- October 15th, 2014
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I’m back! Oh, you didn’t even notice I was gone? Okay then…
I think I may have promised that I would write an entry for every day that I was at the clinic and post them day by day when I got back, but that only happened for the first few days. The first few days were incredible. I learnt so much I thought that this experience was going to be life-changing. But then the learning kind of tapered off in favour of meditation and visualisations and stuff. So instead, I am going to write this new, generic entry about my time there, and then I will post some new content based on the notes that I took on the useful days.
All in all, the journey was good. I made a friend (which is handy since I lost another while I was there), had a whole month off work, got to see lots of animals, found myself getting into playing badminton… lots of good stuff. The not-so-good stuff: I didn’t successfully quit sugar (my whole reason for going), I didn’t manage to establish a healthy routine, and one of the therapists pushed me into something that I really wasn’t comfortable with at all.
There was eight of us heading to the clinic that Sunday morning: six guys and two girls (with me being one of them). I got breathalysed and my bag searched, then got to hang out and wait for the bus. I was the first one processed, and the next few people introduced themselves to me as they came through after being processed themselves. The kicker is that every bloody person there smoked, except for me.
The drive was nice and long with a stopover for lunch. I listened to my iPod, ate the lunch that the clinic provided for our trip, and bought what I had hoped would be my last chocolates from the petrol station where we took a break. We arrived at the clinic in the rain and were given the keys to our rooms. The accommodation was devised of five independent blocks, three of them being rooms with their own bathrooms and walk-in-wardrobes. The guys were allocated to one block, us two girls allocated to another (I stayed in room 8, while the other girl stayed in room 7).
There were lots of rules for me to get used to, like no eating food in the rooms, leaving the accommodation by 9:15am (at which point the gate between the accommodation and the clinic itself gets locked, as they are two separate entities and there are strict rules allowing them to operate), clearing out the kitchen bins daily, etc.
I don’t have my notes with me as I write this, so I can’t be certain of which days things happened, but one of the first few days was incredible for me. I learnt so much about trauma and how it is important to treat the symptoms rather than the disorder. The main therapist (who we had each weekday morning) explained how mindfulness was the only thing that could assist us in controlling our response to something that might be a trigger. Finally, someone gave me a valid reason for learning this stuff! I felt like I wanted to run home and shout, “I finally get it!”
To begin with, I wasn’t very sociable. I was trying to do my shakes, so I had no reason to venture into the kitchen except to drink my shake and take my drugs. There was a television in the main kitchen block, along with the dining area, but I didn’t want to inflict my company on other people. I finally ventured out to watch TV with someone (the other girl had brought two hard drives: one of television shows, one of movies) and found myself watching something that I thought was poor quality, but later discovered it was actually the TV that made it seem that way. The other girl there mentioned that it was nice to see me out there with them though, so I resolved to try again.
Eventually I got comfortable with everyone there. I watched TV with them sometimes, played Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, said good morning to people as I saw them each day… I learnt to be sociable and not hide away in my room (which is a partial contributor to me not writing a blog entry every day).
For privacy reasons, I won’t go into the back stories of all of the patients there (what happens in group therapy, stays in group therapy), but here’s a general guide of the other patients:
I made friends with the only other female there. When it comes to social anxiety, females are usually the worst for me because I can just never really make that connection. With guys it’s much easier. Not entirely sure why. But we got along well, went for a few walks in the mornings (trying to establish a healthy routine, but we both sucked at it) and remain friends after the clinic. My husband and I gave her a lift home on the final Thursday of our stay (we left because everyone else was leaving).
The first guy to leave our little group was a gardener with a drug history. He was a total crack up, getting into fits of giggles with one of the other guys there and singing along to music whenever possible. Unfortunately he forgot to take his medication and slipped into mania, where he punched a hole in his room’s wall, breaking his hand. I believe he was taken to another hospital afterwards. This was in week one.
The second guy to leave did so as he had only planned to be there for the two week course anyway. He had just returned from a four week mindfulness retreat in Thailand, so was well ahead of the curve. His history was also in drugs. He was a very positive person who really embraced his new lifestyle. I hope to see him again in today’s group session being held at a local private hospital.
The third guy to leave did so in week three. An alcoholic, he was caught out purchasing and hiding alcohol, apparently drinking most of the time that we were there. I was really disappointed as I had felt so positively that he could make the changes he needed to make, but it became apparent later that he was not ready to be helped and he had a negative attitude towards the clinic, and was particularly mean to the girl there.
One of the patients was an older, deaf man also suffering from alcoholism. He had a tendency to say everything he was thinking, and farting regularly without saying anything to excuse himself. During one badminton game, he provided amusing commentary on me and a nurse against two of the guys. He left midday on the last Thursday due to needing to return home to look after his mother-in-law.
Also leaving midday Thursday was another guy with a drug history who was suffering particularly badly because his wife, who he has been with for ten years, is battling cancer. On Friday she was due for finding out the results of her latest scan, so he wanted to leave early to be there with her. He was the scariest guy to me initially, due to his appearance and some quiet mentions of what he may have done to people in the past, but he ended up being nice and told me that I was too hard on myself.
The winner of “Survivor Blackwood” was the youngest of the bunch who couldn’t leave the clinic for legal reasons. He has a drug history and is surprisingly mature for his age. Although he was very quiet, he was quite cheeky when he did speak up and really excelled at sports. His prize for sticking it out was the rest of the stuff in the fridge.
So those were my fellow patients. I got to hear the life story of each of them as part of some sessions one therapist ran and some of them were an eye-opener. But that is all very private stuff that I will not mention here.
The layout of our weeks were pretty static:
The main therapist ran a session every morning. He would teach us about things like trauma and the “window of tolerance” and symptoms and stuff. Lots of scientific knowledge, though he says that psychology is very under-researched. I believe (but don’t remember) that on Mondays he ran the morning session, and the afternoon session. Lunch was an hour long, which was too long for most of us. But we survived. There was also a “pack meeting” each Monday, where we gave feedback and suggestions for the clinic.
Morning session was obviously the main therapist, with the afternoon session being another therapist. For two of the weeks we had occupational therapy, which I found useless and didn’t quite like the therapist. Another therapist was an amazing German woman who has been through rape, and addiction, and eating disorders, and abuse, and lots of other things. She really helped me to understand that if I want to get better, I have to engage the right side of my brain. More on this later.
Shopping day! The first week it was an all-day event, but since we were a small group, they returned to having the morning therapy session and then shopping in the afternoon. They did try to take us to a store not near any bottle shops, but obviously that didn’t quite work out.
On Thursdays we had sports in the afternoon. They book the local recreation centre and bring a bunch of balls for the guys to kick and throw. I was roped into badminton by the nurse who took us and found that I really enjoyed it, enough to do it with friends back home. I am still a bit uncoordinated, but it was fun.
This was a weird day. The main therapist’s wife ran the sessions in the morning and afternoon with drama therapy and yoga. I was a bit turned off by her as she started showing us our acupuncture pressure points (yeah, like you can totally channel my gallbladder’s “energy” through my right leg), but the worst part about her was that she forced me into what I would characterise as physical intimacy with another patient. I made a complaint about her. Not sure if that’s going to do anything though. The drama therapy was a bit of fun though.
Outings! Each Saturday was an outing to a different location: whale watching, BBQ at the beach (although we weren’t allowed to swim without lifeguards), watching the footy, visiting a chocolate factory (yeah, because trying to quit sugar just wasn’t hard enough). It was a fairly tame day with lots of driving. Thank goodness for my iPod, because that older gentleman would not stop talking, singing or whistling.
This was a fairly “blah” day. The first Sunday we did mindfulness and yoga, which none of us liked. Another Sunday we talked about drugs and alcohol, then did music therapy in the afternoon. The last Sunday we were all together… crap, I can’t remember. Oh, I think maybe we did art therapy? We did art therapy a couple of times. I made my husband an art.
So this structure was fairly good. The crazy thing about it was that while the first week went by really slowly, somehow weeks two, three and four just flashed by. It wasn’t just me who observed this either. The other patients experienced the same thing.
The other girl and I ended up using the second kitchen for all our stuff, due to it being away from the TV mostly, which was always on at high volume as the winner of “Survivor Blackwood” became a total couch potato. So much so, that the girl left her hard drives with him when we left, with the idea that she will collect them back at the private hospital to which most of us return.
Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist, who was apparently anxiously awaiting my return. It seems that some of his other patients are also interested in Blackwood, but they wanted to hear how I went first, particularly with being female. He told me that I was the “pioneer” for his practice.
My session with him was very interesting. And by interesting, I mean horrible. I shared with him the lessons I learnt while I was at Blackwood and he gave me his own input on where he believes my journey is headed. To this end, he started talking about similar journeys that other patients have been on, including the fact that the thing most people share last (the thing they most do not want to talk about) is the thing that they should be talking about the most. And he gave examples. Oh yes, real life examples of other patients.
One patient, as a child, was forced by her brother to have sex with the dog. Horrifying. Another patient was raped and played with repeatedly over a weekend. She was about ten and was being looked after by two teenage boys. Yeah, because somehow her parents thought that was a good idea. I sat there as he told me these things, and I felt so horrible that I almost walked out on him. I couldn’t handle the thought of being raped or abused like these girls.
At the end of the session he mentioned that I had sat through half an hour of deep conversations with him, something that he believes I wouldn’t have been able to do six or seven weeks ago. I was like, “It wasn’t easy! You kept talking about rape and things!” Terrible, terrible conversations.
I think the thing I took away from it the most, is awe at the kind of person that my psychiatrist is. He is a very nice, very sweet, Catholic man who I have only seen angry once (and that anger was not directed at me). If you met him and didn’t know what he did for a living, you would think that his mind could be blown by any mention of violence or sexual abuse, to the point where I was pretty sure I had broken him by telling him that the female author he recommended to me when we first met was now actually a homosexual man. And yet, he deals with all of this completely fucked up shit on a daily basis. He knows the true horror that lives inside of people, the extent to which people can go outside of sense and commit terrible acts. He came dangerously close to temporarily breaking me with those conversations yesterday.
For the purpose of not writing another ten pages of a blog entry, I will leave my “lessons” from Blackwood for future blog posts. So expect to see posts along the lines of “suicide versus self-murder,” “the left brain versus the right,” and “intolerance for the inner addict.” I will ensure I have my notes on hand and shall dazzle you all with my newly acquired knowledge.
In parting, work has given me a new project that has caused me much excitement, and today I have a group therapy session with the Blackwood gang and then a session with my psychologist. At this rate, with all the recommendations I’m getting, I may end up having four damn psychologists. I should probably do my best to avoid that though. Because that’s ridiculous. Ridiculous!