the photos and post I wrote over at Broken Light Collective. I’m out of the hospital and got a tattoo! Being home is already a struggle, but I’m trying to stay positive and hoping that some of the DBT tools will help me move forward and not back to where I was before I went into the hospital. Scary thought.

Happy New Year! Warmest wishes all around. May 2013 be a better year!

tattoo

The End is in Sight

photo12So, it looks like I will get to leave the mental cottage on Monday! Hubs and the little one will drive up for my release, and the three of us will stay at a nearby hotel to ring in the new year together. Then we will drive back on Tuesday to start 2013 anew. I’m thrilled to be able to go home, and be with my family, but scared. I have learned a lot of DBT skills to help me in the moment when I am starting to feel bad or get in my head, but when it gets really bad and things start to spiral I don’t know how well the skills will work. Today for instance has not been a great day. During art therapy I colored in this picture of a woman who looks sad or in pain with a bunch of lilies. It says, “Remember everything: the beauteous and the sorrowful.” It’s not very “DBT” and I probably should have picked a mandala or something lighter, but I was drawn to her. I added sequins to cover her eyes and mouth and the lily centers, and surrounded it by words – positive words on the lily side, like joy, freedom, love, happiness, and the woman side with words like anger, doubt, fear, guilt, sadness. Lilies are important to me. They have positive association because of a wonderful Lily in my life, but also feel sad. I have a lily in one of my tattoos that symbolizes just that to me, beauty and growth, and yet sadness and grief. I got it the week before my father passed away from ALS. Perhaps this was the start of my spiral. Or the picture that was texted to me of my adorable little cutie all bundled up in a snowsuit making snowmen and snow angels. She was having a blast. My thoughts… Oh how I wish I could be there. But then if I was there I might not be able to do those things. Which might then prevent them from doing fun things. I hate that my limitations have become everyone’s limitations. I just hold people back. They are fine not having me there. They are better in fact not having me there. Not worrying constantly about what might trigger me to become suddenly sad or angry. They would be better off without me. Everyone would be better off without me.

Uggh. There we are again. After everything, I’m back here.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried the DBT skills. I tried to distract, tried to ground myself in the present and be mindful, tried to check the facts, and be objective and non-judgemental, but nothing worked. I soon was a blubbering mess unloading to a staff counselor about how bad things are and how bad they can get, and how I wish I was gone for everyone’s sake. Same old story, but with skills to try and fail at first. Not good. The good thing is, I didn’t end up hurting myself, I didn’t kill myself, and I didn’t get thrown into the locked unit (although she threatened that if it got worse I might have to make the move). No thank you. I made it through. I still feel like crap but will be okay. I know (or at least people have told me) that my daughter will be better off with a sometimes sick mom as opposed to a mom who offed herself.

I knew this program wasn’t a magic happy pill, but I just was hoping that things wouldn’t get to that point anymore. That it would help me start a new chapter where I can be a good mom and a good wife, and do normal social things. Not having it be a big deal to get out of bed, shower, do normal things like going to a grocery store, but I know I am still going to struggle with many of those things. I don’t want to go back to the same place that I was at before the program, and it won’t be the same place. I have some insight now, and I’m going to try hard to do whatever I can to stay grounded, but it’s scary. Realistically, things most likely are going to go there again, so I need to keep working on building up my tool box to prevent it from getting that far, or if it does, then knowing how to better handle the situation on my own. I think I can do it. I have to. But it’s not going to happen overnight, or in two weeks, as intensive as they may be. It just might be more like the little engine that could. I have to keep telling myself “I think I can” over and over as I am making small strides, practice the skills again and again, especially when I am not in crisis mode, and hopefully one day I will eventually get up this ridiculously massive hill.

P.S. I also started a new medication today, so I recognize that this may have had a role in my mini breakdown, however, I don’t think 6 hours is long enough for the med to take effect and have side-effects, and it’s a low dose, but you never know.

Ghostly Adventures at the Mental Hospital

It was Christmas Eve, the sun had set and I hadn’t gotten my 10 minutes of outside time/exercise in, so I figured I’d join a fellow mental patient for a bit of a walk around the building. That little bit turned into a few hour long adventure, featuring us narrowly avoiding getting caught by security, and getting back just moments before curfew…

It all started by her showing me around the campus, pointing out the cafeteria where certain meetings are held, and different locked units and fancy self-pay units, and then we started stumbling upon some pretty interesting things — the first of which was an old underground tunnel that connects the different hospital buildings (which we couldn’t get into, but could see through the windows). Evidently there is a whole underground world here – dark hallways going from one building to the next with paint crumbling from the walls. This hospital has been around for a long time, over 200 years. I imagine they used to use the tunnels to transport the patients around so they couldn’t escape, to and from their lobotomies and such. Someone who had been on a locked unit here told me they are actually still being used for transport during inclement weather and it is pretty cool down there, especially for someone like me who loves to see things falling apart. That said, I do not want to be on a locked unit again!

This brings me to interesting find number two, we stumbled upon (literally) a huge old building that had clearly been abandoned for many years. Of course, I was instantly obsessed. I love anything in a state of disrepair, and an old mental hospital building – what could be more perfect? I had to get a closer look. I stumbled my way around the perimeter through the dark to see it all. It was not well lit, only by distant street lights and cars, but I could make out the boarded up windows all across the bottom floor, broken windows up above, crooked columns, and unwieldy vines taking over. I may have even snapped a few photos with my phone, which is an absolute no-no, so I couldn’t possibly admit to such a thing. And they may have appeared to have captured a ghost! A former patient perhaps whose life ended here? Thankfully because of the holiday there were less people around, and probably less security, so we didn’t get caught. It was for sure the creepiest thing I have ever experienced in my life. So of course, I went back again the next night for more creepy, and stumbled upon another abandoned building! I may have taken some night photos of that one as well with my real camera, but if I did, I would not share them until after I am discharged. Showing my food is one thing, but showing property or people is another. I know I am trying my luck by even shooting (if I were to be shooting that is), but I am taking this DBT program seriously, and I really don’t want to get kicked out just as I am starting to pick things up, or to have my camera confiscated which they have threatened on multiple occasions. God forbid. My precious.

I can, however, show you a photo I took when we walked off campus afterwards. Since it was Christmas Eve, we decided to check out the holiday lights on the surrounding streets. I took some abstract photos of the lights. This one is a long exposure I took as I was walking towards a street light with various Christmas and other lights beneath. It seemed appropriate to take ghostly-looking photos after our experience at the old abandoned buildings!

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Childhood Found

Ways I am using elements of childhood during my recovery at the mental hospital:
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1. Coloring and collaging. Art therapy can be a good release, and also fun. I picked up an old Popular Mechanics do-it-yourself encyclopedia here from the ’50s that I am drawing in, painting and collaging. I may share some pages in the future, but I am still mostly cutting things out. I find cutting out words and images in magazines to be quite relaxing. There was one thing I wanted that I couldn’t cut out though. It was from a magazine at which I used to work, and my old boss’s name was on the back of the page I wanted. I really didn’t think she should be in my crazy book though, so I left it for someone else to find. Another fun project was on Christmas Eve when we colored stockings and taped them to the fireplace. In addition to mine, I made an orange stocking for another girl who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, with a lotus flower, a butterfly, an eye, and her initials, signifying insight – growth – transformation. She loved it.
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2. Eating peanut butter and fluff sandwiches. This one is pretty self explanatory. I definitely did not have fluff around growing up, so it is quite a treat. It doesn’t have any therapeutic value, but it is yummy!
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3. Adding hot chocolate powder and whipped cream to coffee. Hello, where have you been all my life? Again… yum!
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4. Playing with a slinky. L and I were getting lost in our thoughts yesterday so one of the counselors suggested we play with a slinky. We thought is was silly of course, but after curfew, we went upstairs and decided to give it a try. First we tried on the fire stairs, but they were too wide, so we attempted to send it down the third level of the main twisted old steps. L stood at the bottom on the second floor to keep lookout. After a few failed attempts I started to get the hang of it. You lift and then use force when directing it forward. First I got it down one step, and then 3. At times it went sideways and looked like a drunk slinky, but eventually it went all the way down the first set and almost around the corner to the next level. We actually laughed a bit, and were out of our heads. We were using distraction tools, mindfulness, and having a little fun. Best of all, we didn’t get in trouble.

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It’s kind of fun to act like a kid (as long as I am still staying grounded and in the present). I hope I can keep it up when I am home with my own kid. I know she will enjoy having a fun mom for once (and not just at the manic times)!

Poop Happens

It was a slow weekend in looneyville. There were very few of us residents and no day patients since it was the weekend, so I was alone much of the time, isolating as usual, but I did end up forcing myself to go out at one point and do my 10 minutes of prescribed outside time – which in fact led to much more. I went off the property with my camera to a pond across the street. It was almost sunset and the colors were beautiful. I worked my way around to the back side of the pond and just sat there staring at the reflections of the trees and birds, thinking how many poems, books, and songs must have been written in that very spot. I know many well-known creatives have done stints at the same institution over the years.

I photographed as I went which calmed me, but as it started getting dark, I started getting the panic feeling rising my chest. I felt lost and confused, even though I knew I was not far from the street or hospital, and started freaking out – doing mental gymnastics as they call it here. Once I recognized what was happening, I started trying to use my DBT tools. Okay, I said aloud as I walked back, I need to ground myself here in reality in this moment. What do I see? Colors. Okay, I see green, brown, orange, (insert eye roll here), blue, grey, purple… Hey, I think I’m actually starting to be here in this moment! Alas, just then… Squish… Poop. I stepped in poop. Surprise. The old me would have taken that as a negative sign, but I actually thought it was pretty funny and useful. I used some new tools, and still poop happened. The skills are not going to prevent poop. The skills are how you react to the poop. I also learned that instead of looking ahead into the future, I should be looking down and taking it one step at a time.

What Do You E-mail to Someone In a Mental Institution?

“YOU ARE ALWAYS MY SHINING STAR
EVEN WHEN YOU ARE A-FAR
HOPE THE DAYS WILL PASS SWIFTLY
AND THAT YOU WILL FEEL NIFTY
Thinking of you….gram”


gram

It was a wonderful surprise to find this little poem in my inbox today. These are the words and toes of my almost 90-year-old grandmother, who never ceases to amaze me. She still golfs, travels around the world, and even manages to play with her great-grandkids both in person and on Skype! She is a constant inspiration, and someone who has never stopped believing in me, even when I have stopped believing in myself.

I tend to push people away when the depression takes hold, and she is unfortunately no exception, but nevertheless she has continued to be encouraging, inspiring, and able to make me smile with her quirky ways. I hope I feel nifty soon too!

Surprised at the Mental Cottage

It’s a gross, rainy day here in psych land. Many of the nice people I have met are leaving. Heading home to take on the holidays. There are only a few of us residents left, which could be a good thing because less people in the group therapy sessions means more time for my junk, but it also means I’m going to have to start taking on more tasks like cooking and cleaning. Things that would normally be done once a week will have to be my duty two or three times. This also could be a good thing because such tasks feel nearly impossible due to my depression and here I have no option or I’ll be kicked out. I’ve already been put on probation today because I left my locked drawer unlocked. It had a few days worth of meds in it (not even close to OD amount), and I know it is a general rule that has to apply to everyone, but could you imagine — getting kicked out of a psychiatric treatment facility for a drawer! I need major help here people, can we please focus on that instead of drawers and chores?

The WP weekly photo challenge is surprise, and I actually just got surprised. There is a cute little hut thing in the wooded area behind our psychiatric “cottage” that has a painted blue door. I have noticed it a few times and thought it looked like it would be a fun place to have played as a child – pretending it was a castle or a fort.

Little did I know that it is actually where our trash goes to be taken away. I will be visiting it a lot more now that our numbers are dwindling. I know DBT tells me to stay grounded in reality, but I think I’m still going to pretend that I’m going out to a castle when I’m on trash duty. For two minutes of my day here I can be a princess – a healthy, beautiful, care-free princess – and imagine that just beyond this blue door is not trash but the gateway to a magical kingdom far far away.

Trying to See the Light

photo copyAfter my emotional mess of a day yesterday, I started fresh this morning. I took a shower, which I hadn’t done in longer than I’d like to admit, and went outside because I had to go to a different hospital building to get a physical check-up. The sun was harsh, and I felt a bit like a bat coming out from a cave, but I know it was good for me, and it’s a beautiful campus. The doc said I am at risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, etc. because of my medications, the extra baby/hospital weight, and my exam, so she prescribed me to go outside for 10 minutes every day to get a bit of exercise and be out. Can you believe that? A prescription for outdoors time. But I’ll try to do it. I’ll try anything. If they tell me to stand on my head and wiggle my nose 20 times, I’ll do it. I hope they don’t do that though. I’m trying to be a try-er. Trying to see the light, or at least potential for it. It’s just so hard, and so contrary to the way that I feel, but I know other people have gotten a lot out of this intensive DBT program, so hopefully I will be one of those people – although I did say the same thing about the TMS and ECT before this and am still highly skeptical – but I’ll try to shut down that negative self talk and focus on the light. To let the light shine through and for me to be out there, physically and mentally, and open to taking it in.

Comfort and Tears from the Looney Bin

I could really use a hug about now. Thankfully I’m allowed one as long as the person asks first, and one did today. In hospitals there tends to be a no touching rule, which I am generally all for, but there are some times when you just want contact. There is another new girl here who is struggling, and her mom comes every day. The girl just lays her head on her mom’s shoulder and her mom strokes her hair, for hours. It’s sad but so sweet. It makes me want to stroke my daughter’s hair, and even more so to have mine stroked.

Here’s a little pic of my little one showing her friend boy some love earlier this year. How I long for that. Already.

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What can I say? It was just one of those days. The groups were major triggers for me, which I won’t get into so as not to trigger others — I’ll just say they were on “impulse control” and “mindfulness” – and I started freaking out. This is to be expected in such a program, but the problem was that I was getting very little support from the staff. After a counselor tried to talk me down and soon realized she was out of her depth, she went to see if someone else could help since my case manager was out sick – another case manager, a leader, or doctor. She told me to wait and someone would come out.

Cut to 45 minutes later, I’m still outside the staff office hugging my bag and staring at the floor trying not to cry. Trying and failing. Nothing. Nobody. Nada. I was told they were in meetings with clients etc. but clients don’t go in that office and I could hear them laughing and joking over the white noise machines. I tried knocking again and the woman who answered didn’t even seem to know I was waiting, and when I said through my tears that I guess I would go lay down but that I really needed support and didn’t feel safe – she said to leave. “As long as you don’t act on them then go. No one can talk to you.

No one can talk to you? What a joke. Their job is to give me tools and when I reach out for them they turn me away? Maybe I really am too screwed up for this. I just don’t want to go to a locked unit again, and I was probably pretty close today. One unit here doesn’t even allow computers or phones or anything with cameras, so I would be especially screwed. No thank you.

I feel like in a way they are setting me up to fail. Perhaps testing to see if I can do it on my own using the “skills,” but seriously, I’m still new at DBT and all I was asking for was for a little support. Is that too much to ask? Not a whole therapy session, just a few minutes to help see what skills I could use to help with my triggers and situations that came up. But no. I’m already starting to feel like this is not the program for me. It’s so disappointing. Another failure in the works. So I went back to my room to huddle in a ball.

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I’m calm now in bed. Thanks to my Xs – Xanax and X Factor. I’m waiting for the sleeping and anxiety meds to take over. I guess I made it through the day at least. I guess I’ll have to give it another try. And another. And another. And another until it helps. What choice do I have? Go home to my bed and not live a real life? We’ve already established that that isn’t working for me. I am glad between my tear tissues to have represented on my nightstand my little one, hubs, and my bestie college roomie in the form of a birdcage necklace with a bird flying out. She sent it to me recently when I was going through difficult times. I may only have a few close friends thanks to this illness, but she is more than a million to someone else. She may live in Paris, and I may rarely get to see her, but with her it’s pure love and acceptance no matter what. I just wish she was here for a hug. I know she could use one too. If she is here and reading this. A million hugs from a million miles away.

Let us hope tomorrow is a better day – that this bird will continue it’s flight of recovery, and that I don’t flip out too much about how bad my care was today and tell them to shove their mindfulness down their bird traps.