The smell of a hospital is distinct, when you catch a whiff of it you immediately think of sick people, nurses, and the ever busy doctors. That wretched stench was all around me as I sat in the waiting room. The lobby was full and tense, all sounds were absent save the clacking of a lone keyboard and the hushed disapproval of parents from around the room. I was being forced into a day program for adolescents with behavioral issues. There is no real positive way to spin that, however it did mean time there instead of school. The wait was an eternal pit to me, as one person would go into the back as their parents left. Then another, and another as my feelings about this place started to bubble forth. This was scary and I would be alone. There is nothing welcoming about this waiting room, it is bland and gave off the vibe of disinterest. By the time I snapped back to reality, I was the only one left. “You’re good, you can go back. Be quiet though, group therapy has already started,” the lady behind the glass said to me. This was my welcome into the next two weeks of my life.
I wasn’t forced into this for no reason, at this point I already have had a history of manic-depression. A funny thing about serious and dramatic events in your life is that you can so vividly recall them happening, yet at the same time the memory is nothing more than a cloud; a towering, apprehensive, dark cloud. This wasn’t my first time walking through the doors, where people like me would be everywhere. This was however my first time at this specific institution. I had been depressed for a long while, and this was nothing new. I hadn’t done anything stupid this time, like try to take my own life or threaten to hurt somebody who, at the time, deserved it. As self-aware as I could be, I felt the oncoming storm beckoning me to break down. “Not this time,” I told myself, “This time I’ll let someone know, I will get support for this!”
Apparently support meant different things to different people, so there I sat, in group therapy, my introduction into this behavioral center. Being a cautious person, having to allow time for my thoughts to build up and conclude before I approach a situation or person, I couldn’t open up immediately. This was new to me and ever so fascinating, the worker would give a semi-general topic or ask direct questions and we would go around the group and all have our own time for thoughts. The rest could ask questions if they wanted to, or were asked to, and we were all allowed to have our own comments. It is one thing when you have a paid professional ask you how your day was, but to have your peers ask is a whole other story. They are not being paid, they have no gain in the situation by asking, right? That is why this portion of the days were some of the greatest. Over time I joined in and gave my thoughts and questions, as well as being allowed to have my own time in the limelight. My questions were of genuine care and curiosity, so their questions and comments must have been too, right? It made me wonder why it was so hard to feel that way in day to day life.
Although therapy was great in and of itself, this place was self-aware enough to not paint a picture of a mental ward. They had regular times to study, we were allowed to go to school and get homework from classes to work on while we were there. The room had two tall windows, which in any other case would not be noteworthy except for the fact most rooms were near the core of the building, effectively cutting off sunlight. Even though talking was frowned upon, that never stopped any of us from sharing a laugh in between problems and chapters. There was also free time as any regular school would have, which ranged from pizza and a movie on Fridays to playing cards with the other kids, talking, drawing, or even playing a board game. The free time was a necessary time for bonding, which only served to strengthen the feeling that this was real. The feelings, emotions and support found within those walls were the same very real things outside the walls.
However it is never enough to know that something is real, I love to see it happen before me. This wish was actually granted one day when Brittany, an upperclassmen from my school, walked in to our games room. I was nothing but surprised when I saw her enter, surely people from my school had their lives together! Regular people surely couldn’t have had the struggles that I have had, right? Obviously I had lived in a bubble of my own creation up until this moment. I had always been able to tell myself that I was special or that other people have problems, but surely not anyone that I know. Suddenly it was all made obvious when I made my move and told her, “You can come sit with us, everyone here is actually really friendly.” Her reply was a completely jarring, “Thank you, I know. I’ve been here before.” At that point everything was real, no longer my imagination controlling my world.
My time had come to leave and I was truly a different person at this point. The smell of grass and the feel of sunshine is distinct. It heats your skin as if you were breathing in the essence of the plants themselves. It makes you think of your surroundings, the insects, trees, beaches and oceans as the sun on your skin brings you to a culmination of serenity. The wind outside was rustling the leaves as I heard the cars rushing by, far too busy in their lives trying to reach the ever elusive point B. I had been forced out, into a new world of people with behavioral problems. There are a plethora of ways you can spin that, but I preferred to think of it as a positive thing. No longer was it every person has it together but me, it was I don’t have it together and I highly doubt anyone else does either! My thoughts had become, “Every person is unique, but not every person is different.” The whole world was new to me, but it was the same. Nothing outside had changed, only my perspective. All it took was to focus my eyes in a different way to enable me to jump into a new world.