Putting the Libra to Sleep

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I’ve completed six days in the Lutheran Hospital outpatient program, and I can’t tell yet if it’s making me better or worse.

There are two designations—IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) 1 and 2.  None of the literature explains the difference between the groups, but, basically IOP1 is for more functional, more acutely symptomatic folk.  IOP2 is for more severely ill folk who maybe require other services (home care, rehab, medical, etc.).

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The first two days I attended IOP1.  The group was HUGE, 14-18 people with the usual one or two who dominated every conversation and folks talking over each other.  I thought I would lose what little mind I had left.

I watched my intolerance and irritation skyrocket.  My Libra penchant for fairness blew up into a neurotic need to silence the blabbermouths so that the silent suffers might get a second to squeak out a comment.  But I also realized this was all my shit.  If the facilitators felt no need to shut down the usurpers or redirect the tangential wanderers, then it wasn’t my place to step in.  Instead I clutched my purse to my chest and took deep breaths.

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After the second day (and no sleep that night), I knew I needed to talk to my designated handler.  I told her through bitey, frantic, tear-and-snot laden spew that I couldn’t take another day of it.  She listened with a beatific smile and commented in a gentle don’t-spook-the-Tasmanian Devil voice.  Perhaps I should move to the other group.  And feel free to find a quiet place to breathe whenever the desire to punch a talky-talker in the face arose.

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My first day at “the other end of the hall” felt restful in comparison.  There were only five of us in group, and I learned things about PTSD—one of my diagnoses, though something my therapist and I have never really explored.  We usually have other immediate shinola to deal with, so we’ve only ever just touched on it.  THIS was what I was hoping for—some new information, some new tools, a direction.

But, the next day the group expanded to 13, and the whole issue of blatherers and time-sucks reappeared on a crazier level.  I tried to be compassionate, but that well seems to be dry at the moment.  I know folks talk out of nervousness, insecurity, etc., so I tried to reason with myself.  I still ended up out in the hall with my earbuds firmly in place, listening to Billy Joel sing “Innocent Man.”

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I blame the insurance industry and our butt-head Governor, Terry Branstad.  Most insurance coverage only allows three days a week in outpatient care, so Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays end up with twice the group size as Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It’s stressful to go from a small, intimate group where folks feel safe enough to open up, to a mob where everyone talks at the same time.

And because our Governor closed most of the mental health hospitals, took away funding for behavioral services, and basically told folks with mental illness to “get over it,” the programs that are left are bursting at the seams.

I watch the kind and knowledgable staff at Lutheran run around like headless chickens, trying to accommodate everyone’s needs, shore up folks enough to leave so that those who have been waiting a month for an opening in the program can take their place.  The nurse practitioner who talked to me about medication laughed long and loud when I called it “a three-ring shit show.”  This seems to be my new favorite phrase.

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I came home every day more exhausted and people-avoidant than ever.  I feel like an Introvert In Extremis, only able to function after hours of silent cat time, a couple episodes of Fringe and a frozen pizza from Costco (they have the best thin crust sausage pizzas…).  Even then, “functional” may mean taking a four-hour nap or washing the dishes.

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Yesterday I did my laundry at 3:00 in the morning, because I couldn’t stand the thought of going to the laundromat on the weekend when everyone else goes there.  So, because I was already awake at 3:00, I did laundry for the first time in my apartment complex’s washer/dryer.  Granted, one is not supposed to use the machines until 8:00 out of respect for the tenants who live next to the Common Room.  But since I hate people right now, I didn’t care.  And I tried to be quiet.  No one came after me with a knife, and no one slashed my tires later, so I think I got away with it.

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In between tippy-toeing, I sat at the nice dining table and worked on my journal.  Along with my wheeled laundry hamper, I brought my traveling studio (everything should be on wheels) and a big mug of hot chai.  I sat at my own little coffee shop with my earbuds in and the smell of clean wafting around me, and even through the itchy buzz of being up at 3:00 doing something illicit, I could feel my mind smooth out.

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The same nurse practitioner who laughed so hard with me suggested a new strategy for next week.  Bring my wheely cart and when group bugs me too much, take it to this out-of-the-way lounge I found and do art until I feel like coming back.  I tried that on Friday, and I left the hospital less drained.  I met my two meditation buddies for lunch and lasted about 30 minutes before I completely faded.  My well is dry.  That’s all there is to it.

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I think the trick is to not panic.  I feel myself considering the new drugs this kindly nurse practitioner suggests, even though I sat with my own NP before I started IOP and recounted my long list of Drugs Tried and why they didn’t work.  She reminded me that there really is nothing new in psychotropics, just tweaks to the same old formulas.  If they didn’t work then, they won’t now.

I’m grateful that the Lutheran staff is so willing to work with me.  It’s ironic that the adaptability and flexibility I need from them is part of what makes me so irritable there.  It’s a very loose, laissez-faire set-up for people who have different special needs.  I must try to give my Libran craving for fairness, order and rules a rest.  Maybe I can give her a Xanax.

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30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kirizar
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 09:37:14

    I loved this post–even as I struggle to not be the talky-talker in a group. I am also impatient with listening to others. (It’s all about ME dontcha know.) my favorite thing is looking at the pages of your journal. I assume you are pro Simon Pegg and elephants? In which case, you are totally my kind of human–even if you couldn’t stand to be in a group with me!

    Reply

  2. Cheryl LaVille
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 09:38:00

    You have such a way of making us present in your struggles and triumphs.chc

    Reply

  3. Laney
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 09:50:03

    I try never to miss a word, Sandy… you speak so strongly and with so much heart

    Reply

  4. Leslie
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 10:25:42

    Ah Libra…she’s such a pain in the ass. When combined into Virgo to make me a cusp baby….well, it’s not a good combo. A fair perfectionist? An organized disaster? I feel your struggle in IOP as I’ve been there and had exactly the same problems. Sometimes I’m grateful for the blabbermouths who answer every question without being called on, saving me from having to answer. And sometimes I hate them because I have something to say and they won’t shut up.

    I am glad that you are getting something out of this though. I know it’s hard, and you’re fighting your own panic, but as long as you’re learning, then it’s worth it. Once you’re no longer learning anything new…you’ll have a decision to make. Until then, I would definitely dash off a letter to the governor.

    Reply

  5. Judy Otte Juhl
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 11:30:10

    Sandy, I haven’t seen you in YEARS, but hope you find your way through this. I too wish that mental health wasn’t kicked to the curb! So much we don’t understand. Really enjoyed your post.

    Reply

  6. donnaanddiablo
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 13:23:42

    I feel your edginess in your writing, Sandy, and at the same time marvel at your ability to step outside yourself and bear witness to what you are experiencing. You’re amazing…I don’t know what else to say.

    Reply

  7. Cate
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 15:11:23

    I so enjoy these posts and the delightful art, which often gives me a pleasant rush of nostalgic recognition.(Wait! Is that Gregory Peck as Atticus!? And a younger version of the Spock to which I’m accustomed, but Spock nonetheless!? And Kraft mac and cheese?! Hurrah, all!). The sanity with which you approach your “insanity” is so relatable, which reminds me that much connects all of us across diagnostic and experiential lines. Keep up the wonderful work; it’s therapeutic for all of us. 🙂

    Reply

  8. Val Boyko
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 16:32:55

    Thank you for this share Sandy Sue. The art collage work is terrific. 💛

    Reply

  9. David Kanigan
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 18:54:20

    Your struggle so beautifully captured. I wish you peace Friend.

    Reply

  10. Miss Kitty
    Oct 23, 2016 @ 22:16:17

    … or try just going on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    Reply

    • Sandy Sue
      Oct 24, 2016 @ 05:31:10

      Yes, and I’ve thought about that. I can’t tell if I need to do this work, figure out how to take care of myself in this situation, or if I’m just hurting myself. I can’t trust what my brain is telling me. It’s frickin’ hard.

      Reply

  11. Deep Silbaugh
    Oct 24, 2016 @ 07:15:12

    Sandy, I am sorry to hear that you have had such a hard struggle lately. I don’t know anyone who has worked as hard as you to stay well. I wish I had some magic words to make life better for you but I don’t. Always know that I am available to listen or rant to. Hang in there.

    Reply

  12. Littlesundog
    Oct 25, 2016 @ 11:52:16

    I needed a diversion this morning and your collection of Gratitude collages were great to lose myself in… but, my favorite is the last piece with the skunk on it. I’ve been showing my inner skunk lately. I do not do well with people, especially in large groups. My threatening tail is UP!!!

    Reply

  13. pegoleg
    Oct 27, 2016 @ 11:01:05

    Your journals are so lyrically pretty – it’s astonishing to me what you can create through all that chaos. Hope it smooths out more very soon.

    Reply

  14. Catherine Cheng, MD
    Nov 01, 2016 @ 08:09:52

    Wishing you what you need today, Sandy Sue. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It’s our connections that save us, I think. You writing connects the rest of us better to ourselves, and hopefully back to you, as well. It’s a win-win! Peace and love to you. ❤️

    Reply

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