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Lexington and Fifth

Lasting recovery in the wake of chronic illness requires a depth of insight that only allies with a vested interest in recovery can produce when a person isolates or does not work”  Maxwell Guttman (The Role of the Support System in Improving Mental Health Prognosis, 2018)

“I’m on Lexington and Fifth, darling” Caroline repeated, loudly. 

“Darling, I’m with my literary agent! We just got out of a meeting in the boardroom, and it seems I am being published again!” Said Caroline

“Again! Yes, well, when you’ve been published this many times it’s a real bore!” Pouted Caroline, taking off her sunglasses to look to check her makeup and look at her eyelash makeup through the tinted glass reflection.

“A bore, can’t you hear me?!” Caroline screamed into the phone.

“Caroline, is that you screaming? You know, there is a noise policy here!” A distant voice echoed.

“Caroline! I said, PLEASE stop screaming!” The voice was moving closer in proximity.

“Yes, Nurse Gottlieb! What is it now?” Caroline was almost smug with her tone, but more so, with her eye rolling.

“Caroline, you missed your afternoon meds! Wipe that smirk off your face, Caroline! This is serious, you can’t just skip your meds, and make noisy calls outside the hallway when group is in session. There are rules in this program, Caroline, and you will follow them!” Nurse Gottlieb exclaimed, starring Caroline in the eye, who was almost in shock by the directness and the tone of the nurse at Serling Day Program for the Mentally Ill in Harrison, New York.

Caroline looked down at her cell phone in shameful desperation and began to text Jacques “Get me out here! I can’t stand this program!” Caroline typed.

“We’re going to the beach house this weekend, and your invited too Caroline. Everyone will be there. Just make sure your packed and ready” Jacques said reassuringly via text. 

“How did you two meet?” my therapist inquired. “In partial hospital….” I elaborated at length.

I met Caroline in the Partial Hospital program after my discharge from Greater Liberty Health Center in 2008. I’ve known her for over eleven years, just about a third of my age now, thirty three. When I met Caroline, she had recently been in the hospital for a long period of time, and was still hypomanic. We bonded over mental health stories, mostly our own, and would meet for coffee.

When I went back to Liberty for Graduate School in Social Work we lost touch for a while. Returning home with my masters, and becoming licensed shortly after to practice psychotherapy, I went out to work full time, and didn’t have as much time for weekly coffee visits with anyone, Caroline included. 

Venturing out into my community where I had been hospitalized or had therapists of my own, I would run into people that treated my illness during my recovery or earlier on in my adolescence. I also stumbled upon old face, people like Caroline, and others, that I knew from treatment. Now on the other side, it was rather awkward, especially in the case of Caroline.

I say this because when I reengaged with Caroline she was in the same spot as she was eleven years ago. Maybe even worse off. I am judging this by her level of care, the time that elapsed with little or no gains made in insight into her illness or judgement in terms of repeated relapses without gaining additional perspective on her condition. Caroline was now in a Continuing Day program called PROs, which was on the campus we met eleven years ago, just in a different building. 

I couldn’t fathom going to the same small mental health campus for over a decade, and not even benefit from it whatsoever. During the last eleven years, Caroline had crashed another two cars during additional manic episodes, and gone off her meds two more times without doctor supervision. When I found Caroline this last time, she was washing her laundry at the local halfway house, which was connected to the agency which subsidizes her supported housing program. 

Eleven years and no progress I thought to myself. This can’t be the case. I mean, it must take real work to stay in a holding pattern in life for so long without budging. Either that, or she must very sick or symptomatic most of the time. I would later find out that cases like Caroline exist everywhere, and she is no more unique than her biography is to other people with a mental health disorder that share their story. 

“We meet for coffee every so often at the diner…” I said to my therapist, finalizing my thought. 

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