So today was my first day at “Alternatives,” a Partial Hospitalization program at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Partial Hospitalization is a program offered by many hospitals that provides intensive mental health care. It’s called “partial” because you spend a certain amount of time there each day, and then go home at night. At Alternatives, I will be there from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Monday through Friday. I told my older child that it’s kind of like going to school. And it is, in a few ways. First off, the schedule is certainly similar to that of a school student. (Although, the aforementioned child would certainly prefer their school day started at 9:00, rather than 7:15!) It’s also like school because the purpose of the program is to teach me. To teach me coping skills. To teach me ways of dealing with situations I find myself in. To teach me to be a stronger, more resilient, and healthier person.
The program here is predominantly group-centered. I won’t have much in the way of one-on-one therapy, but will be learning and sharing in groups. Today’s group had five people in it, and I think that will probably be about the norm, though certainly people will be coming in and out of it. (My treatment plan is currently targeted for a ten-day stay.)
Why am I here? Well, because I’ve been mentally falling apart for months, and just yesterday I hit a low that I haven’t been at in decades. Seriously. You want the details? Contact me. I’ll tell you. But publicly? Let’s just say it was really bad. And I found myself sitting on the ground, with my phone in my hand, saying to my wife, “I need help.”
Thank God I asked for help. I think this place might just offer the help I need, or at least a portion of it. (Maybe that’s another reason to call it “partial” hospitalization, because it offers a partial solution.) I think today was probably typical in any program like this, in the sense that I really didn’t get the full flavor of it – I spent a lot of time filling out paperwork, meeting with a nurse, a nurse practitioner, and a psychiatrist. I got a glimpse of what the program will be like, and I do have some hope right now – something I hadn’t had in some time.
I’m committing to doing a lot of writing during this time – one of the things that has always been helpful for me when trying to grow in my mental health is writing. Today, I’ve done a decent amount of journaling, and I may blog like this as well. I need to get some explorations and thoughts out on paper (or screen). Some of them I’ll journal about, others I may blog about. No promises as to what will be up here, but I am promising myself that I’ll be writing in one form or another.
One thing I want to write about today is an insight I got. While I was driving down to the program this morning, I was thinking about the Gordian Knot, the fabled knot that was so complicated and tight that no one could untie it. The person who could undo the knot was said to be the next ruler of Asia. When Alexander the Great came to Gordius, he saw the knot, unsheathed his sword, and cut right through it.
I was thinking of this knot as a metaphor for my own struggles right now. As I drove, I felt like everything inside me was so twisted and tied up. It felt so complicated. I thought about how I would explain it to others today, but I didn’t know where to start. In order to understand any of it, you have to understand all of it. I remember feeling like that as a teenager – my life was so complicated that you couldn’t understand any piece of me without understanding everything. Typical adolescent self-absorption, I suppose. But I still have it today. And I felt like I need to unravel this knot. I need to unravel where the depression in me starts and the anger ends, and the guilt begins and the pain grows, and the complicated relationships I have with so many people, and the way I’ve been hurt, and the way I’ve caused hurt, and the mistakes I’ve made, and the voices in my head, and the…and so on and so on. How could I get help if there was no way I could really even start to describe it?
Well, later on during a break today, something occurred to me. It occurred to me that there are two things that have been going on in my brain lately, which in tandem helped lead me down the road I’ve been on. The first is that I’ve lost track of my coping skills. I have been in therapy for decades, I’ve spent eleven days inpatient, I’ve gone to retreats and classes. I have learned skills over the years. Meditation. Mindfulness. Labyrinths. Cognitive behavioral tricks. Mantras. Prayer. Spiritual direction. Journaling. And more. They have all helped, at least at one time or another. But over the past six months or so, I’ve let so many of these lapse. I’ve allowed myself to slip out of healthy habits into unhealthy, or at least unhelpful, ones. That has made me much more vulnerable, much less resilient.
The second thing that’s happened is that I’ve had an existential crisis of sorts. Over the past few months, I have struggled with meaning and whether life is even worth living. I’ve struggled with whether we’re just atoms and molecules, and if consciousness is just a delusion. I’ve struggled with whether God is just something we invented to help us feel better. I’ve struggled with whether there’s any point to life.
I realized today that these two things are not the same thing. And I realized that I’ve gone through both before. I’ve definitely had other times when I’d lost track of my coping skills, and needed a reset, a reboot, a refresher. And I’ve definitely had other times in my life when I’d experienced an existential crisis like this, when I had trouble finding meaning. I’ve always thought of them as two parts of the same struggle. But today, I was seeing them as separate. Today, I was thinking that they’re really separate things, and perhaps I hadn’t experienced them both together before.
I’m not sure of that, but what I know is that the moment I had that thought, it felt like the Gordian Knot in my head began to unravel. Not completely, not even close. But it loosened, and I could see the strands much more clearly. It occurred to me that I need to work on both of these issues: rebuilding and resetting my coping skills, and also reflecting on my understanding of meaning and reality, and how to find worth in continuing to live. If I have the meaning and worth, then I can find the motivation to use the skills. And if I am using the skills, I have the space to explore meaning.
So what I’m hoping to do over these next two weeks is work on both. The Alternatives program will be able to help me, quite a lot I think, with the skills. I will need to work on the meaning in a different way. Perhaps that’s where this blog will come in. But again, no promises. But I’m going to keep going to program every day. And I’m going to keep writing. And I am hopeful that I can find my way back through this, that the Gordian Knot in my brain might not be sliced by some Alexander, but that I might be able to bit by bit unwind it.