That sounds terrible reading, hey?
It’s not, actually. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my mental health.
At the end of March, I was diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder, also known as MDD, by a psychologist at Vista Clinic.
What can I say? It’s still hard to face the truth, even when it’s right there staring at you.
I sat in that session thinking to myself that I couldn’t have depression. Everyone had their up and down days, it was normal. But as we kept talking dipping deeper into past issues, it became more evident that there was a problem.
‘Problem’ sounds like such a bad word to use. But look at it from the context it’s in. The processes in my brain aren’t wired to handle certain situations right.
Instead of seeing a problem and finding a solution, I fixate on the worst of it and bury myself in the negativity. Instead of talking about how I feel, I close up from everyone and fester within myself.
While I show a smile to the world, inside I feel the opposite. And it’s a lonely place. Because you feel like you’re the only one feeling this way. You feel like you can’t talk to anyone because no one will understand. And you don’t talk because you’ve been let down in the past.
I’ve been harboring emotions and feelings from my past for 10 years. Stuff from my past that I had buried away. Waking up many mornings and telling myself that I’m okay, that it won’t affect my life.
It works to an extent only. Sometimes we want to believe it works because we don’t want to face the other side. We don’t want to relive memories that we fight so hard to let go of. But there are always triggers; inappropriate jokes, movie plots, news, objects. We can’t escape it, no matter how hard and fast we run, because it has a way of finding you, creeping up in the worst of times, reminding you of a time you want to forget.
Besides the past, there are other stress triggers in each and every day. We can’t escape them; they’re there.. part of life… The biggest one always being the financial one. Then there’s health, and work, and education, and other parenting things, and marriage, and family, and friends. Those are the ones besides the spontaneous ones that keep up on you when you least expect them, and worst, when you least need them.
This year kicked off in a shitty direction. First, it was Hubby Byren’s two medical conditions diagnosed. On the very same day – he was in a car accident. While he was okay, thank goodness, our car wasn’t. It was a complete write-off and we were without a car for almost two months before we were able to get another one. There was financial stress. Uber is great to use… But not for everyday use, as well as driving up and down for other reasons. We never had to budget for it so it took a huge chunk of our monthly budget for Hubby Byren to be able to get to work and back. During this time one of our friends, and Hubby Byren’s Rugby Coach passed away.
Not long after we finally had a car again, I decided to wean Cay off the breast. Which didn’t work out at all, so I went cold turkey with her, and even though I was pumping out every few hours (before I could get the pill to dry up your milk as I didn’t know you needed a script for it), it felt like I was losing the cold turkey battle as well. Then after taking the pill, I got mastitis (milk fever) and had to wait a week before taking a second dosage. I was also told not to pump out after drinking the first one, which resulted in very painful breasts and some tears from me as I struggled to do everyday things.
As you can imagine, the rush of everything piling on and on creating a crack… Or a black hole of emotional pressure and something snapped in me.
And so, I ended up as a patient at a psychiatric hospital. Initially, the psychologist wanted me to only be an out-patient, coming in for sessions every week to talk and to work through all the negative influences and emotions that I kept harboring inside.
I decided to become an in-patient to give the therapy I needed to receive the full advantage. Coming in once a week wouldn’t allow me to fully focus on myself and my path to healing and recovery, because as soon as I would head home, the same lifestyle and stress would be waiting for me. I wouldn’t be focused on what was important for me, at the stage.
I didn’t tell everyone at that time that I was in the clinic because I wasn’t ready to face all the questions and the explanations people would want to hear upon finding out where I was. Only a few close and trusted people in my life knew, and I cannot tell you how great the support was from those folks. Not because I expected them to, but because they wanted to. People tend to surprise us in uncomfortable situations. Most of us run away and don’t want to get involved in other people’s drama. That’s why I didn’t expect many to understand what was going on nor expected their support in the situation.
We tend to avoid what we don’t understand and mental health is such a taboo subject to some that they would look the other way immediately, which is fine. Each to their own. So when I received the amazing support from the people I least expected it, it was an overwhelming feeling and gave me a boost in my mental health journey. Even today, their support hasn’t withered.
Since then, it’s been going good and okay. Change doesn’t come around overnight and make everything better. It’s a journey, a process, every single day. There are good ones and there are bad ones, and it’s how you deal with triggers and circumstances that make the rest of the journey manageable. I’m currently on an antidepressant to help manage my moods and give me some control and stability over them. They work to an extent because, at the end of the day, it’s also in your hands to pull yourself together.
Some days I win, some days I don’t.
Everyone has their own story to tell and this is mine.
I want to share some of my experiences from my stay at the clinic; what I learned from the clinic about myself, from others and what I’ve taken from it as the journey continues.
Having a great support system is crucial
As I mentioned above, I had an amazing support system. Yet you still need to have that ONE person who supports you day and night while you’re working through things. For me, it was Hubby Byren who listening to every good and bad moment. He even had a session of his own with my psychiatrist so he could have a better understanding of my diagnosis and how to help me when things get a little too out of control.
Attend your designated classes
I’m not going to lie. Some of the classes you’re assigned to are boring. They’re very straight-forward and usually about things you already know. But you don’t really have a choice. You have an attendance schedule that needs to be signed at each class which is later reviewed to see that you’re getting all the benefits of the therapy you need to get. There were some great classes I attended like Music Therapy, Relaxation Therapy and all the Occupational Therapy classes which were really interesting and had a big impact on how I did things and how I felt.
Rooms and bags aren’t searched
After being admitted, it took me an hour to unpack my bags and get comfortable in my room. I sat waiting on my bed for a nurse to come in and search through my belongings to see that nothing illegal or threatening was brought onto the premises. Hollywood really does make some things scarier than they are (Girl, Interrupted, much). While I’m not saying it can’t happen at other facilities, at Vista, the nurses put their trust in you to hand over anything dangerous if needed. I also expected room searches to be done during my stay, but that didn’t happen unless there was a suspicious reason.
Lots of nurse check-ups
When you’re admitted, the head nurse sits down with you and goes through a pretty long checklist to determine what state of mind you’re in upon arriving at the clinic and find out what kind of lifestyle habits you follow. It doesn’t end there. During your stay, you’re called in a couple of times for updates and little chats so they can put everything on record and give the information over to your psychiatrist, so there is open communication and progress reports between the different parties. Sometimes, it didn’t bother me, and then were the times when you’ve had a long and hard day, and the last thing you want to do is answer the same questions you did two days before.
Understand that everyone there wants to help you
While I can’t speak for other patients there, I understood that everything that is done during your stay by every staff member is to help you. I won’t lie and say that sometimes it felt like the complete opposite. When you’re having a bad day, and you feel like everyone there is out to get you and make your stay horrible. It’s really not like that. The staff really do care and they want to see you get and feel better.
Listen and cooperate
If you want to make your own stay ‘easy’ and comfortable, listening and following the rules is key. There were certain rules there you had to follow, and not following and being arrogant would work against you. Everything is recorded. Everything is communicated. Every little bad thing you do could affect your opportunity to be discharged earlier if you have a chance of that. I kept my head down, attended all my classes, attended all my therapy sessions and did the assigned ‘homework’. Thanks to that, my psychiatrist discharged me four days earlier than the full three-week stay because I understood why I was there, and I did what was expected and needed.
You feel guilt being there
While you’re at the clinic, life outside those walls goes without you. Being a mama and a wife, I felt guilty being at the clinic because I had responsibilities that I wasn’t getting to. Yet something inside me kept reminding me that this was for the best and there was a reason I had to be away; to look after myself and to get me better.
Give yourself time and space
Results don’t appear overnight. You’re not going to be healed after two or three days of classes and therapy and a good night’s sleep. Give yourself time to adjust to the new environment, time to feel all the feelings you need to, time to work through issues and space to do so. Every small step counts.
With the nurses, your therapists and most importantly-yourself. You can’t find a starting point to start the journey if you’re not being truthful. By laying everything out on the table, you help not only yourself but your therapists to get to the root of the problems you’re having and help them give you guidance.
To other patients, to the staff members. I can only think that the job requirements at such a facility are stressful and demanding, and being kind and polite towards them will make their day pleasant and a little easier. You’ll get all kinds of patients you’ll meet at places as such; some friendly and some not so much, but you can still treat everyone with respect and be polite to all.
Understand your rights
If you feel uncomfortable with anything, speak up. Thinking that whatever you’re told to do is the way to go can actually do more harm than good. It’s a safe place, first of all, but if in any way you feel threatened or unsafe, speak to an official to deal with the situation.
Sleep as much as possible
‘While most people are prescribed sleep medication, I opted not to drink any as I don’t have a problem with sleeping, but I still made sure I got as much sleep as I possibly could. It helped me rest from the previous day’s activities and prepare for the next days. The days are long and busy and it’s easy to feel tired constantly because you don’t really have a lot of downtimes.
Everyone has problems
You walk in there, thinking you’re the only one dealing with this and that. The truth is, every one of us has problems. Some make you think mine aren’t really that bad, and others make you feel like you’re really carrying the world on your shoulders. It’s so important to be kind and respectable to everyone there because everyone has good and bad days, and you end up being a support system to each other as the days go on.
Different patients, different reactions
Some patients will react one way to certain things said and done, while others will be the opposite. It took me a couple of days to learn to not take offense to everyone’s way of thinking and reactions. We’re all different and handle things differently and if you take offense to every situation, you’re going to end up feeling pretty miserable most of the time.
The food isn’t that bad
I thought ‘hospital food’ so prepare for the not so great. Actually, the food wasn’t that good. It was 5-star quality but it was quite enjoyable. The portions were really filling, which was great thinking back to the portions that I was served when I had my hospital stays after the births of my kids. I also brought with some snacks in case I wanted to eat something that made me feel of home, and that also helped a lot on the days I missed lunch because of the hectic schedules.
It’s not a vacation
It really isn’t. You’re there for a reason. To work on yourself, to heal, to get better. While you have some free time to do your own thing, the days are packed to the max with classes and therapy sessions. Starting very early in the mornings and having classes until five in the evenings can take a toll on you mentally and physically. While it’s a way to step out of the real world and reality, it’s still not an easy time being there.
“Earn” your way out
As I mentioned before, you attend classes and your therapy sessions, and compulsory courses your psychiatrist assigns you to. Everything gets put on your record, everything is written down and handled to your psychiatrist to see how you’re progressing and if you’re putting in the necessary effort to learn and apply all the resources and tools provided. Of course, they will still discharge you even if you don’t do anything you’re supposed to, but really, what is the whole point then?
Locked in at 8pm and 10 pm lights out
Yep, it’s like being a kid again. All the doors to the wards are locked at 8pm, and the only people allowed in and out are the doctors, nurses and the cleaning staff. Unless it’s an emergency, you’re stuck inside until 5am the next morning. All TVs automatically switched off at 10pm for lights out, and you were expected to have bathed/showered, take your prescribed medication and be ready for bed before 10pm. Then the nurses would do their rounds to check that all the patients were in bed and all lights were out. Don’t think you can sneak in your phone under the covers and keep yourself busy, because the staff knows how to quietly open the doors to do random checks. They won’t confiscate your phone or anything, you’ll get a warning and maybe a little note in your file about breaking rules.
Bring a book or something to keep you busy
While you are busy from morning until evening, you still have some free time to do your own things. I managed to get some reading done in the early mornings before others woke up and during the time everyone was lining up to take their medication. Instead of standing in a queue for an hour, I’d get comfortable on a couch with a hot beverage, a snack and my book and pass the time by as such. Bringing something to keep busy with also helped wind down from the busy times during the day.
Forget your phone
If you manage to find some time to be on your phone, it’s great but I didn’t. The days were jammed packed and I only responded to crucial messages in between classes or the small breaks we had. Otherwise, everyone else got my attention just before bedtime where I could reply without having to give rushed answers. Otherwise, I stayed off social media completely so that I didn’t have any distractions as I focused on my own journey.
This is a personal one. Be patient with yourself. This is a learning process. You learn about your mental health, you learn about yourself and you learn to cope with and handle whatever is put on your plate. Every day isn’t the same, and you’re pushed to the limits emotionally and mentally when you have to open up about personal experiences, which leaves you drained and you don’t want to go through it again the next day. You’ll feel angry and frustrated with yourself, and you’ll feel like giving up and just going home. Be patient. It’s a journey. It takes time and at the end of the day, it’s worth taking.