Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health

Reflecting On Rogers Memorial Hospital

5/23/17… a year ago today I arrived home after a 2-month residential stay at Rogers Memorial Hospital. It may have only been 2 months, but there was a long road that led me there, and a lifetime of memories to treasure afterward.

My first mental health diagnosis (Borderline Personality Disorder) came about because I went to my therapist, sobbing, saying that I needed to be locked up for good in a mental institution (read more of that story in this article). Even in the months following, I felt the pull to be hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and I wasn’t sure why. In June 2015, following a suicide attempt, I was hospitalized for psych reasons for the first time. Something felt right. It wasn’t until later that I was able to explain the sensation. I was in a place where there were no judgments being made. There was still evidence of a stigma, but less so than out in the world. I was surrounded by staff that knew how to take care of you and people who were experiencing similar symptoms and could empathize with you.

Down the line about 4 months, I was first introduced to the idea of going to Rogers for their mood disorder program. Despite the call I still felt to “live” in a mental hospital, I was resistant. “What would it look like to other people if I went away and lived in a hospital specifically for the severely mentally ill?” I was scared because of the stigma. I knew it would be good for me. At this point, I was already beginning the road to recovery, going to 1 on 1 therapy and attending Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I loved learning new mental health skills. Plus, having the referral to go to a residential treatment was extremely validating. It wasn’t all in my head. I needed real and serious treatment. The end of March 2016, I got the call from Rogers saying I was at the top of the waiting list and they had a bed ready for me on the upcoming Wednesday. It was a whirlwind few days and I prepared to go live in the hospital for the next 45-60 days.

Rogers Memorial Hospital is split up into many different buildings, with different buildings dedicated to different programs, like a program for adolescents, drug rehab, OCD, eating disorders, etc. I attended their FOCUS program, which is their mood disorder program. In addition, patients who struggled with suicidal thoughts and self-harm were also in our unit, as these things usually go hand in hand with mood disorders. The entire unit was suicide proof and objects that you could potentially hurt yourself with, like a spiral-bound notebook or shampoo/ conditioner with alcohol, were either kept off the unit or only allowed to be “checked out” from the nurse’s office during certain times of the day and were closely regulated. It was daunting at first to be so closely watched and controlled, but after a while it simply became routine, and you learned to make do without those things. The FOCUS building was divided into three levels, with the first two levels for ages 18-30, and the basement for 30 and over. Each level had 11 beds. So there were 10 other people on my floor, “locked” on a unit that consisted of a kitchenette, a typical-sized living room, a smaller group room and our bedrooms. Needless to say, we were around each other all day every day and became quite close. Even now, a year after graduation, I talk with many of my fellow patients on a weekly/ daily basis. We’re still very close. The patients came from all around the country and even had some patients from other countries as well.

Every day, we started with breakfast in the cafeteria (nothing but hospital food for 2 months… yuck), followed by mindfulness. We then attended either Recreational Therapy or Art Therapy. In RT, we would do anything from ziplining to geocaching. We did a great number of high and low ropes courses, rock climbing, teamwork activities, typical gym games, etc. Everything related in some way to our treatment or recovery. For example, when we went ziplining, we metaphorically left something behind on the platform that we wanted to move away from in our recovery, I chose self-harm. Symbolically I left the act of self-harm behind me on the platform, and “zipped” towards a future that had clean arms. When we did an obstacle course blindfolded and lead by a partner, to demonstrate that in recovery, we won’t know the exact path or challenges ahead, but with help, we can reach the end goal. Cheesy stuff like that. In art, we took the same concept and put it into art. Our art projects we were assigned helped us explore different areas of our recovery and express them creatively. After RT or art

After RT or art, we had DBT taught by our therapist, lunch, and then Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), taught by our Behavioral Specialist (BS). In CBT and DBT, each session started with a check in and a quick discussion of our daily, outstanding assignments. In DBT, we had a general check in, rating our suicidal and self-harm urges, depression, and anxiety. In CBT we went over our “bans” which were destructive habits we were trying to curb, such as skin picking, rumination, attention seeking, checking, etc. We also had a daily assignment of “exposures”, where, in small doses, we exposed ourselves to things that caused us anxiety. We then would turn in homework, like a typical school class, followed by discussion and the daily lesson. I’m sorry this was clumsily explained. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Our week contained going to the local YMCA 3 times a week, nutrition and “spirituality” classes, weekly meetings with our BS/ therapist/ head psychologist, weekend outings (Target, mini golfing, bookstores, coffee, playgrounds, etc) and much more. It was a busy schedule, leaving us busy from breakfast to dinner, with homework time and free time in the evenings. I was busier at Rogers than when I was in high school. Having the structured time was good for me. It prepared me for managing a schedule after discharge. After graduation, I stepped down from a residential level to a partial hospitalization program, and then back to outpatient, where I’ve been since June of 2016.

Rogers saved my life. Before I went to Rogers, I needed to go to the ER an average of 1-2 times a month, as well as a monthly inpatient stay on an acute unit. I was putting my best effort into recovery, but even weekly therapy sessions and DBT wasn’t cutting it. I was still self- harming, my mood was rarely stabilized, I wasn’t good at maintaining healthy relationships, and I was losing more and more hours at work. I had to call in sick almost weekly for a time due to the state of my mental health. After Rogers, it still took a year to be able to return to work, but this time around I have the skills to effectively handle working a few hours a week. I can advocate for myself and find reasonable accommodations to make working a significantly improved situation for both me and my employers. I have maintained healthy friendships as well as a healthy romantic relationship. We were able to experiment with my medications at Rogers and I have the right medications to stabilize my mood now. I’ve successfully been in recovery, not needing to go inpatient, for a full year now. I’ve been able to thrive, whereas before Rogers, I was simply surviving. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone and been on spectacular adventures. I can shower, do my laundry, manage my schedule, and do things for fun! I speak the language for mental health way better than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s night and day, the differences in my life pre- and post- FOCUS. I love myself and I love recovery. Don’t get me wrong… sometimes living at FOCUS was HELL. It was certainly the toughest thing I have ever done. There were days I hated being there and for the first time in my life, there were times I was truly angry. The way they ran certain things and some of their policies really got my goat. Every morning I woke up despising the staff member who woke us up. It wasn’t until after I returned home that I fully loved my experience and was thankful for it. It was the best experience of my life, and besides my wedding, I doubt anything will top my time at Rogers. I now say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

Posted in Anxiety, Bipolar, bpd, coping, Depression, ED, mental health, OCD

I’m Not Okay – An Explicit Truth

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains profanity and VIVID IMAGERY about SELF-HARM and SUICIDAL THOUGHTS which may be triggering to those who struggle with suicidal ideation, cutting and other forms of self-harm.

This was written a few days ago. 

“I’ll be okay” …is that what you want me to say? Because I don’t know if I’ll be okay. This morning I was in a really good place and now I want to fucking die.

I have healthcare now but I might lose it in the next year or two and with the ACA possibly being revoked I might not get health insurance back. And without insurance, I can’t afford my medication. And without my medication, I will destabilize and probably kill myself. I don’t cut anymore, but I sure as hell want to. I can’t go to Walgreens without walking past the razors and staring at them, trying to somehow convince myself that I can get by another week without cutting. I’ve tried many alternatives to cutting, like meds, sleep, being with someone, coloring, solitaire, word searches, stuff like that. But nothing comes even close to what cutting did for me. I went to Rogers Memorial Hospital for a two and a half month residential stay and after that, I felt like I just couldn’t cut on principle. I cut because it made my anxiety go away, I wouldn’t shake as much, it gave me lots of endorphins which helped a ton, it was a tangible thing because my sickness is “all in my head” (I use that ironically). Plus it’s hard to worry about anything else when you’re covered in blood. I feel physically sick almost every day from stress. I throw up if I eat too much cuz my stomach hasn’t eaten three meals a day consistently for almost 4 years. I throw up if I’m stressed. I throw up randomly. I’ll start shaking in terror while watching a kids movie. I’ll start shaking when I’m relaxing. I’ll start shaking doing a puzzle. I still exit the freeway and then get back on so I don’t have to cross a bridge. I still cry passing a semi truck. I still can’t drive if it’s windy. My blankets have to be with the tag by my feet or I can’t sleep. My car has to beep twice saying it’s locked or I can’t walk away. My mental health kit items have to be organized exactly right or I can’t move on to another task. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about suicide. I think about it whenever there’s a tree by the road, and I wonder if it’s close enough for me to crash into. I think about it whenever I’m off the ground, even if it’s just the top of the stairs, and I calculate my odds of death if I fell/ jumped. I think about it when I see any sort of rope, belt or other stringy things, and I think about how I could hang myself with it. I think about it when I take my medication at night, and I know exactly what to take to hurt/ kill myself. I don’t always have a specific plan, and I usually have no intent to carry through, but I think about it and I crave it. I still get so depressed that I miss appointments and don’t even bother explaining why. It takes me up to two hours just to get out of bed in the morning because my sleep and nightmares are so bad. I can’t work because of my rapid cycling bipolar and unpredictability as an employee. I’m scared to talk about this with my loved ones out of fear that they’ve had enough and will leave me (THANKS, borderline…). I’m scared to talk about it with my treatment team out of fear that they’ll say “but you have skills and lived at Rogers Memorial Hospital and went through DBT” or judge me for relapsing. I’m scared to talk to strangers because they don’t know me or my story. I get lunch dates to celebrate being X days cut free. I get hugs and Facebook likes for being in recovery. But are there “Get Well Soon” cards or hot meals brought over when I’m depressed? No. If I had a physical illness there would be. But with a mental illness? “Shhhh don’t talk about it like that!” I can’t talk openly about my illness without people giving me weird looks. Well FUCK the stigma, I’m saying it like it is. Having a mental illness is hell. I don’t know if I’ll be okay.

“I’ll be okay…” I can’t say it.

Posted in coping, diagnosis, mental health, OCD, Uncategorized

Handling a New Diagnosis

Another day, another diagnosis. I’ve been diagnosed with over half a dozen mental illnesses in my lifetime.  A diagnosis can mean many things. For some, it brings hope because they finally have answers. For others, it can bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment. In my experience, it’s a mixture of both. This was definitely true when I received a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder this week.

Back when I was a patient at Rogers Memorial Hospital, a fair number of my fellow patients had OCD. Before Rogers, I had never been exposed to all the ins and outs of OCD. I knew it was more than cleanliness and order, but beyond that, I wasn’t well versed. As I got to know my fellow residents, more of the interworkings became clear to me. As I watched them learn how to skillfully deal with the disorder, I began to wonder if I had OCD, or at the very least, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I quickly pushed these thoughts away, not wanting to add another diagnosis to my list of illnesses I have to deal with.

In the months following my stay, these thoughts continued to pester me. I continued to ignore them, and when I was forced to confront any of my compulsions or obsessions, I brushed it off and dismissed it as “oh, I might have tendencies… that’s all.”

Getting a mental illness diagnosis can be scary. The brain is a very vital, but very complicated organ. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, getting diagnosed can stir up feelings of wanting to hide or keep quiet about it. I remember the first diagnosis I every received. I was living with my best friend’s family at the time, and when her mom asked me how my therapy appointment went, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. I was crying, and so scared that they were going to treat me differently or ask me to move out. I felt like I belonged locked away in an insane asylum because I was officially the girl with a personality disorder. When I finally mustered up the courage to tell her, she reacted in the best way possible. She said, “Okay. Thank you for telling me. I’m not judging you. I’m not reacting in shock. We’re not going to kick you out. We’re still okay with you being around our daughter. It’s okay.” That had a profound impact on me. It made me realize that maybe a diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, but the opportunity to begin a new one. One where I had a better quality of life.

It took finding our that a family member has OCD to make me seriously look at my hunches. I brought it up to my therapist, and she gave me an OCD screening. Screenings look different for every illness, and there are multiple ways to diagnose someone. This screening was 15 pages of questions asking me to rate how much different thoughts and activities were problems for me. It was exhausting to fill out and took me many days to complete. My OCD deals less with cleanliness and order, and more with worrying about harm to myself and others, perfectionism and the everyday thoughts I have. This time around with a new diagnosis, I have a positive attitude and look to the future with hope. Because the actual diagnosis doesn’t change anything going on with me mentally, it just better explains my brain and allows me to get the help I need to build a better life for myself.

With proper medication and therapy, OCD can be managed and allow the patient to go about a more normal life. Lucky for me, I have actually gone through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a wonderful therapy that helps patients understand their thoughts and feelings that influence behavior. I have a meeting with my psychiatrist next week to discuss medication. I have wonderful support and I’m feeling okay with the diagnosis. I still feel that shame and fear, but I know I’ll make it through.