Press Pause - Chapter 2
When I first entered my outpatient treatment facility - High Focus - it didn't have a Trauma group. There were two sections - adult and adolescent - and the adults were divided into two tracks - one that dealt with addiction and one that dealt with "mental illness". This chapter was my introduction to the track I was placed on. I realized quickly I didn't fall into any category....
“Mental wounds still screaming; driving me insane. I’m goin’ off the rails on a Crazy Train” - Crazy Train (Ozzy Osborne)
Sexual abuse, physical abuse, suicide, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy; the legacy’s from both sides of my family are quite an impressive list, wouldn’t you agree? On December 12, 2013 my legacy caught up to me, and unmercifully brought me to my knees. It wasn't something that just happened out of the blue; it takes years of being worn down to finally reach a point in your life when you are convinced you have absolutely nothing of value left to offer the world, and everything inside of your heart, mind, and soul goes completely silent. The silly, quick witted, easy going woman with the gut busting laugh was gone, and the very real possibility that I would never see her again was terrifying.
“Good morning, everyone”. A young woman walks in, and doubt immediately sinks in. THIS is Ariel? She’s young enough to be my daughter. THIS is the person who is going to help me? What on earth could this child possibly say or show me that I haven’t already heard, or tried? My hopelessness shoots to DEFCON 4.
“Before we begin I’d like to welcome our new member, Maureen. To make Maureen feel more welcome let’s go around the room, give your name, state the reason you’re here, and give one random fact about yourself.”
I despise this. Why hasn’t introducing ourselves to a room filled with strangers become outlawed? Do I fucking look like I want to hear about anyone else’s issues? I barely got myself out of bed, showered, and brushed my teeth. I’m going deaf from the chaos that has seemingly taken up residence in my mind. What on earth gives Ariel the impression I want someone else’s chaos stopping in for a chat?
The first person to introduce himself is Sean. He is about my age with very dark eyes, a pointed, goateed chin and very well spoken. He chooses his words carefully and deliberately.
“My name is Sean I’m here for anxiety, depression and suicide ideation. A random fact about me is that I am a school principal”.
What did he just say? Did he just say suicide ideation? Does ideation mean he has already attempted suicide, or he’s just thinking about it? I haven’t thought about or attempted suicide. I think someone put me in the wrong group. I can hear my heart beating in my ears and my muscles tensing. I want to stand up and say to Ariel, “I’m sorry, but there’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here. I’m not this sick”. Instead I sit in my fear, my mind racing out of control as another introduction begins.
“My name is Marilyn.” Marilyn is sitting next to Sean. She is around my age, slender, black hair, dressed stylishly and can’t sit still. “I’m also here for anxiety, depression, attempted suicide, and suicide ideation. A random fact about me is that I am a lawyer”.
A school principal and a lawyer, both with suicide ideation? I am momentarily snapped out of my own fear by two random thoughts: if I saw them standing in line at an airport, or supermarket I would never in a million years think they were so troubled; and perhaps I should stop beating myself up for not being someone “more important”, like a principal or lawyer.
I am brought back to what’s going on in the room by the voice of a beautiful 18 year old girl with porcelain skin, flawless make up and bright purple hair. Her clothing and overall persona scream fashionista and I find myself smiling briefly for the first time.
“Hi! My name is Jenna. I’m here for anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and self harm. A random fact about me is that I have an older brother and a younger sister”.
Self harm? She hurts herself? The urge to flee or insist I be put in the correct group is almost uncontrollable. Suicide? Cutting? Mental disorders I have never heard of…I’m not one of “those” people. I’m stronger than this; I’m better than this, right?
“My name is Jackson. I’m here for psychosis and depression”. Jackson is 22 years old and arguably the sweetest looking young man I have ever laid eyes upon. The rich, deep tone in his voice doesn’t match the innocence of his face, but I imagine his shy smile and deep brown eyes melt the hearts of most of the young girls he meets. “A random fact about me is that I play the guitar.”
“May I ask again, because my memory is so bad, what exactly is psychosis?” Marilyn’s leg is shaking at the speed of a thoroughbred running in the Kentucky Derby.
“That’s a great question Marilyn, and we’ll be learning all about the various mental illnesses each of you suffers from during our education sessions. Without getting too in depth, in the simplest terms psychosis is when you have lost all sense of reality.” Before I can react to what Ariel has just said Marilyn asks another question.
“Am I allowed to ask how someone gets psychosis?” as she turns her eyes, and body to Jackson. He nods gently and smiles.
“In my case, drugs. Drugs caused me to lose all sense of reality. I started seeing things that weren’t there, hearing voices and things that weren’t real, and lost all sense of what was really going on around me.”
Listening to Jackson explain how he developed his mental illness draws me in, and for the first time I’m out of my own head. Looking at him, how at ease he seems to be talking about what brought him here is compelling. Here is a young man who was a seemingly “normal” boy, living a “normal” life who experimented in a way many young people do, but was the one in a million who reacted in a way most do not.
My heart has stopped thumping, and I’ve taken my first deep breath. But that’s only temporary. Within minutes my mind races back to something Ariel said; something about educating us on the various mental illnesses that brought us here. When will I be permitted to let her know I do not suffer from a mental illness? When will she stop including me in this group? I AM NOT ONE OF THESE PEOPLE!
My growing anxiety attack is interrupted by Ted introducing himself. “My name is Ted, and I’m here for anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and PTSD. A random fact about me is that I am an artist. I paint.” He is very tall, very fidgety, and bug eyed.
“Okay, Maureen”, I hear Ariel say. “Introduce yourself to the group, tell them why you’re here, and give one random fact about yourself.” My inner voice is screaming “NO!!!!”, but I look over at Sean, and the expression on his face is oddly reassuring, like he’s telling me “Just say it. It’s okay. We get it.”
“My name is Maureen. I’m here for anxiety, depression, and PTSD.” I want to ask if anyone has noticed that I have yet to mention a mental illness such as suicide ideation, bi-polar disorder, psychosis, or borderline personality disorder, but I control the impulse. “A random fact about me is that I lived in Houston, Texas for 2 years”. I hadn’t thought about Houston for quite some time. I actually stayed 18 months longer than I should have. I ran away from home after meeting a handsome cowboy on a trip to Mexico when I was 19. We got engaged 6 months after meeting, but my parents wouldn’t let me move to Texas without the wedding ring, so I just got up one day and took off. In hindsight, taking off to live in sin with my cowboy was probably one of the best decisions I ever made because two years later I was on a plane headed back to NY. My cowboy had become an everyday beer drinking, DUI collecting, speed snorting shell of the beautiful boy I met, and I had grown weary of the party life after the first 6 months.
“Thank you, Maureen, and welcome. Can we go over the rules for Maureen?” Our chairs are in a semi circle, and Ariel is at the helm.
“What happens in this room stays in this room.” Jenna is the first to pipe in. “We do not discuss what is said during processing to anyone. We don’t talk about it in the halls, or lunchroom with other patients, or other group members, or with anyone outside of this building.”
Processing? What does that mean? Patients? This isn’t a hospital; I’m not a patient.
“No judgments.” Ted explains that our group, and the room we are in is a non-judgment area. We don’t form opinions, or pass judgment on any group member. Too late. I’ve already broken that rule because the first thought that crossed my mind when I laid eyes on Ted that he is most definitely the group member most likely to go postal.
“No cross talking.” Jackson explains that when a group member is processing, no one is permitted to have a “side bar” conversation with another group member, and we are not allowed to interrupt a group member when they are speaking.
“We don’t give advice.” Marilyn speaks up for the first time. “We can share similar experiences and how we may have dealt with it, or how we feel about what they are saying, but we cannot give advice, or tell them what we think they should do.” Isn’t the point of group to give guidance, and advice? Aren’t our clinicians supposed to be telling us, “advising” us about how to handle our problems, and illnesses. If not, then what the hell am I doing here? Are we all just here to tell stories, hug it out, and sing Kumbaya at the end of each session? Someone still hasn’t told me how I got here.
“Maureen, I’m not going to push you to process with the group today. If you feel like you have something to share, by all means share it. But, we usually give new members a few days to get a feel of how everything is done, and get used to the daily routines before trying to coax them into opening up.”
I nod my head to let Ariel know I understand. I’m already exhausted, frightened, confused, and numb. I have to figure out a way to get my heart to stop pounding in my chest, and accept that the next couple of days are going to be filled with phrases, and routines that are completely foreign to me. But, I’m relieved to finally find out that processing is talking and sharing with the group.
“Okay. Let’s go around the room and take our pulse before we get into processing.”
Pulse is a series of questions everyone must answer: name; clinician’s name; did you see the doctor this week; did you have a family session; are you taking any medication you've been prescribed; two words to describe how you’re feeling; appetite; sleep, and so on. It gives the clinician running your processing session an idea of where you are emotionally. Although I’m exempt from processing, I’m not exempt from pulse. Everyone in the room goes through their individual pulse, and Ariel looks at me. I just got here so I haven't seen the staff doctor and I am only taking the blood pressure medication and anti-anxiety pill they prescribed at the hospital.
“My name is Maureen and my clinician is Linda. I haven’t seen the doctor this week so there are no medication changes. I am compliant with what I’ve been prescribed by the ER doctor. I have no suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of self-harm. Two feelings are….” I can’t say anything. My lips turn down hard into a pout, and the tears well up in my eyes.
“It’s okay, Maureen. Take a deep breath, and take your time.” I’m thinking about my daughter, my family, my friends, and how fearful I am that there is a real possibility the person they know and love is gone forever.
The Maureen who sits here is a girl no one knows but me. She is so frightening that I have pushed her away my whole life. She is weak, undeserving, and worthless.
“Two feelings are numb, and shame.”
She was never supposed to be born. All the hopes and dreams her mother had were lost because of her.
“I haven’t had a family session.”
She’s a disappointment as a daughter, a failure as a mother and wife. She is ugly and stupid.
“My appetite is non-existent.”
She’s come close to surfacing over the years, but I’ve always found a way to calm her down, and put her to rest.
“I haven’t slept in 4 days.”
This time, I couldn’t get a hold of her. Somehow she escaped me, and she has managed to unravel my life in less than 3 months.
I hear my voice, but it’s the voice inside of me that I wish Ariel could hear. “Please help me. I’m literally dying. Please, I’m begging you. Don’t make me work through this. I don’t think I’ll survive.”