When I first walked into rehab, I was taken aback in the best way. There were no stark-white walls or metal furniture, no cold and emotionless nurses showing me to the main room, and no little paper cups of pills to take while monitored by a pharmacist. My rehab center was an ordinary office building, hidden in a labyrinth of law offices and accounting firms. If the lettering on the door didn’t state the name, you wouldn’t even know it was there. And when I got out of the car, I didn’t wheel in a suitcase, or even carry a duffel. All I had with me was my purse, containing my phone, wallet, and some paper and pens.
“Love you,” I said to my parents through the car window as I headed inside. “And I’ll see you at 2PM for pickup.”
I should probably mention why I’m in rehab. This summer, my previously-diagnosed depression and anxiety escalated. I barely left my dorm room, unless I needed food or to do laundry, and occasionally to go to class. I answered phone calls from family with the usual lies. “Oh, yeah, I’m doing great! Summer on campus is awesome. I love the friends I’m making; we have lots of weekend plans.” Those friends I talked about? Yeah, they didn’t exist, nor did those weekend plans. My Friday and Saturday nights consisted of browsing Facebook and watching endless Netflix with nobody to talk to, eating whatever I could scrounge up without leaving — that is, if I even got out of bed for dinner.
None of this was by choice; I had fallen so far that I couldn’t take care of myself.
Finally, one August morning, I caved. I called my parents, and told them the truth. “I need help,” I remember saying through endless tears. “I don’t want to live like this. I’m not taking my meds. I barely even want to live at all.”
I’m very lucky that my parents are as supportive as they are. My dad rushed to meet me at my apartment and make sure I was okay. Together, my parents set up a meeting at the rehab center for me, and a mere few days later, I was saying goodbye in the car, ready to start day one of treatment. I had spent those few days moving back home with my family, starting to consistently take my prescribed medication, and mentally preparing for whatever awaited me behind those inconspicuous office doors.
There are rehab centers and therapy centers that are residential, where patients live there full-time while receiving help. Residential centers are nothing like Girl, Interrupted or Shutter Island — they’re much more welcoming, modern, and effective.
But the center I chose is a bit different. I show up every morning at 9:30, and I spend the morning in different group therapy sessions with other college kids suffering from depression, substance abuse, and other mood disorders. At noon, we break for an hour of lunch, before coming back to do one final group session. The rest of the day is mine to do what I please, which usually consists of helping my family around the house, different homework assignments from the therapists, or job-searching for when I get discharged from my treatment program.
Throughout my day at the treatment center, various people will pull me out of group, including a psychiatrist, to talk about medication, a family therapist, who works with my parents and myself on how to handle the difficult situation we’re all in, and a resource therapist, who helps me with the job-search and with classwork.
There’s something really rewarding about being in group therapy every day. Something I struggled with all summer, and for a good portion of my life, was wondering if I was alone in how I felt. Was everyone anxious that people secretly hated them? Did they have days where getting out of bed and taking a shower was really, really hard? Did they get overexcited for no apparent reason? Did they have trouble concentrating on important tasks?
Maybe not everyone experiences that, but in rehab, many of the people I’ve met can relate to all of my insecurities, fears, and worries. I spent my first day in shock that I wasn’t truly alone — other people, including people my own age, struggle with the same things I do. It was really eye-opening, and since I started a month ago, I can genuinely call many of the college students I’ve met in the program my friends.
We don’t talk or hang out when we’re not at the center — we’re told not to, since outside friendship issues can get in the way of effective, unbiased group therapy. But for those four and a half hours each day, I’m among people like me. It’s nothing like the movies — you wouldn’t look at any of us and know we have the psychological diagnoses that we do.
Since starting treatment, I’ve learned a lot about myself. My diagnosis of depression has actually been reclassified to bipolar disorder, which makes a lot more sense to me than depression ever did. I communicate better with family and friends, even those that don’t know where I spend my mornings or what meds I take every day. I’m more aware of myself, and I spend my afternoons and weekends being productive, whether it’s walking my dogs, going grocery shopping, or actually making plans with friends to hang out.
And most importantly? I’m actually kind of happy. It’s not a magical process; I definitely wasn’t “fixed” on day one, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully “fixed”. Bipolar disorder, depression, substance addiction, ADD — these are things that can’t be fully cured. But they can be managed, and those that suffer can continue to live.
I’m proud to say that I’m living now, and while the future makes me nervous, I know I’ll be ready to handle whatever comes my way after treatment.