To say that I received the greatest care imaginable during my hospital stay would be an understatement. From Intake Counselors, to Nurses, to Psychiatrists, to Social Workers, to Occupational Therapists, to fellow patients, I was cared for with kindness, compassion, non-judgement, and respect. The value in this alone, particularly when one is in such a vulnerable state of being, is of critical importance and sets the foundation for the journey of healing and recovery. Now I also needed to show up and do the work, relative to the myriad of resources offered up to me and I will admit at times the work was beyond excruciating. For the first little while it would have appeared I was getting my shit together. I got up early everyday; did yoga for an hour or more; grabbed my Timmies (once I had my off-ward privileges); ate brekkie, lunch, and dinner, even though I had no appetite; ran on the treadmill; participated in the vast majority of group sessions; met with my Psychiatrist and Nurses daily; interacted with and supported the other patients; walked the ward constantly to “keep moving”; did more yoga in the afternoon; read oodles, and for all intents and purposes gave the appearance of improvement. There were very few tears and I really believed I was getting stronger everyday. I was a “model” patient.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the above was really good self-care work. But, and this is a really big BUT, I was missing the boat on one very key aspect of my recovery; addressing my mental-emotional well-being and I was in the mental health ward! It took a specific incident to make me aware of this gap in my thought process and behavior. As I mentioned earlier I participated in literally all of the group sessions with one exception, music therapy. Being the Highly-Sensitive-Empath that I am music has the capacity to stir my soul deeply and crack my heart wide open. When I am in the throes of navigating depression my greatest fear is doing just that, as the magnitude of my feelings are so incredibly overwhelming that I believe I may not survive them. Hence I avoid music with everything I have got! One particular evening I was asked to join the music therapy group. Firstly, it was acoustic guitar, which is definitely a no-go for me, and secondly it was in a small room jammed with people and the claustrophobic me was digging in her heels too. I politely declined, stating that “unless it’s going to be hard core rock and put a skip in my step I’m out.” The facilitator tried to entice me saying that there would all styles of music, including rock, but I was like “NOPE, not doing it”. I did, however, agree to a compromise; walking the hallway so that I could listen from afar. At the first twang of the guitar I felt the tears prick and by the end of my first lap the tears were streaming. I did, however, keep walking.
Now earlier that day, I also had my second session with my Occupational Therapist (OT) and she had been introducing me to a form of therapy called Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT). We were doing some very good work together and the focus in that particular session was on Self-Awareness. I was given homework, completed brilliantly of course, as again I was a ” model” patient. In fact I had created this beautiful circle graph, very colorful and pretty, depicting the various events that precipitated “The Perfect Storm” and my consequent segue into the darkness.
My third session with my OT was the very next day, on the coattails of my music therapy extravaganza. My Psychiatrist joined us for the first part of the session and I explained to them both what had unfolded for me whilst participating indirectly in group the previous night. I explained the music did me in and resulted in my walking and crying, crying and walking. My Psychiatrist then said to my OT,
“Do you hear that? There is the event, that illicites the response ie. crying, but no explanation of what the feelings are that go with it, there is this gap.”
My OT nodded her head in agreement. I was asked what I was feeling when listening to the music and I thought about it (really hard I might add) and I had nothing. Busted. I remember my Psychiatrist sighing vehemently and then saying, “This is why you are seeing a shrink!” At which point he departed us. Cue the tough love. The session continued and I proudly presented my homework. My OT studied it with great attentiveness and asked me some pretty poignant questions, which I dug very deep to answer and which inevitably resulted in kicking open the floodgates. She looked at me with great compassion and said, “Julie, you have done a really good job putting your thoughts to paper here, having reviewed it I would like to suggest that a great deal of what you are choosing not to face or feel is grief. Do you think that is possible?” And well, that was the tipping point. At the word GRIEF I let go; physically, mentally, emotionally, the sobbing literally wracking my body and the awareness of the grief an explosion in my brain. My OT simply held the space for me to surrender to it all. No judgement, simply presence, patience and a whole lot of genuine care. I had been in the hospital for almost three weeks and it was the first time I had given myself permission to sit with, and feel, every agonizing, gutting loss. It was a significant leap in my healing; I discovered that I could hang out in “The Gap” and survive. I learned later there had been a supportive celebration between my OT and Nurses, as they had all been awaiting my breaking down of the fortress in which I had sequestered myself; what a wonderful thing to have cheerleaders.
Over three months later, more time spent playing in The Gap; more learning, more progress, more healing, more recovery. Is it still hard? YES. I still have some pretty down moments, even days. What’s the difference? I am managing the difficult emotions more effectively and they are no longer lingering or asserting themselves to the degree they were doing so in the acute stages of my depression. So YES it is getting easier. Am I grateful? Am I hopeful? Excited about the future? Do I see possibility? Do I dare to dream? A big, beautiful YES to all that and then some. I am getting so much better at sitting authentically in the tough stuff, facing it and feeling it in real time, so that years later it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass! I am also celebrating what a gift it is to feel and to experience this life so deeply, with healthy boundaries to boot. This is the magic of full throttle living and I am feeling more freedom in all aspects of my being and becoming more me than I’ve ever been.
Gratitude. Love. Namaste.