I recently started seeing a new therapist. Our first session was mostly just a “get to know each other” deal, but at one point while I was talking about previous treatments, she stopped me and said, “What was that like? Receiving treatment as a high school student…that must have been an experience. Do you think it was beneficial?” It’s funny, I’d never been asked such a question before, so I had to stop and really dig deep to think about it.
I started being treated for “clinical adolescent depression” in early high school. My parents had spent over a year writing off my moods and behaviors as “hormones” and I had already mastered the art of seeming normal and okay even when I wasn’t. I didn’t have many friends, but I did have at least one plus I made straight A’s and was involved in band, student council, and liked to volunteer…I wasn’t a “depressed kid.” Finally, though, I snapped and ended up being suspended from school for “making a threat” and had fresh cuts on my arms, so into treatment I went.
Truth be told, I don’t think I really benefited from any of my treatment while in high school. There were formalities to deal with because of the reasoning why my parents finally took me for treatment. There was heavy resistance on my part. There was the lack of knowledge on my parents’ end both regarding what outpatient psychiatric treatment should look like and also why I even needed treatment. Then, and probably most importantly, there was the issue that I really didn’t understand the extent of my issues and the real capabilities of providers.
Even though I am only 30, it’s hard for me to even remember a lot about my treatment during my youth. I remember my mom screaming at me as we cycled through yet another therapist because I was “stubborn, defiant, and uncooperative.” (We went through 4 before finally finding one I agreed to talk through things…) I remember driving almost an hour to see the psychiatrist someone had strongly recommended to my mom for “cases like mine.” I remember hating how his office smelled, how formal it was, and how all he ever did was say, “Hello again, Meeegan. Your medicine still working? Okay, we keep things all the same.
What I learned through these three years of treatment was this: you can only get success from treatment if you are actively trying to do so…and I am not sure that I was. I didn’t know if my medicine was working because I didn’t ask what that would feel like, I just sat in the psychiatrist’s office frozen with my skin screaming at me to get the hell out ASAP. I was very careful to avoid any landmines in my psychotherapy by planning my steps in advance. I learned how to feed people like mobile crisis the answers they wanted to hear to let you walk free feeling that you were okay. Most of all, I took all the realities of my illnesses and hid them deep inside myself, hoping if they were hidden well enough then I could be free and nobody would really know the difference.
I’m now 30, and due to a very traumatic 2017, I find myself back in very intense treatments. This time, though, I think I’m going to play my cards a lot differently. My adolescent treatment didn’t work, it wasn’t beneficial to me because I fought against it tooth and nail. This time, though, I’m willing and cooperative. I’m asking more questions, doing my own research, writing and tracking lots. I’m accepting my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and instead of looking at it was a death sentence, I’m embracing it as a way to really understand myself. I’m starting DBT, I’m taking medications, I’ve even willingly admitted myself for inpatient psychiatric care when needed. The best advice I can give now that I’m getting this second chance is this: you really do get out what you put in when it comes to treatment. Don’t be scared, don’t fight the system because you don’t like what you are being told. Let the process help you, trust the journey…it’s all for you.