July 2, 2016

What a Year out of a Mental Hospital Really Feels Like.

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A year ago, I was discharged from a private mental health facility.

I was there to receive treatment for depression and anxiety.

Today, I chose to celebrate early by “comforter crawling,” as I call it. I woke up, made coffee, fed the dog, and went back to bed. Now, the house is a mess, and frankly I don’t give a sh*t. I have walked past the same dead roses for two days and I can’t seem to summon the will to discard them.

I have no inclination to do the mundane tasks at hand.

Yes, the sun is shining and I am well aware it. I concede. It is. So why don’t I feel any better? Because I suffer from depression and anxiety—an illness that is not conditional upon the weather report.

I suspect if I had cancer, or even the flu for that matter, the sun would not make a goddamn bit of difference, so why presume that this illness is different from any other? People do nonetheless. There are mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where mood is in face affected by the seasons and lack of light But that is not the case for people with major depressive disorder, like me. For me, the summer can actually exacerbate my symptoms. It’s a reminder of all the things, things I could be doing outside that I enjoy. But I’m not.

So In bed, I scroll through my favourite sites looking for quotes and articles of affirmation to counter the negative self-talk in my head about all the meaningful ways I should be “romanticizing” this accomplishment. I choose to reach out to the secret Facebook group of “Nutty Grads.” As a psych patient I can say that without being offensive. I know that many of us are struggling. Others are doing phenomenally well.

Sarcasm is the maladaptive defence mechanism we learn as patients—you will never meet a better bunch of laugh out loud comedic folks than in a mental hospital. I equally encountered kindness and acceptance and honesty. To my surprise, all 38 patients were by far the most “normal” men and women I have ever met in my life thus far. Eight of us graduated a year ago: two students, a nurse, social worker, a teacher, a team leader, a police officer and a homemaker. Two gents did not receive a ceremony and certificate, after succumbing to addiction, a week prior to completion and what a tragedy that was. It hurt to see them fall. All of us. No judgement. No condemnation. We only had unwavering and unconditional compassion for each other.

Illnesses such as these do not discriminate. It knows no colour, race, religion social, or economic position, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, or age. During my stay there were slightly more men than women. This surprised me. My theory: men are conditioned to not talk about their mental health and thus they find means to self-medicate, be it work, sex gambling, avoidance. This is not say that women don’t posses negative coping. Rather, that some women they may find it more socially acceptable to talk and reach out for help sooner. The beauty of being there was that it was acceptable for all of us. Outside the bubble. The world has not been so kind to people like us. 

In retrospect, I suppose I should give myself more credit. One year ago I was unable to drive and barely leave the house from agoraphobia. Now I can operate a motor vehicle within a safe distance from home (though my children, beg to differ.) I have attended functions with family and friends often without bailing. Most days, I shower, get dressed and try to venture out somewhere each day. This may sound unusual but for someone with depression, this is a monumental task. I generally complete my to do list for the day. I seem to be sleeping better with mediation and medication, with less midnight sweat-inducing panic attacks.

It all sounds so trivial and nominal, compared to my life before I became ill and knowing this, perhaps, is what makes it so f*cking hard.

So today I salute all of us fighting this illness on the road to healing. That terrain is rocky, unpredictable and not easy to navigate.

Honour you journey, my friends.

One year out of hospital.

“I am not where I want to be but thank God I am not where I used to be.” ~ Joyce Meyers

Just for today…that is enough.

Arms open wide.


Author: Christina Lepore

Image: Christiaan Tonnis / Flickr

Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Renée Picard

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