Although we weren’t allowed to roast marshmallows in the psych ward (for fear of someone purposely lighting himself on fire), there were many campfire moments, where we sat in a circle sharing some of the most intimate memories, stories, hopes, and fears that, along with a power failure in the left part of the prefrontal cortex had our minds gripped by anxiety and depression.
One group therapy session I remember with fondness (my God, I’m starting to think is WAS camp) was the hour our Girl Scout leader, I mean psych unit nurse, told us to recall a few of our favorite activities.
“I know it’s difficult to think about that right now when you are so depressed,” she said.
“But you will enjoy those things again. I promise you. You WILL enjoy them again.”
I thought about four things that I love, that help me to decompress: going to the downtown park with Katherine and David (as long as everyone was behaving), long bike rides along the Severn River, runs around the stunning campus of the Naval Academy, and kayaking with David.
I shared those with the group and then listened to what energized my friends in the room: family picnics, murder mystery novels, journal writing, crossword puzzles, movies and popcorn, hiking through the woods, mountain biking, chess, video games, surfing the Internet, and so on.
Huh. Interesting. But I didn’t believe the nurse for a second.
Because I had been forcing myself to do those things I loved and even when I made myself accept an invitation to ride my bike with friends, I continued to cry along the way because the suicidal thoughts followed me, pestering me about nailing down a specific date and plan.
Still, I took the kids to the park. I rode my bike. I ran. Obsessing about death and crying most of the time.
But then one day I ran six miles without tears. Two weeks later I could push Katherine in the baby swing at the park without shaking. Three weeks after that I biked the Baltimore-Annapolis trail and made only one suicidal plan (instead of my average of six).
I suspect this is what was happening: My bumps were in the process of growing wings, so that they could fly away.
That’s Katherine’s theory. When bumps or other boo-boos go away, that means they have sprouted wings and taken off, into the sky.
About the same time as I overheard my thee-year-old biologist’s sophisticated explanation of how a bulge dissipates, I took David kayaking in Spa Creek. We explored all the little fingers and waterways of our charming town.
“Look David!” I said, “It’s a water turtle!” And then after he and I paddled up to it I wondered if it was dead (that’s why it was floating? Oh please don’t ask me about dead animals and where they go).
At that point I could have easily shifted into negative thinking–the polluted Chesapeake Bay, which is too toxic to host turtles and fish. But I didn’t. I rested my paddle on my lap, took in the gorgeous view of Annapolis, and soaked in the light, refreshing breeze. At which point I was tempted to kneel at the front of the kayak yelling “King of the World!” in real Leonardo DiCaprio style (referring to the “Titanic” scene for those confused readers).
And I thought to myself: “Oh … my … God … I’m happy!”
I immediately remembered that group therapy session at Johns Hopkins when the bubbly nurse promised us that we would positively and absolutely enjoy our favorite things again. In other words, our bumps would eventually grow wings and fly away.