Do you remember the essays we used to have to write in school, at the beginning of the year? Explaining what we did over our summer vacation? Well, this is how I spent my summer vacation in 2017. But it’s not what you’d expect and it’s certainly not as exciting as one would hope.
The word to describe that summer vacation was… pivotal. I changed a lot that summer and it was the part of the driving force behind what was to come.
After I was released from the hospital the day before Easter, I thought that would be the end of my nightmare. That I could put the events of that weekend behind me and move on, as if they never happened. Little did I know that not only was this not the end, but that I would never be able to truly put it all behind me. That it would live on forever as an integral piece of my story, as scary and shameful as it is.
I met with my psychiatrist maybe a week after this all took place. Obviously he had caught wind of what happened and needed to follow up with me. I thought that this might just involve a slight change to my medication, but that wasn’t the case. He said that I needed to begin a partial hospitalization program as soon as possible at one of the behavioral centers across town.
Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The other part of me couldn’t believe that I was naive enough to think that this would be the end of it. You don’t attempt suicide, ride in the back of a police car, and get hospitalized only for your doctor to drop it and move on. It was evident that I needed more help than my periodic visits with my therapist and psychiatrist could provide. I needed something more intensive. A program where I would spend my days and learn to live like a functional human being who doesn’t want to be dead.
I thought I had moved past those suicidal thoughts, the ones that got me in the situation to begin with. But then at the thought of reliving everything, they all came flooding back. I would rather die than address the level of pain that I had experienced, that I had forced my children to experience. It was over. I simply couldn’t go through it again, ruminating on the details of the worst night of my life.
And yet I would. While I was technically not being forced into the program involuntarily, I was sort of not being given a choice. So he made some phone calls and set up an intake evaluation for me.
This was the end of April. I was still working at the school, so I thought that I would be able to finish the year and begin the program after that. But that was not the case. The therapist who evaluated me determined that I needed to start the following week and that I would be there four days a week, all day, for the entirety of the summer (assuming the insurance company agreed). In case anyone isn’t aware, that is A LOT of therapy.
So I had to go back to work, only to let the principal and my team know that I was going to have to leave before the end of the year. Again, I felt like an inconvenience. A burden. And these are the sorts of thoughts that had gotten me in this mess in the first place. But for once, I was going to do my best to forget about everyone else and focus on getting myself the help that I obviously needed.
I drove across town and started the partial hospitalization program the following week. I was going to be there from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, four days a week. When I arrived, the therapist assigned to my case showed me around and got me acclimated. She gave me a folder full of information, including our schedule for the week. It was a lot to process, but I was ready to get going in hopes of beginning some sort of recovery. From what I battled every day. From the nightmare that I had experienced a month before.
My days involved classes on specific subjects. Co-dependency, communication skills, types of medications, grief, the science behind specific disorders, and the class that resonated with me the most… anger. I knew that anger was the emotion that I needed to learn to control. It stemmed from my mania, but that wasn’t a free pass to behave how my brain was telling me to. I had to rewire it… create new pathways to override what already existed. Does that sound like a difficult process? Because it is. You have no idea just how much work it is, how exhausting it is. But I was ready to put in the work. I needed to put in the work.
I also had two hours of group therapy every day. That might have been more challenging than anything else. Not only did I have to listen to the stories of others, I had to share my own. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal parts of me and my past that I would have preferred to keep hidden away. But again, this was all part of the process. And it showed me that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Other people were battling bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness. Other people had attempted suicide. Other people had made rash decisions due to their ilnesses.
There were days when I came home feeling lighter, after unloading the weight of the pain I was carrying. But there were more days where I came home completely wrecked, after tapping into emotions and trauma that I had been suppressing. I still have therapy sessions like that now, so I try not to plan too much on Saturdays because I never know how I’m going to feel when I come home.
The day that I found out that I was officially completing the program and being discharged, I cried. I had bonded with the other patients and my therapists. I had learned to depend on my new support system and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through my day to day responsibilities without it. I didn’t feel ready. But my therapists were confident that based on everything that I had learned and how I had progressed over the weeks, that I would be okay. I just had to find the confidence within myself to believe that, too.
I didn’t really get the sort of summer that I wanted. No vacations, very little sleeping in, not much family time, not many outings with friends. But I got the summer that I needed. It was heavy and hard and exhausting. But it was life changing. And even though things were still far from perfect (as evident by later events), I gained coping skills that I still use now. They help me live as close to what can be considered “normal” for someone who has bipolar disorder. And I will never be the same as I was before that summer.
I may not have been to a theme park that summer, but it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.