My First Experience In a Mental Health Outpatient Facility Was Healing

My First Experience In a Mental Health Outpatient Facility Was Healing

About three months ago, just as summer was coming to a close, I reached my breaking point.

I had been untreated for bipolar disorder for 22 years, and that burden was becoming increasingly heavier.

I had always presented with symptoms of a mood disorder, regularly cycling between deep depressions and dizzying manic states. But this past summer, my symptoms got much more severe. Due to strong neurological reactions that occurred over the course of my Lyme treatment in those months, my bipolar became so severe that I no longer had control over my actions. This manifested in verbally abusive treatment towards my ever-loving partner.

Part of my disorder (when severe or untreated) implies an inability to see reality clearly or connect the dots concerning how my inappropriate actions affected others. And so I unknowingly verbally abused my partner until they brought attention to my behavior bravely and directly. I believed them even if I couldn’t remember the terrible comments because I had been abused in a similar fashion by my bipolar father. Catching myself and changing it, though, was a terribly long and grueling process.

Without medication and intensive therapy, being a good partner while still maintaining functionality in my own life was impossible. I frustratingly realized this as the last weeks of August dragged on until I snapped the first week of September. For an entire week, I experienced mania, depression and high anxiety all at once, all day long. Between my partner’s concern and my own suffering, I was ready to get help.

In the state that I was in, and with the intensity of my symptoms and traumatized past, I quickly learned that seeing a therapist once a week wasn’t nearly enough. I felt so overwhelmed by symptoms that I didn’t feel could properly be addressed in the time frame of just an hour a week.

As I started my new medication (Lithium, Seroquel and Lexapro), I began looking into treatment centers. I knew that I needed a controlled environment to help me manage the more dangerous symptoms like suicidal ideations and anger. I knew I needed a daily routine to keep me sane, as I had only moved back to the small town my parents live in so I could quit my job and focus on healing. But the idea of being in a treatment facility scared me because I haven’t had many positive experiences with mental health professionals. Plus, all those horror movies about asylums and ableist jokes my father would regularly crack in my childhood flooded my mind as I tried to decide which place looked best. I chose a place my partner’s dad had recommended, which also seemed like the cheapest option.

I would never have guessed that the outpatient facility I would soon be admitted into would be a place of such joy and stability for me.

At my intake appointment, the counselors were kind and inviting. My first major breakthrough happened in that first hour, as the survey questions I was asked revealed to me that I was an alcoholic. My pronouns were respected and a note was made about them in my file.

The nature of the facility that I chose implied taking classes taught by counselors on various mental health topics, which basically functioned like group therapy sessions. I carefully planned my own class schedule with my caseworker, settling on 7 classes which included “Managing My Anxiety” and “Developing Mindfulness.”

During an intake, I was pretty anxious thinking about the social aspect as I toured the facility and saw many folks who were much more symptomatic than I was. But on my first day of classes, all that fear washed away. I was greeted warmly by every single person enrolled in the treatment center, and counselors were kind and accommodating to my specific nuances (like my dislike of loud noises or fear of being around angry folks). For the first time, I found myself feeling comfortable enough to regularly participate in a group atmosphere, and I quickly made friends with other people with mood disorders. I bring a notebook to the treatment center, and I’ve already filled it up with useful knowledge and tons of coping skills that I’ve begun utilizing in my own life.

So far, my experience with outpatient treatment has definitely been the best case scenario. I’m already feeling better and am scratching some of the goals I set in intake off my list (like start talking about my PTSD and get my depression under control). But perhaps the most surprising and healing part of this for me is the unconditional way in which everyone in the program accepts me.

The world we live in can be a terrifying place, so feeling accepted and respected for all parts of you (especially the marginalized parts) is pretty magical. My peers regularly check in on how my anxiety is doing, and ask if something they’re saying was triggering to me (and if it was, they apologize). People give me hugs and draw me pictures when I’m feeling down. They listen to me and support me when I open up about traumatic experiences in my life. Most shockingly of all (at least to me), the staff and interns go to great lengths in order to learn about and research trans identities so that they could better understand me, make me feel comfortable in the program, and create a class about gender identity to teach others who attend the program about trans and non binary folks. In a world where I’m so used to apologizing for and explaining my pronouns and identity to people, this is truly the most touching aspect.

I say “surprising” a lot when I discuss the kindnesses I’ve received in this program. I guess I was only surprised because of how I was raised to see what working-class, mentally ill ex-convicts are like. But these lovely people are not dangerous. I feel safe with these people. I can connect with these people, and share a similar goal regarding recovery. I can’t even feel this safe and connected in my own home. And so for that, I’m endlessly grateful for the wonderful friends I’ve made and the amazing counselors I’ve had teach me new skills over the past few months.

Now, my anger, depression, and anxiety is under control. My impulse control has improved, I’ve been sober for months, and socializing is no longer stressful for me. And as I embark on the next three months of my treatment, I can’t wait to see how much more I’ll be able to grow and improve beside the friends I’ve made.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.