Far from Home, Part 1: Why I Went to a Residential Treatment Facility for Depression

I have wanted to write about my time at Timberline Knolls, but I haven’t even known where to begin. Being away from home for 4 weeks to live with 30 other women with mental health problems is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and there wasn’t a day when I was there that I didn’t question what in the world I was doing. However, I know that going was worthwhile. I know that going probably saved my life. And I know that going changed me. There is much that happened, much that I want to tell, but also much that I will keep to myself. 

So here are bits and pieces of my experience at a residential facility, where I received intensive treatment for recurrent, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder

My decision to go to a residential facility actually began while I was still inpatient (for the second time) at a mental hospital in Memphis. I was there for nine days and was miserable the whole time. The only bright spot was my therapist, who met with me every day. Towards the end of my time there, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “There’s a corner you haven’t turned yet. There is more you need to address, and we can’t do it here. You need extended time to heal. You should really consider a residential program.” I was completely taken aback. I hadn’t seen this coming. No one had ever mentioned this before, nor did I even realize that there was such a thing as a residential program for depression where you could actually take extended time away from your life to deal with mental illness. Of course, before this year I had no reason to know such a thing existed, for it certainly wasn’t anything I had needed before, nor has anyone I know ever been to such a place.

My first instinct was to dismiss his suggestion, and I said as much. There was no way I could leave my family for any longer than I already had. There was no way I could ask my husband to bear the full weight of household responsibilities. But then the therapist spoke the obvious: “If you were dead, he’d be taking care of it all, all of the time. Don’t you think he’d rather do it for 30 days instead of the rest of his life?” Though I resisted for a couple of days, after praying and talking it over with Stephen, we made the decision for me to pursue residential treatment. I had tried so many other things to little avail; what if what I needed was something big and drastic? After many tears and a lot of phone calls, I was connected with someone from a program much farther away than I had imagined going: Chicago. Timberline Knolls (TK) supposedly had a good reputation, though, and since I knew I wouldn’t be getting a lot of visitors no matter where I ended up because visiting time is so limited at these kinds of places, I decided it made little difference whether I was two hours away or eight hours a way. A representative from TK did a very detailed, somewhat intrusive phone screening with me (asking me such questions as what medications I take, how often I have suicidal thoughts, what, if any plan I had, etc.) and then told me I was cleared to receive treatment there, and they could accept me as soon as I was able to get there. This all happened on a Friday, and we decided that my parents would drive me part of the way on Monday and finish up the trip on Tuesday, when I would be admitted. 

When I first arrived at TK, I was terrified. My mom and dad waited with me while I went through pre-admission screenings and answered questions I had already answered several times over. At one point I just laid my head on my mom’s shoulder and cried. I felt lost and scared. I couldn’t believe this was my reality. I had left my husband and my girls hundreds of miles away, all because life was too much for me to handle. I felt like a failure and a burden. I remember pleading with the Lord for this to make a difference, for the time not to be wasted, for me to have a renewed appreciation for life. 

After several hours, I was led to the place where I would spend the next four weeks: Willow Lodge. One of the other residents gave me a tour of the facility, which helped me feel a little more comfortable. The lodge is basically a huge house, with several bedrooms that housed anywhere from 2-4 residents. It had a small kitchen where we had our snacks (and where some residents who were not permitted off lodge ate all their meals), a common area called the milieu, and three group rooms where group therapy was held. There was also a medical area (essentially a closet) where nurses dispensed medications three times a day. I feel like I spent more time waiting in line for my medications than anything else!   

I was assigned to a room with two other women, and the following day a third woman was added, bringing my room to full capacity at four. I was really anxious about living with other people, but I was fortunate to have roommates who were easy to get along with and who did not cause drama. We each had a twin bed and a chest of drawers and a small open closet to hang up some clothes, and we had a display board where we could hang up pictures or other mementos. One of my friends had taken the time to make several printouts of various Scriptures and put them on pretty scrapbook paper, so I was able to rotate through these the whole time I was gone. It was a simple gesture that made living in an unfamiliar place a little more bearable, and I was so grateful for it. 

The first night I was there was a blur. I wrote in my journal, begging God to be near and asking Him to deliver me from darkness and restore to me the joy of my salvation. I didn’t know how He would do it, but I prayed that being at TK was setting me on the path to get there.

To be continued…

The Hard Fight

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I am not sure of the origin of this quote, but it describes my life right now. If I’m being honest, everything feels hard right now. This time last week I was  in an inpatient mental health facility because things had gotten so bad that I thought almost daily about ending my life. I even had a plan that I didn’t realize was so specific and actionable until I voiced it to my therapist during an appointment that was a true provision from the Lord, since I originally wasn’t even supposed to meet with him that day, but was able to because he had an unexpected opening in his schedule. Thanks to the Lord and my therapist’s intervention, I did not act on my plan but instead checked myself into Lakeside in Memphis last Tuesday. Admitting to the people in my life that I was there was incredibly hard, and I have battled a lot of shame and guilt about this. But it truly was what needed to happen, and I left Lakeside feeling better than when I entered. I had a lot of time there to focus on myself, and I learned some valuable lessons and processed some hard things. 

However, none of that fixed me. I still came home with depression. The only difference is that now I want to live, whereas before I was ready to give up. I was tired of fighting all the negative, intrusive thoughts swirling around in my head. I was tired of trying to fake it through the day. I was tired of feeling alone in my pain. I was tired, full stop. But when people are tired, they rest; they don’t give up on life. I am so thankful that I didn’t give up. 

One thing I realized while I was gone is that despite all my thoughts to the contrary, a lot of people love me. When I let my family and close friends and some people at church know about the situation, not once did anyone act with anything other than love, support, and care for me. I don’t know why this surprised me since I surround myself with awesome people, but I had believed the lie that I was alone and unloved for far too long. I found myself overcome and humbled by all the love being poured out on me, all the prayers being prayed for me. I realized that, as my pastor told me, people are with me and for me. What a blessing that has been to me!

This week my husband gave me a small gift. It’s a squishy boxing glove, and he got it so I will remember to keep fighting and never give up. It’s also a reminder that I am not alone and that I am loved.IMG_3783

The boxing glove is also a reminder that I need to choose my hard. Living with depression is hard. I don’t know when this cloud will lift. Everything requires tons of mental energy, and I am exhausted by the end of the day. Then I learned at Lakeside that I need to change a lot of things in order to help improve my mental health: my thought patterns, my coping mechanisms, my sleeping and eating habits. Add to that adjusting to new medications and just living life, and all of it feels completely overwhelming and hard, and I know it will be. But as hard as all the change will be, it will not be harder than how I have been living. I resisted going to Lakeside initially because I didn’t want to put my family through that and I didn’t know what it would be like, but I also realized that my family would rather me be gone for a week instead of being gone for the rest of their lives. Then going to Lakeside didn’t seem quite as hard (although it in fact was one of the most difficult things I have ever done). Learning to change will require work and diligence, but I know that by choosing this hard thing I will hopefully one day lay aside the other hard thing—depression. It may be hard, but hard is not impossible. I will keep telling myself this, day after day, moment by moment, choice by choice, until I believe it.

I told my therapist that he saved my life, and I truly believe that. I also believe that it was no coincidence that I got that therapy appointment when I did. No, that was an act of the God who loves me and sees me and cares for me, even when I think He is far away. He marks all of my tears and keeps them in a bottle (Psalm 556:8). He will not restrain his mercy from me but will preserve me with His steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 40:11). 

I don’t know why I have to walk this road, but I hope that the Lord will redeem this struggle and use it for His good and His glory. The story is still being written, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. If you are reading this and relate to it but don’t know what to do, please reach out. Don’t be silent. Don’t give up. Fight the hard fight.