I fully confess and admit that I was a skeptic of this whole process when I admitted here 2 months ago. Years of therapy and medications had not improved my life with depression - if anything, the older I got the worse my illness became, despite continued treatment. What difference could three months possibly make? I thought it was quite logical to settle into a hopeless view of my future being plagued by depressive episodes - I though I was being realistic. Also, going to Tennessee of all places felt so dramatic and completely … random. Every time the phrase, “I’m going to a program in TN,” left my lips in response to some question, I could feel myself almost shaking my head. Tennessee?! Tennessee … what on earth was I thinking?!
To be honest, I really wasn’t. I wasn’t making any real decisions, just acquiescing to suggestions and following my parents’ and doctor trains of thought. I remember saying to my therapist in out first individual session, “ I’ve never liked individual therapy, or found it particularly helpful to do this “processing” you speak of. Nothing against you personally, but I don’t expect to change - even if I wanted to.” It makes me smile to myself to think back on that now being able to see in hindsight the “hmm, ‘kay, we’ll see about that” look behind her response.
While I threw myself into the program and projects enthusiastically, my drive came from a place of desperately trying to drown out the nagging doubt and self-fulfilling prophecies heckling the edges of tenuous resolve. But will this really work? How will I really know I’m “actually” better? When will I start to believe and feel those things that I can rationalize in my head, but not my soul? Aren’t I just deluding myself with all of this positivity? Nothing I’ve done in the past, no matter how dramatic, has made a permanent and lasting change in my life, so why should this? What if this doesn’t “work” and I find I’ve just wasted a massive amount of money? And on …
Oh how things have changed! And yet, I feel more familiar and ”me” than ever before. There was no single “Eureka!” moment, but I was on pass in California, and my ex-boyfriend, who I hadn’t spoken with in two years, reached out to say “Hi.” It was completely unexpected and invited in a flood of emotions, including a complete stranger: the urge to talk and process all of those feelings! My mother was completely taken aback when I shared that in our family session. “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?!” she laughed.
The second was less pointed and more of a gradual grounding: the second week I was in Poncho we were assigned the book, “The Art of Confident Living.” I have read a lot of books (word nerd alert! J), but this was the first time I flipped the last page over and “felt reading this has actually changed my life.” Not only did it solidify some spiritual beliefs I had been seeking to ground, but it also led me to being able to differentiate between myself and all the emotions, sensations, thoughts, and urges that pass through me. I started using the “CEO Boardroom” visualization to help me identify and label my thoughts and emotions, and the new perspective has been exhilarating. The book and the discussions we had that week in Poncho also helped me to realize in my own head and heart that “selfishness” is, in fact, selflessness. One cannot be truly altruistic or compassionate if one is not self-confident and self-loving or able to emotionally regulate. Those qualities aren’t necessarily innate - they require cultivation through hard work and sensitizing introspection. I found I no longer felt guilty for the time and money I was spending here, because all this work was going to allow me to give back to the world even more in the future.
Just this past week has it really hit home that I have, in fact, learned and retained the skills I’ll need to stay well after I leave Brookhaven. Reading “Soothe” for Poncho I found I learned nothing new - rather I “mhmm-ed” and “yepped” and nodded to myself as I read through the author’s tips and suggestions for wellness, frequently noting in the margins when a DBT skill was being described! Several kudos cards I received the past few weeks praised me for being a “DBT inspiration” and role-model for dedication, the program, and wellness. I was first floored, then all warm and fuzzy.
All this verbiage really comes down to the fact that I don’t feel I’ve changed “me” - now I am more of “me,” enlightened and aware “me.” I don’t yet know if this program has changed my life - I’ll have to get back to living it before I can decide on that. My time here has, however, been a renaissance for all that I am and aspire to be. To use Jacqueline’s hardware/software metaphor, in the beginning I blamed my hardware for the family functioning and glitches to the system, never realizing that my software was full of viruses, malware, and desperately in need of an update.
Now, I have cleaned out those viruses and malware, started appreciating my hardware, gotten my software updated and ready to hum, and put in place those programs, apps, and security settings that I’ll need to keep things running into the future and protect myself from the viruses and malware that will inevitably try to worm their way back in, I got mad SKILLZ now!
Finally, I want to thank all of y’all. Yes, the clients’ success here ultimately comes down to our own resolve, but you all play an integral role in helping to steer and support that resolve. From our therapists in the thick of things, to the PCs who I constantly pestered for scissors. scissors, and more scissors, to you many administrators who work so diligently behind the scenes to the adorable bandana twins of the kitchen, the sweet and smiling pink ladies, and the endlessly patient and helpful front office heroes: all your love, support, and leading by example has been an essential part of my healing journey. You are all so committed and dedicated to the roles you play in this community and I feel fortunate to have witnessed the power that comes from a group of women (Equine, Security, and Maintenance honorarily included J) working to share their passion and knowledge for the betterment of others.