This morning, I attended an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) through Kaiser. It is a 4 hour per day, ten-consecutive-day program that practices meditation/ mindfulness and then a new topic every day. Today’s topic was “Managing Work Stress”, but we aren’t going to talk about that much in this post. This post has a different purpose, so stick with me.
Today was my first day in this IOP, however, this is my second time in this program. Something that I don’t talk about to a lot of people outside these groups and programs (let’s be real – it’s not always easy for me to talk about this in groups as well) is my “mental breakdown” (not a real medical term, but it paints the picture that I’m going for!) and hospitalization in a mental health behavioral unit this past December. Now, there’s a whole history of things that led up to this “mental breakdown” that I couldn’t summarize in one single post if I tried – so stay tuned and you’ll get all the juicy stuff as this blog grows! So, as I was saying, I spent eight days in the hospital. The kind of hospital that takes your phone, any clothes that have drawstrings in them, shoelaces, jewelry… really anything that you or a hospital mate could use to hurt themselves or others; the nurses call these – and many others – “contraband”. Even your toiletries are locked away and you have to ask for your bag in order to brush your teeth or shower and then immediately give all your stuff back to a nurse for lock and keep. It was a real joy (I hope you all are in tune with sarcasm). Enough of that though! Back to my main point…
After my hospitalization a few months ago, I spent 10 consecutive days in the exact same Intensive Outpatient Program and this week I found myself off of work and today, right back into Day 1 of IOP. This was my choice completely, and I feel as though my second time around, I will learn certain things that glossed over or were simply too overwhelming at the time.
So, Day 1 of IOP for the second time. I sat there with eight new fellow “sufferers” – more like Mental Health Warriors… yeah, definitely Mental Health Warriors. All those Mental Health Warriors and I sat in that room with different (slightly or largely) circumstances, but we were all there because of the same pain – a pain that is different than any other pain. A very specific pain that is shared amongst people with mental health illnesses; a black hole of complete desolation and fear and lack of power or control. The utter most twisted pain in your stomach and hollow aching in your heart and soul, if you haven’t totally lost either one of those yet. It’s a numbing pain; in one moment you want to hurt yourself just to feel SOMETHING, in another you want to cover the pain with self destructive things like drugs, alcohol, bad habits that make you feel NOTHING. This pain is a different pain than one who has a broken arm, or physical ailment or even grief… and it’s not to say that one person’s pain or suffering is worse or greater than another’s. Let’s face it, EVERY one suffers and who am I to ever say that one person’s suffering is greater than another’s? You cannot compare a thing like that; having a pissing war about whose suffering is worse than someone else’s eliminates all possibility of having compassion for one another, which is the last thing that we want (we’ll talk another time about the power of compassion in mindfullness). All I’m saying is that each type of pain is different from the other. And sitting in this room with eight other Mental Health Warriors who have different lives, are different ages, and are struggling with different life circumstances are all feeling the same pain as I am. The core of all our sufferings are the same and has the power to connect a roomful of strangers on the most personal human connection that I have ever experienced.
Someone who deals with mental health – or any other type of pain – could spend their lifetime trying to explain their pain to someone who has never experienced the same type of pain as you. That person will never fully understand. They could show compassion and support, but they themselves will never fully grasp your type of suffering. If I try to explain my pain and torment to someone who has never been depressed or felt what anxiety or a panic attack is like or the drastic effects of the myriad of medications that my doctor is ‘testing’ on me. If this someone has never been buried so deep in the darkest hole covered with rocks – better yet, boulders – crushing down on you to a point where you are breathing, but barely surviving. This person will never understand your pain. They will never fully be able to get that you can’t just ‘get over it’ or ‘be positive and that will fix everything’. They will never physically, emotionally, or logically grasp the concept of this specific pain. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s the wonderful thing about being able to have multiple relationships and connections with various people that can or cannot relate to specific parts of you. Different people in different places serve you in different ways. These eight people, Mental Health Warriors, in IOP with me today serve that purpose for me and I hope I do for them as well. If you lack this specific connection with someone, I encourage you to go out and find it. It holds healing powers beyond belief. Go to a group, or mental health workshop, ask your therapist about classes that are offered, call a hotline, or find your support here. You will have plenty of it.
Because I see you and I see your pain.