“I thought of my friends
And the troubles they’ve had
To keep me from thinking of mine”
— Warren Zevon, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”
The first day in the partial program was nerve-wracking. I was trying to get used to a new routine, but the routine was constantly interrupted in order to help make me part of the routine. It’s a somewhat hellish Catch-22. I was already depressed and anxious worrying about adapting to the place, then they pull me out every 10 minutes, either to fill out paperwork or to meet someone new. After all was said and done, I was still unsure how group therapy worked, what DBT was, or how the afternoon session worked at all.
I did manage to take part in the opening sessions. I listened intently to the reading of the program guidelines. When the first group started, I introduced myself and said why I was there: bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety attacks, and suicidal ideations. I figured most of this would fit in with everyone else’s reasons. Then I heard screaming right outside the room, which was the hallway that housed the therapist’s office. One distinct voice was screaming repeatedly, “YOU BITCH! YOU FUCKING BITCH! FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING BITCH!” I suddenly had second thoughts about being in the right place. I had thoughts of trying to convince the receptionist to let me sign out and leave, “No, really, you don’t understand; I’m not really that crazy. Please can I have my car keys?”
The group manager put me at ease when he looked at the door and the screaming nutjob on the other side and simply replied, “Well, every once in a while we get a reminder that yes, we are in a psych hospital.” As we continued our way around the group I was convinced I was in the wrong place. There were people with far worse issues than what I was dealing with, and who were openly resistant to sharing with the group or listening to therapists’ suggestions. Was all this necessary? Couldn’t I just go back to my therapist and behave? I was here with people suffering PTSD, who had served two tours in Iraq and I was worried about my issues? Again I visualized tapping on the glass of the receptionist’s office, “I feel fine. I’m just going to go home now.”
I also made two big mistakes my first day. First, when asked if I had been drinking or taking any other substances I replied with the half-truth that I had one beer the night before. That part was true. What I neglected to mention was that I had picked up some cocaine the weekend before I started the program and had once again made a passive suicide attempt. I had no interest in getting high, but was far more intrigued by the possibility of having a heart attack instead. I’m really not sure why I left this part out. I had promised myself that I would be completely honest from here on out, but for some stupid reason, I panicked and skipped the whole incident. It also got a little tougher to lie when the nurse handed me a urinalysis cup and told me she needed a sample. Well now I had to ‘fess up. When I returned from the bathroom, I put the full specimen cup on her desk and explained that it was going to come back positive. “Oh for the beer, you mean?” I had to explain that no, there was more to it than that and tell her the truth about my little going away party three nights previous. She then explained that there was no substance use while in the program, drugs or alcohol, primarily so they could get my meds adjusted properly, so I could expect a drug screen at least once a week. This was fine with me. I had gone ten months without cocaine and I had also gone weeks on end without drinking. Even though I had used both of them as coping mechanisms, I knew I could make it through the program without any problems.
My second mistake was forgetting my insulin. All patients were supposed to turn in all medications taken during the day and given to the nurse, who in turn handled the distribution. When it was time for lunch I went to the nurse and she checked my blood sugar, which was 218, about double what it should have been, and I still hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Since I had no insulin, all they could do was send me home to take it, forcing me to miss the afternoon session.
It turns out my first day was less than stellar and more a comedy of errors. I had to leave early, got caught in my first lie, and was feeling a bit inferior to everyone else’s problems. The one saving moment of the day was, as I was leaving, the group manager grabbed me by the elbow and asked, “So, see ya tomorrow?” Damn right he would.