First, let me say that my stay is far from over.
And second, I’ll clarify that this isn’t an inpatient stay.
Eight weeks ago, I started PHP (partial hospitalization program) at a hospital not fifteen minutes from my house.
Since then, I’ve graduated from PHP and moved on to IOP (Intensive outpatient program) in a room down the hall from the first program.
I was in PHP for what seemed like forever.
I was there so long that by the time my last day rolled around, I was the last person in the room from my original group. I was staring at unfamiliar faces, hearing unfamiliar stories, and was ready to get the heck out of there.
Leaving PHP that day was nerve-wracking but exciting. I could finally say I’ve made progress.
I started IOP the Wednesday after my last day in PHP, and I was nervous as all get out. The people in IOP were the same people from my original PHP group, but it was a whole new ball game. It was a new room, a new set up, a new counselor, and more days of me having to explain to people how I felt and why I felt that way.
I still have a couple weeks left in IOP, but I can tell I’m going to be ready to face the real world again when my stay is over.
So what did I get out of this experience?
It Helps to Hear Other People’s Stories
These programs are based almost solely on group therapy. You’re stuck in a room for 3–6 hours a day with the same fifteen people, and everyone gets a chance to talk about their life.
I know this doesn’t appeal to everyone. Most people don’t want to sit in a room and hear people talk for sometimes 20–30 minutes about their issues.
I, however, found this to be enlightening.
You always hear the phrase “you’re not alone” when struggling with any sort of mental illness, but that phrase never really hit me until I came to PHP.
I was definitely not alone. In the beginning, I found myself thinking, “There’s no one here who can relate to me! My story is different and bigger than everyone else’s! This should be all about me!”
But that was my selfishness and depression talking. People could relate to me and I could relate to them, and that was enough to convince me to stay.
You Get the Most Out of it When You Pay Attention
As you can probably tell, I didn’t exactly feel like I was getting much out of my early days in the hospital. I felt like my problems were too big for me or anyone else to handle, or that there was nothing that would help me.
So I spent half of my first week ignoring just about everything that we were being taught.
It wasn’t until about four days in that I paid attention to what was going on and thought: “Wait, this could actually help me.”
No duh, Abby. That’s what the program is here for.
I started to bring in a notebook, taking notes on a new page each day, journaling in between lessons, annotating the packets and handouts we were given, and actively participating in the group discussions.
Now, I have two folders jam-packed with information, a notebook full of helpful tips and notes, and a million ways that I can help myself when it feels like I’m drowning.
Organization is Key
Because I had so many notes and papers, I had to go out and buy myself a binder to keep it all in.
I three-hole punched my papers and packets, and organized everything by topic: boundaries, anger, coping skills, sleeping habits, action plans, and everything in between.
We learned a ridiculous amount of information, and I’m still learning some three times a week. But this didn’t just apply to organizing my things from the hospital; it applies to everything.
My room? Clean and organized. My bathroom? Scrubbed spotless and everything has a place. My home in general? Organized and ultimately a pleasant environment.
Your environment and how it’s presented really does have a stronger impact on you than you might think. Keeping everything around you organized will help keep your life and your mind organized as well. And, of course, I don’t know what I’d do now without that handy-dandy binder I’ve made.
Ground, Cope, Ground, Cope, Ground.
Our goal in PHP and IOP is the same: figure out how to deal with life in a safe and healthy way. And, in order to do that, we had to do two things: cope and ground.
They go hand in hand, and have quite literally saved my life in some pretty awful situations, so I’m going to share a few of my favorite techniques with you, straight out of my chaotic binder of information. Here are ten ways you can refocus yourself in a bad moment.
- The 5–4–3–2–1 method. Find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- The 5–5–5 method. Inhale for five counts, hold for five counts, and exhale for five counts. Repeat.
- Play a categories game. Distract yourself by playing a game. Think of names that start with A’s, different types of dogs, baby boy names, etc.
- Run your hands under cold water. Shock your nervous system and distract yourself. Come back to reality.
- Quite literally ground yourself. Stand barefoot on dirt or grass and feel your connection to the earth.
- Touch a smooth object. This could be rubbing a smooth stone, the back of your phone, or, if you’re me, your necklace.
- Aromatherapy. Crack open your favorite essential oils, light your best smelling candle, go outside and find some roses to smell.
- Grip something tightly. If you’re sitting, grip the edges of your chair. If you’re standing, find something in your pockets to hold onto.
- Talk to someone. This should be a no brainer, but when we find ourselves in a tough situation, we sometimes have to force ourselves to remember that other people are there to help us.
- Positive self talk. Take whatever negative thoughts that are going through your head and find a way to switch them around, making them as positive as possible.
I’m still learning, as is everyone else, but everyone has something to share. Stories to tell and lessons to teach. Never doubt what you can learn from any given situation.