It’s been just over two months since I was discharged from a psychiatric hospital.
I’ve spoken a lot about my time as an inpatient, and hopefully I’ve shown how supportive and useful it can be.
It provided me with a safe haven when I needed it most. And the intensive program of psychotherapy and mental health education gave me the knowledge and tools to effectively manage my illness.
It helped save my life and get me back on my feet so I could function in my life again.
But from day one I was given a very clear message. It was just the beginning of a process. It was the first step on a journey that was going to require hard work and commitment.
I was told, quite bluntly, by several of my therapists that by the time I left hospital I wasn’t going to be magically cured. I wouldn’t leave hopping and skipping off into the sunset without a care in the world.
The hospital was there to function as a secure and supportive environment. A place where I could be safe, from myself primarily, and where I could start to identify and explore the issues I had.
When I first arrived I was a broken man. I’d given up on myself and I couldn’t even imagine a future with me in it. But when I finally left two months later I was back on my feet and starting to engage with the world again. I felt confident about going back to reality and taking control of my illness for the first time in my life.
But no matter how good I felt, I always remembered the message that had been drilled into me from the beginning. I was still at the start of a long journey. I wasn’t cured and my depression and anxiety hadn’t just gone away. It was still very much a part of me and if I didn’t carry on the good work I’d started in hospital it would soon start to consume me again.
One of my therapists summed it up for me pretty well. He told me to imagine that instead of having a mental illness I’d broken leg instead. When you break a leg you end up in hospital. It takes time to recover. but even when you’re ready to leave hospital you still need to be careful. You can’t just go back to normal because your leg’s still weak. You might need physiotherapy. You certainly couldn’t run a marathon. Even walking properly is a struggle. If you try to do too much too soon you might damage your leg even more than it already was.
You think nothing of taking the time you need to recover from a broken leg so why should recovering from a broken mind be any different?
With that advice in mind I decided to take my recovery seriously. After I left the hospital I didn’t want to slip back into bad habits and negative thinking.
To start with I arranged to have weekly outpatient sessions with one of the therapists I had been working with during my admission. The fact that I was already familiar and comfortable with my therapist was vital. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a someone you know you can work with. I’ve had therapy before and I just didn’t click with the person and as a result I felt I couldn’t be as honest as I needed to be. If you’re holding yourself back and not opening up then you won’t be getting the full benefits of therapy.
My weekly sessions have been vital to my continuing recovery. Being able to talk about absolutely anything without fear of judgement or condemnation is incredibly liberating. It’s taught me that it’s ok to be vulnerable sometimes and that no one is ever going to judge me as harshly as I judge myself.
I still see my psychiatrist on a monthly basis and because he’s been with me through this entire experience I have no problem discussing any issues I may have. He’s seen me at my very worst and with his continued support I’m hoping that one day he’ll see me at my very best as well. With his help I feel I finally have a good balance between my meds and my continued psychotherapy.
I know antidepressants have been demonised by the media recently. But to me they will always be more than just ‘happy pills’. I see them as a vital tool to help keep my mood stable and my crippling anxiety under control. They’re never going to be a magic cure all, at least not yet, but they do help and for me that’s more than enough.
I’ve also tried to incorporate as many coping techniques as I can into my day to day life. In hospital I learned a lot about CBT and mindfulness and the practical benefits they offer. I’m now so much better at living in the moment and challenging my negative thinking whenever it rears it’s ugly head.
I’ve also built up a really good relationship with my current GP. She has been incredibly supportive and seems genuinely interested in the progress I’m making. I’ve previously had GP’s that were brusque and dismissive, so to have one that actually takes the time to listen to you and offer support and advice is a welcome change.
And as you all know, I started blogging about my journey. Not only has writing about my experiences been incredibly therapeutic, I’ve also received amazing feedback from people. The fact that something I was writing for myself has actually helped others is incredibly rewarding.
And through it all my amazing wife has been the lifeline I so desperately needed in the darkest days. One of my strongest fears is that my illness might destroy our marriage but I believe that going to hell and back has only made us stronger. She continues to inspire me to embrace the life I know I deserve.
In the two months since I was discharged I’ve made amazing progress even if sometimes I can’t see it. Depression can really affect your perceptions in a negative way. I still have bad days, and to me these bad days make it hard for me to remember all the good days that came before. But I’m so much better at recognising that now, and in recognising it I can try and deal with it.
In no way do I think I’m ‘cured’. I still suffer from depression and I most likely always will, but now I have the tools and the knowledge to lessen its impact on my life.
I now have hope for the future. And the fact that I can actually imagine a future at all is proof that the darkness doesn’t have to win.