Two or three days into my partial hospitalization program, it became clear to me that my peers were seeing positive results. At check-in, those closest to leaving would report feeling “good”, or “light”- two sensations that are unfamiliar to my depressed brain. I was glad that they were feeling better, and initially, it gave me a glimmer of hope for myself.
As the days passed, that hope dimmed; I wasn’t feeling much better at all. In fact, as my last day approached, I started feeling lower and lower. My thoughts about self-harm came back in full force, and when I tried to use the skills we’d been taught to combat them, I was unsuccessful. Morning check-in was even more excruciating than usual because I had to admit that I wasn’t doing well. The people who had come before me had felt better, so what was I doing wrong?
For one thing, I wasn’t doing anything “wrong”. The psychiatrist and both therapists for the program all agreed that the root cause of my depression is chemical. This doesn’t mean that coping skills are useless. They can help keep me safe and offer healthier alternatives to my go-to, maladaptive coping mechanisms. Over time, I can retrain my brain to help me get out of negative thought patterns or habits. However, coping skills are unlikely to do much to address the causative problem.
Secondly, there is no right pace for recovery. Comparing myself to others was only making me feel worse. That said, it’s only natural that we look to others to find out what to expect when we’re in an unfamiliar situation. I wish I had been able to temper my expectations when comparing myself to others in partial hospitalization.
Just because I didn’t leave partial walking on air doesn’t mean I “failed”. I still got a lot out of the experience.
Similar to my experience of being an inpatient at a mental hospital, one of the most valuable takeaways for me was the sense of connection I had with other patients. Hearing about other people’s perspectives on a shared experience helped me gain insight into my own thoughts and behaviors. Plus, it feels good to talk to people who understand your suffering and can empathize. I definitely came away from the ten-day program feeling less alone.
A sense of my own value
The first few days of my participation in the PHP, I was there for my family. I was there because other people wanted me to be, and I was willing to commit my time to a program like that in order to ease my family’s fears. A few days ago, though, I realized that I felt more like I was there for myself. It was a subtle shift, but it feels like a big step.
Throughout my inpatient hospitalization and partial hospitalization, I had several moments that stopped me in my tracks. The fact that I was at that level of care for my mental illness seemed surreal, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the situation. I think that I have a better grasp on my symptoms and what I need to do to keep them under control. I also have a sense of acceptance that once I feel better, I’ll still need to manage my illness; I won’t be able to push returning symptoms under the rug. That’s how I ended up in the hospital.
Greater understanding of my patterns and behaviors
While the skills I learned may not address the root of my depression, they certainly help me shift my behavior towards healthy responses and actions. Perhaps the biggest behavioral takeaway for me is greater awareness of how I withdraw, isolate, and avoid addressing the issue of my depression with my loved ones.
No, I didn’t leave partial hospitalization feeling like my peers who had left before me. Everyone goes at their own pace, and everyone has unique circumstances and factors involved in their symptoms. All we can do is go day by day.