This is a blog about depression. If you are easily offended or take offence to my very sarcastic humour, please do not read any further. Mental illness is not a joke; it is not something to point fun at and I fully understand that. BUT…when the going gets tough, sarcasm and humour is my defence and so I will be parading it around all over this blog.
If you need help, please get it. Whilst I hope this has a happy ending, I don’t know yet and given I’ve not been able to fix myself, I really don’t want others using this as a ‘How To Be Happy for Beginners v2.0’
It’s Friday, I am up and I’ve made it to breakfast. Patient A2 (I’ve decided she has installed a tracker on me) asks to join me. There is no point playing the guessing game of how I answered, it’s too obvious. I say yes. She teaches me something that I didn’t know, I can ask for porridge for breakfast. For that, Patient A2, I’ll happily sit and talk to you. I now have 2 things on my agenda, omelette (yes, still) and porridge. I miss porridge. Patient A2 is uncertain about the first session of the day so I use that as my excuse to slip away 15 minutes later. I went 2 weeks ago [holy moly, how have I been here that long] and it was useful.
Distress tolerance is the first session and straight off the bat, it turns out to be a very useful session. I’ve gained 3 more letters for the alphabet – Patient E, Patient G & Patient I! Happy days, maybe today will be a good day. A lot of the session today is a repeat of the prior distress tolerance session but I do pick up some additional useful nuggets. Let’s start with the definition of distress tolerance.
Distress tolerance is the perceived inability to fully experience unpleasant emotions accompanied by a desperate need to escape the uncomfortable emotions
Ok, now we know the technical definition, how do I tolerate distress? We play the sour sweet game again although I swear it’s worse this time round. Out comes the sensory toys and aromatherapy oils again. Yes yes, I know this stuff. A good point is raised though, why aren’t these things deemed distractions. As you know, we’ve been told distractions are unhealthy as it means we are not facing up to the emotions. Apparently, these are different as the ground us. They bring us back to the fact we are ok and help prevent the negative thinking. By grounding us, we are right here right now rather than in the past of future. Ok, that makes some sense.
We are taught some grounding exercises. Guess what, they are based around naming 10 things. What’s with all the 10’s? If anyone knows the answer to this, please let me know.
- Name 10 vegetables
- Name 10 sports
- Name 10 tube stations
- Name 10 things I can see
The point of these task is again to ground us whilst lowering our anxiety. It makes sense and from the 10 minutes practise in the session, it’s useful too. It’s going to take some time to get these down though. Yet again, why 10 minutes?!
Back to questionable carpet room and, fear not, if you’ve spotted that I didn’t wash my face or brush my teeth, this happens right now. Whoop, today really could be a good day. With that in mind, I head off to morning group. I’ve realised that I find group check ins stressful. My anxiety rises and I get nervous when it’s my turn to speak. I can only attribute this down to being nervous about listening to my emotions. I don’t like thinking about what I am feeling. Today, I feel, ok. Well, it’s the truth. I am not sure I can go quite as far as good, it’s a good day but I don’t feel good. I feel, ok and stable. Patient P is most definitely not ok. She’s feeling very suicidal. I want to get up and hug her but I am not sure that’s the accepted etiquette. It gets me thinking though, it scares me how quickly I can jump to suicide as an option. I don’t mean this to sound flippant and I can assure you, it’s not fun. If things seem to0 much though, I do think that suicide is my way out. I need to break this whilst still here. I have black and white thinking and I always push myself trying to get to the next level, even when I don’t know what the next level is. Ultimately, I am always telling myself I am not good enough. It wears me down and if I am never going to be good enough, why continue? I need alternatives to thinking I am either good or bad.
Therapist W, who is rapidly becoming my favourite therapist, teaches us that we only look at two paths in life. The two paths are an either/ or, i.e. fitting in with my black and white thinking.
Path A: Good path – acceptable to family and society
Path B: Bad path – different so it feels threatening
So, this all boils down to the fact I am insecure. If I felt secure and safe, I wouldn’t need to have everyone like me. Excellent. Another thing to add to the list and yet more work to be done to help me be ‘Normal’. The session ends with Therapist W explaining that talking about things helps normalise them and prevents us from catastrophizing. He’s right, when I have had the guts to say things out loud, it’s made me see I’ve been looking at things from the wrong angle. If I don’t want to talk to myself, a sure sign of madness, maybe it’s time to get a Dictaphone? Finally, just before we break for lunch, we are reminded that self-care needs to happen not only during the bad times. It’s something we should always be doing. If you are reading this and in a good place, go do something lovely for yourself, a fully-fledged professional (Therapist W, not me!) tells you too.
Lunch next and I pick what I want, fish goujons with steamed veg and chips. Patient S comes to join me and as we get chatting, Patient D plonks himself down. I instantly clam up. The wall has gone up and there is no crossing it. Patient D makes me feel very uncomfortable. He is quite loud and ‘in your face’. I remain very quiet and still for the duration of time he is at the table. Once he leaves, Patient S asks if I am ok. I tell him Patient D is a bit too much for me and he nods in a knowing way. Wow, Patient C, you’ve just said what you feel. Progress is being made.
Afternoon group now and for once, I am here to try to help support the group rather than the one needing to be supported. As the therapy ticks on, I feel rising anxiety, Patient R is not ok. She’s in a very dark place and her insurance runs out on Monday. I need to ‘fix’ her. I need to be able to make this ok for her. I don’t know how to though. I kick into practical mode:
- Does your insurance cover day patient treatment once you are discharged? (mine covers 2 weeks) – she isn’t sure, she’ll check but she doesn’t feel she’ll be able to leave the house
- Ok, where do you live? – she lives near me, phew, I’ve got another suggestion
- Would you take an uber? – I mention this as the only way I could get myself into work was to take a taxi. I literally couldn’t face the world for the 5 minutes it would take to get to the bus stop so a taxi was my only option if I were to leave the house. Depression really sucks and it also costs me a lot of money – Patient R thinks she could manage that
- Does she need company this weekend – I don’t know how I think I can fix this over the weekend but I am getting desperate to help her now – she says thanks
Therapist J2 asks how I am feeling. No dude, this is about her, don’t you see? We have to make this ok. He asks again, and I answer honestly, I am really worried I can’t find the right answer for her. My incessant need to help is taking over. He asks if I can box up my worries and give them to the hospital and him. It’s his job, not mine. Yet again, I am taking on responsibility when it is not mine to take. So, there I sit, in the therapy room imaging placing this worry in a box, taping it up and handing it over. It works, for about 30 seconds. I’m back to worrying about Patient R again.
We move on to Patient K who would like support on how to talk to her parents. Oh, Patient K, I hear you on this one and I need it too. My mum still only knows a tiny proportion of the truth and my dad has no clue. My sister is also talking to me in her worried voice the whole time. Patient K knows how that feels. Patient S2 and Patient E also have similar experiences. Just as we are all empathising and supporting each other, Patient R2 joins in. Except, she doesn’t join in so much as take over. She’s a mum, she thinks we should try to understand it from a mum’s point of view. I can try but given I am not a mum, this is hard. Patient R2 continues on, and on, and on. Somehow, and I am not sure how, we get on to Trump. Yes, President Trump. At which point, Patient R2 states, in a deep Texan accent, she’s a gun toting, Trump voting American, Yee-haw! Ok… time to move very swiftly on. We end the session focussing on the fact we can’t change others so instead, we need to change how we respond to them. I can’t take on everyone’s worries, I can’t be solely responsible for them, I need to change how I react to them instead.
I end the session, feeling good…bordering on positive. Could this be the home straight? The real test will be when I am next stressed, am I able to apply the techniques.
Let’s ride this positivity wave. On my way back to my room, I ask my ward nurses for not only a hairdryer but if I can go out accompanied by my friend tonight…it’s a double roll over! Regardless of their answer to either point, I asked. Point 1, yes, I can borrow a hair dryer. Point 2… They will consider it. Oh, my gosh, this is HUGE. I jump into the shower with delight. No dilly dallying around this time, no need to text a friend for moral support, I am going to do this on my own. In fact, I am going to really push the boat out. I am going to wear JEANS! This is the first time out of tracksuit bottoms since the spa. I’m not going to lie, I am a little nervous the may not do up what with all the puddings of late. I breathe in for a minute and to my delight, the do up easily, albeit a little tighter than the last time I wore them. I’ve also noticed a small hole near the inner thigh seam. Oh bugger. A little prayer that it doesn’t get bigger later and I would go to say I may look presentable.
Nurse A2 comes to my room. I can go out but my visitor must come to the ward first (i.e. proof that I am not absconding). This is mighty stuff. I am going outside. I know I went outside to get to the spa but, I walked outside straight into a taxi, from taxi to my door is not more than 5 steps. My door to the car is maybe about 15 steps… I don’t really count it as being ‘out out’.
Friend GG arrives and, upon proof she is real, it’s time to put my coat on and walk out the front door. To be able to walk out the front door, the ward nurses need to call reception to allow them to unlock the door for me – we are really locked in here. It’s at this point that I think it’s about to go wrong. Nurse A2 pauses for what seems like far too long. He wants to know how long I’ll be and do I have my phone. After a couple of minutes of pondering, he nods, I can go… This is monumental, it can only be summed up in song.
‘I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show’
The receptionist unlocks the door and I am out in the big wide world. Stood on the pavement of a busy London street, it’s rather overwhelming. Friend GG knows the area well and asks what I need. Well, that’s an open ended question my friend, be careful. I need to go to M&S, Boots, and preferably somewhere that serves wine. Please. Wine first, yes, we can go to M&S and Boots on the way back. Friend GG knows a good wine bar not far away. This is amazing.
We take a seat at a corner table. It’s quite early, most people won’t have finished work yet. I am grateful it’s not crowded. The wine list looks good but it takes quite a lot of brain power to decide. How is this me? How is this the person I’ve become? I settle on a large glass of rioja. Friend GG decides on a large glass of white. This is it Patient C, this is a step closer to being the ever elusive ‘Normal’. The wine is brought over and lo and behold, it is good. The pre-admittance me could neck a glass of wine exceptionally quickly. Post-admittance me is taking it slowly. I think that’s sensible. Friend GG and I talk and not only about the reason I am in hospital. We talk like friends catching up on a Friday night with a drink. Which is exactly what we are… ‘Normal’ people sat in a normal wine bar in London. It’s good. The waiter asks if we want another and I must admit to being pleased when Friend GG interjects with no. I don’t think a second glass would be a good idea. Instead, we pay and walk to the shops to stock me up with goodies.
By this time, the shops are busy, more people are filing out of work for the weekend. It’s overwhelming but somehow, I manage. Sparkling water, chocolate, dinner for tonight and some sour sweets later, it’s time to head to Boots. It’s nerve wracking being out. I feel like there is a big neon sign above my head. No, not the ‘NEWBIE’ sign from the hospital, this time it’s ‘I’VE GOT A MENTAL ILLNESS’ sign with its lights flashing away above my head. I swear everyone can tell I am from the psychiatric hospital. We make Boots a quick visit – toothpaste, vitamins and a nail file. I’ve decided the bitten fingernail look isn’t for me anymore. As for the vitamins, they confiscated my last ones for unknown reasons. I’m fairly certain you can’t overdose on vitamins. I’ll be a rebel and hide these in my room.
We get back to the hospital bang on when I said I’d be back. Friend GG deposits me back in my room on the ward before going out for dinner like a ‘Normal’ person. Oh, how I’d like to be out there, having a bottle of wine and a fillet steak. One day soon Patient C, one day very soon. For tonight, it’s time to enjoy a sandwich supper from M&S (anyone else agree they make superior sandwiches?) and crap TV.
I need to work out the nurses’ handover system as I am yet again on the watch list. They all want to come and talk to me in 15 minute intervals. No, please, go away. I am ok. This time I also mean it! I really am ok today. I don’t feel happy but there have been happy moments. This is progress and I’d like to sit here digesting it alone. I talk to them anyway as the nurses have a good way of teasing out things I am bottling up.
Dr E comes a bit later, the woman deserves more than a medal. It’s a Friday night and she’s still doing ward rounds. I’ve heard I am lucky to have her. Not all psychiatrists are as dedicated. Some patients only seem theirs once a week. I am going to try not to worry about being a burden and use her as effectively as I can. I’ve had a text from Friend LR with a suggestion of tracking my emotions throughout the day. This would help me identify what emotions are mine vs. what emotions I am picking up and carrying from others. We all know by now that I seem to worry about others too much. Dr E thinks this is a great idea. I have homework for the weekend!
My meds have been upped yet again but I still don’t pass out. It takes a couple of hours to feel ready to fall asleep but I have Despicable Me 2 to keep me company. Let’s hope I feel this ok tomorrow. Dare I even consider feeling good?