Entering back into your regular life after a hospital discharge can be overwhelming. To make it less daunting, adjust your expectations and take it slow.
I was recently hospitalized for a severe depressive bipolar episode. It was quite discouraging for me to say the least. I had been keeping track, and it had been two full years without needing to be hospitalized. Then, the depression hit, and with the help of my counselor, I made the decision to admit myself to an inpatient psychiatric center. I say “made the decision” as if I were checking into a spa. In reality, there was no decision to be made. It was necessary and life-saving. It had gotten to the point where I was having difficulty physically caring for myself. I was also having constant and severe suicidal ideation. My hospitalization was necessary in order to save my life.
The first few days in the hospital, I mostly slept. I think I got up for a few meals, but other than that, I was in bed. I slept and slept, as if my body hadn’t slept in days. My soul felt exhausted. Prior to making the “decision” to enter the hospital, every single task seemed impossible. Soul-sucking. Taking a shower seemed like a monumental task. Eating became difficult. Living just seemed too hard. But in the hospital, I was able to rest, to sleep. Slowly I got my bearings on what had become of my life. In a few days, I got out of bed around mid-morning, just in time for lunch. Finally, I started eating small amounts of food after several days. I started taking the small steps I usually take for granted as easy and necessary when I am feeling well.
I spent thirteen days in the hospital. This was the longest ever, as I keep track in my mental memory book. I left feeling more hopeful and less depressed. But entering back into my life as a functioning adult has been very challenging. The world expects certain things of me, and I was not sure if I was ready.
At first, all of the expectations of entering back into my life seemed too daunting. To be completely honest, they still can. So I have had to break it down into seemingly small tasks. Start off slow in terms of what the world expects, but a large leap from what I had been doing at the hospital. I am relying on all the knowledge and wisdom I have learned throughout the years of counseling and recovery. One day at a time. If that is too much, one hour. Actually, one minute. I think I can handle one minute. I’ve had to shift my perspective on what success looks like. I create lists each day of the tasks I hope to accomplish. From big things like going back to work, to smaller things like taking a shower. No task is too small to be put on my list.
I remember someone once advised me to create a celebration log of all the things I accomplish during the day. Again, both small and big things. This seemed silly and pointless for my overachieving, perfectionist self. To be completely honest, sometimes it felt downright ridiculous. But I tried it. I made my list and my celebration log, and to my surprise, I found some ease. It changed my perspective and so I made my goal to just make it through the day. I try to feel successful and grateful for the little things I accomplish, which is certainly not an easy thing for me to do.
I have good days, but I still have bad days. Bad days wherein the little things overwhelm me and I cannot accomplish them. I know I will have bad days in the mix of the good ones. I try to tell myself, just get through this day. Just see it through. I have learned the magical power of a good night’s sleep. How one good night of sleep can be the exact thing needed to shift my perspective and lift some of the heaviness from my chest. Where I find relief that was nowhere to be found the day before.
Progress can seem painfully slow, and I become frustrated and overwhelmed easily. But I try to change my perspective and remember how I felt in the hospital. How at first, simply getting out of bed was too much to ask of me. So I try to look at the progress I have made and celebrate. Be grateful this heaviness is lifting. Maybe ever so slowly and not at the rate of speed I would like, but I can see some light again. I can feel a day of relief. I can go a period of time without suicidal thoughts and suffocating depression.
This is my recovery. It is not a race. I tell my self-deprecating voice to quiet, and I look for progress. Another saying from my recovery group is “progress, not perfection.” How true this is. And how absolutely difficult.
But today is a good day, so I will celebrate that! I believe that every good day makes it easier for a better day tomorrow. I chose to believe I still have good days to come. There are people who love me and who need me. So, I chose to keep fighting. One day at a time, one hour, one minute. I am so thankful for this good minute because it has been a while. But it has finally come. I choose to celebrate this good minute and be grateful I am here to see it, this beautiful breath of air I have not felt in quite some time now. I am celebrating!
Laura Fisher attended the University of Montana, where she received her BA in biology in 2004 and doctorate of physical therapy in 2007. She lived and worked in Seattle for six years as a physical therapist in a variety of treatment settings. She recently moved back to her hometown of Billings, Montana, where she lives with her two dogs and family nearby. Laura has lived with bipolar I disorder for 19 years. She is currently working as a Peer Support Specialist. Laura also enjoys her work in physical therapy, private caregiving, writing, and dog sitting. Laura hopes to share her own experience with bipolar disorder to provide hope for those struggling with this illness.
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