When the idea of going into a psychiatric facility was first suggested to keep me safe from myself, I met it with a healthy dose of reluctance.
Barring the occasional visit to my GP and taking some low dose antidepressants, I’d been dealing with my depression all on my own for 30 years. I don’t think I’d even allowed my wife to know the full extent of my suffering.
The thought of voluntarily allowing other people access to the inner recesses of my mind had my inner critic up in arms:
You don’t want to do that. They’re only going to judge you. Stick with me, I’ve been with you all these years. You don’t need anyone else. They don’t know you like I do.
Those were the thoughts running through my head the night before I was admitted.
This lead me to the very ignorant belief that I would go in for a couple of days, pop a few pills, talk to a therapist for a bit and that would be it. Bob’s your uncle and off I’d go on my merry way to carry on suffering on my own.
That is not what happened.
I’ve previously recounted how my first few days went. All I’ll add is that after five days ‘inside’, I found myself at rock bottom. I was broken in ways I never even thought possible. Turns out the people who were caring for me were almost a little too good at their jobs.
They managed to get right past all of my defences to all the juicy stuff that I’d been repressing and suppressing for most of my adult life. And once my defences were down there was no stopping the deluge of emotional pus and poison that had been festering inside of me.
And so, after being broken down so effectively, they began the challenging job of trying to rebuild me.
In the beginning, I’ll admit, I was little more than a passive observer. All I really wanted to do was crawl under my duvet and forget about everyone and everything. I certainly didn’t want to get involved with the highly structured daily therapy routine that I was given. And I definitely didn’t want to take all the new medications they were throwing at me. It all just seemed like too much effort and my inner critic certainly didn’t think I was worth all the fuss.
Thankfully for me, my wife and all the therapy staff disagreed and I was actively encouraged, cajoled and even bribed with muffins if I just gave everything a try.
In the end I promised that I would give it a go. I even gave my wife a pinky swear that I would do a full week of therapy. And everyone knows you can’t go back on one of those.
I think even then I only did it to get people to just leave me alone. But looking back now, I can see that it really did change my life (for the better, obviously).
I’ve done a lot of jobs in my time. But I can honestly say that the 9 to 5 of learning all about different therapy techniques and partaking in multiple psychotherapy sessions everyday left me more physically and mentally exhausted than I’d ever been before.
I’ll never forget my first group therapy session. I found myself in a room with five complete strangers, who were all at different stages of recovery. There was also a therapist who made it clear they weren’t there to give us all the answers. All the hard work had to come from us.
It was an intimidating experience. Before it started, I told myself that as it was my first group I’d just sit back and see what it was all about before I got involved.
Within 20 minutes of the session starting I was completely in awe of the openness and honesty of the group. There were some truly heartbreaking stories. These were met with nothing but kindness and compassion from the group members. There was no judgement or derision. I found myself wanting to do something, anything, to help these people.
Part of me hated myself in those moments. To me, these were people with genuine problems and they needed help so much more than me. Guilt almost consumed me. I couldn’t even comprehend the pain that some of them were suffering.
But then the group’s attention fell on me. I initially tried to brush it aside; surely there were other people that needed the time more than me. I felt like a fraud.
But they made it clear that everyone deserved to have their time, no matter what they were there for. I was actively encouraged to open up about myself.
Needless to say, when I began I had no intention of letting my guard down so easily. But a strange thing happened. When I started talking I found that I couldn’t stop. It was like someone had turned on a tap in my mind and stuff I’d been bottling up for years came flooding out.
So, 45 minutes later I’d effectively told the entire group my life story and I was crying my eyes out. It was then I realised why there were so many tissue boxes lying around.
At the end of the group I was drained, both emotionally and physically. But I felt good, lighter somehow. The other group members were so supportive. Knowing that other people had been where I was during that session and seeing how they had gotten to a place of acceptance gave me comfort.
Still, part of me fought back. It was then I came to the harsh realisation that the battle ahead of me wasn’t going to be won overnight.
But I’d made a significant breakthrough that day. And that victory, however small, was a huge step in the right direction.