I feel fragile, but ready to go,” she said. As a rule of group therapy, all patients being discharged share how they feel and their plans for continued healing beyond the program.
I looked at her, then at the other hopeful faces sitting at the table beside me. As she spoke excitedly about starting her new job at Wegmans the next day, her voice began to fade and then was completely drowned out.
The voice in my head was getting louder, more frantic. “Why are you here again? You’re not supposed to be here. You’ve been accepted to medical school, you’re going to be a doctor, not a patient. When will you be ready to leave? When will you be fixed? That’s ridiculous, it’s your first day here! No, plan to get back to the real world ASAP.”
I somehow managed to push those toxic thoughts away and resurface back to the present. I reminded myself that it was Tuesday, April 3, and it was my first day at the partial hospitalization program in the adult day hospital at Sheppard Pratt.
Sheppard Pratt is a psychiatric and behavioral health hospital here just five miles north of our Homewood Campus, which provides varying levels of mental healthcare including crisis intervention, intensive outpatient services, partial hospitalization and 24-hour inpatient care, all depending on the needs of the patient.
The program in which I was enrolled is voluntary and designed for folks who are battling mental illness and may be at risk of self-harm, including suicide.
Each day began at 8:30 a.m. with a check-in with my assigned nurse, then an hour of group therapy and then four psychoeducation classes centered on various topics, including anger management, challenging cognitive distortions through techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, maintaining healthy relationships, fighting the stigma against mental illness in our everyday lives, finding healing through nature and more.
As my first group therapy session went on, I thought about why I was there.
For months prior, I had been taking medication and been seeing a therapist for my depression, but neither the medication nor the therapy was helping me recover from it to the degree that I wanted.
Moreover, neither had addressed my anxiety or PTSD at all. In the weeks leading up to my admission to Sheppard Pratt, I had felt extremely angry and irritable; my sleep was restless and fraught with nightmares of childhood trauma; I started isolating myself more from my friends, skipping class to sleep and feeling increasingly worthless. And just two nights before my admission, I had begun to formulate a plan to take my own life. I felt broken and lost.
So I arrived in Sheppard Pratt with the hope that the hospital would take me straight to recovery, but it did something far more powerful for me.
My providers and peers in the program gave me the metaphorical paper and pencil to begin to draw my own path to that recovery. They showed me the patience, love, warmth, kindness and positive encouragement I needed to remember the value of my life and to start on that path. They taught me the techniques and gave me the resources to use to fight inevitable obstacles along the way, like my catastrophic thinking patterns, anxiety attacks and more. And most importantly, they reminded me to be patient with myself, because taking a few steps backward — relapsing — could be a natural part of the journey.
“I feel fragile, but ready to go,” I said in group therapy last Friday. Since then, I have come back to the real world and have made a little more progress each day. I have found a new therapist and psychiatrist who keep me on track. I am leaning on my wonderful family, friends and professors for love and good vibes, for which I am forever grateful. I am especially grateful to my mom, who is the light that shines relentlessly even in the darkest corners of my path. And most importantly, I am learning to trust and believe that with time, I can become and sustain a happier, healthier me.