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.