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Women looking at sunset

Dear present and future clients,

I know you. I know who you are, I know your struggles, and I know what it feels like to be sitting in this room at a random client’s graduation. I know how boring these graduations can be, especially if they’re long and the graduate is someone you don’t know.

But I also know what you were like before you came to Fulshear.

While I don’t know the specifics, I can guess you were miserable. You were at a low point in your life, enough to make your parents or whomever take notice and say, “Hey, she’s not okay, and we’re not doing enough to help.” And a lot of times, all we need is that small push. A parent or friend to notice we’re not okay, and do something that shows us just how much they care and want us to survive and live and be the best we can be. And so here you are, in the middle of Texas, living with however many other mentally ill folks, each of whom is dealing with their own problems and past.

I know this because I was once you.

I bet you’ve asked yourself at least once while you’ve been here, what did I do to end up here? How did I screw my life up this badly where my parents had to send me away so I could get better, become more socially acceptable, whatever?

I’m telling you right now that while you may not want to be here 100 percent, you are here for a reason. And that reason is because at one point, someone saw you struggling and realized that whatever was being done at home, therapeutically, wasn’t working. They needed to try something different, something more drastic. But where there’s external change, there’s internal change. The thing about internal change, though, is that it’s exactly what it sounds like. Internal. Your parents sent you here, for whatever reason, and now you’re here. You are more lucky than most mentally ill people your age. You have enough resources, enough people, who care about you and love you and support you, that they want you to get better. You have all these support systems and resources around you, and it would be a waste for you to not use them.

When I first came to Fulshear, I did not want to be here. I can’t tell you how many nights I spent outside on the porch of Main or at the fire pit crying because I missed my friends, I missed my family, I missed my dog, and I wanted to go home. Nikki, who was there for a lot of those nights, probably couldn’t tell you either. There were so many. At the beginning, my main motivation was my parents. I didn’t have a great relationship with them upon my arrival, but part of me knew that they still loved and cared about me, and if they didn’t, then I wouldn’t be here. I put in the work because I didn’t want them to spend their money on my treatment when I wasn’t putting in the effort. So I put in the effort at first, but only for them.

Slowly, though, my motivation began to change. I had many productive family sessions, and most of them were extremely difficult. But these family sessions taught me so many things. I hurt my parents, I hurt my sister, and I even hurt my brother, whom, as many of you know, I love and care about so much, and, with my explosive tantrums that lasted until I was literally 20 years old, my dog. I learned that I had hurt people I care about, not just in my family, and in doing so, I hurt myself. And one day, I resolved to work as hard as I could to ensure that I would never hurt them again. Or at least as badly as I did in the past. This motivated me to put more effort into my treatment.

The thing about treatment, though, is that even though your parents and friends and other family members can give you a push in the right direction or a jumping off point, the only way real change can happen is if it comes from you. No one can make you put in the effort, no one can make you have therapeutic goals or accomplish them. No one can make you change. You have to want to change, and in doing so, you have to put in the effort and the hard work to better yourself. Your mom, your dad, your best friend, your therapist, can’t do that for you.

5 myths that I believed at Fulshear vs the facts:
1. “I will never graduate.” 

I cannot tell you how many times those words crossed my mind. I would come to graduations like this, and I would think to myself, I will never be as healthy and strong and influential as the girl standing before me, getting her necklace and receiving her certificate. But there will be one day, if it hasn’t happened already, where you will realize that your life is, believe it or not, in your control. And if that realization happens while you’re here, and you fully embrace it and face life head-on and do the hard things, then I can promise you, you’ll graduate. It may seem like an impossible dream now, but not so long ago, it seemed like an impossible dream to me. If you put in the work and effort, I can promise you, you’ll be sitting up here, on this chair, speaking in front of everyone.

2. “Once I leave treatment, I won’t need therapy anymore.” 

While these exact words have never crossed my mind, I was under the impression for a while that once I left Fulshear, I would be cured of my mental illnesses, and I would never have to do anything therapy-related again. This is very false. For those who don’t know, I am a performer. I sing and I act. Singing is one of my strongest points, as well as one of my most effective coping skills. However, when it comes to acting, I have always been extremely self-conscious. I rehearse things a million times in my head when I’m alone, and then as soon as I get up in front of a group of people, everything I rehearsed and practiced on is gone, and I do something completely different than what I originally planned. While at Fulshear, I have come to understand that this is because I am more comfortable with the idea of performing rather than the actual act. When I’m belting out a number or giving a dramatic monologue in front of imaginary crowds of screaming fans or attentive theater goers in my bathroom, I am okay, because I know that the crowd that is watching me isn’t made up of real people, and they will only react how I want them to react. So I put my heart and soul into the performances I give for my bathroom mirror. But as soon as I step in front of a real audience, whether that audience is two people or two thousand people, everything changes. I’m much more self-conscious, and I am terrified of negative reactions, even if I’m performing for my friends or family. Just ask my parents how many times they’ve asked me to sing for them, and how many times I’ve said no because I felt too uncomfortable. Writing this speech is the easy part–it’s giving it that I struggle with. Even right now, as I’m speaking to you, I am doing therapy work. I am going outside my comfort zone and putting real emotion into this speech. It is uncomfortable and terrifying because I fear I’m being judged negatively, but in reality, there is no better place to start overcoming this fear of openly displaying emotion than at my graduation. I’m in a room full of people who are all here to celebrate me and my progress. I still fear I’m being judged, but logically, I know that the only judgments being made are positive. That doesn’t make this any less terrifying, but it makes this a safer place to be vulnerable.

3. “That worked for you–but it won’t work for me. I’m special, I’m a different case.”

There were so many times this thought crossed my mind, even before Fulshear. Someone would give me advice on what they did in a similar situation to the one that I’m in, and I would say “Yeah that might’ve worked for you, but I already know it won’t work for me because of a blank.” And then they’d give me more advice, and I would say the same thing. Eventually, people would stop offering me solutions or advice because I’d just keep negating it and finding ways that it wouldn’t work for me, without even trying. Let me tell you this now: in some ways, you are special. In other ways, you’re not. This is one of those ways. How do you know something won’t work until you try? Oh but Wendee, I tried that before, and it didn’t work then, so it won’t work now. Well, I have two answers to that. One, people change. What didn’t work before might work now, and vice versa. Even if you tried something last week and were unsuccessful, who’s to say it won’t work now? Two, there are some things that come naturally to people–talents that people are born with. And then there are things that we as people need to learn and improve and work on–these are called skills. Skills do not develop overnight — we need to practice and work hard until they are useful enough to help us. So what might not work for you the first five times could work the 6th if you keep working on it and making an effort. But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

4. “Everything will be okay once I leave Fulshear–I’ll be officially cured of my mental illnesses.” 

When I would go to graduations, I would see these girls who put in months–of ten years–worth of effort into their treatment. I was under the impression that these girls were mentally healthy and completely cured of whatever illnesses they’d been struggling with. However, this was never truly the case. In reality, Fulshear’s main goal is not to ultimately cure you, but to teach you how to cope with and handle your struggles in a healthy way. While I’m not a doctor, I’m pretty certain that I still have depression and anxiety and borderline personality disorder, and I’m also pretty certain that these illnesses will never go away and always be a part of me. But the difference from before treatment to after treatment is that now I know how to handle them in a healthy way. They will always be there, like an annoying bug bite that doesn’t go away–but there are things I can do to help me relieve the symptoms or take my mind off of it. And the answer, contrary to popular belief, is not always medication. Dr. Clarke, our resident psychiatrist, made a very valid point to me one day during a session we had. “If the medication did its job, you wouldn’t be here.” Medication, at least for me, was more of a band-aid on a wound that needed stitches. It helped a little, but not well enough. And, I am proud to say, that as of a few weeks ago, I am off of my anti-depressants for good. While this doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have depression anymore, it certainly means I am much better equipped to handle my depressive episodes. I wouldn’t be off my meds if we didn’t think that was true. I do want to mention, though, that meds are not always an indicator of progress–there are a lot of people who need certain meds to function, and that’s okay. Everything about treatment is relative. But even as I sit up here today, I still have my diagnosis. I just don’t allow it to run my life anymore, which brings me to my final myth.

5. “I am depressed/bipolar/borderline/etc.” 

I have heard these words countless times — not just from Fulshear clients, but all kinds of people defining themselves as their mental illnesses. What are mental illnesses though? They’re exactly what I said they are–illnesses. When people get diagnosed with a physical ailment, they don’t say, “I am the flu” or “I am Lyme disease.” Instead, we say “I have the flu,” or “I have Lyme disease.”  Why? Because physical ailments don’t define you. They are a part of you, true, but they are not who you are. So why don’t we say the same for mental illnesses? Is it because there is no concrete, physical proof that these illnesses exist other than our emotions and other things that go on in our minds? Maybe. But these illnesses, invisible they may be, are still there, and still illnesses, still ailments. You are not borderline or bipolar; you have BPD or bipolar disorder. You are not the flu or bronchitis, you have the flu or bronchitis. They are part of you. They are not who you are.

I know I’ve been talking for awhile, and I’m going to wrap it up now with a few more things. One, I’d just like to acknowledge some people. First, every client in the program, at the ranch or transition. You are here. The first step is done. The rest is up to you. Next, every single client at Fulshear who has impacted me in one way or another. You have changed me in ways you may or may not know, big or small. You have taught me things, and I am forever grateful for you all. I’m also grateful for my friends outside of Fulshear who have supported me and have been there for me through thick and thin, who have cheered me on and have been by my side every step of the way. I wouldn’t be the person who I am today without you.

I’m grateful for all the staff in Fulshear, Redwood and Cherry Blossom, who have tirelessly supported and encouraged me, even when I was less than willing, and even fighting back. If you hadn’t pushed me and made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have done the work I needed to do. I may not have appreciated it in the moment, but I sure as hell do now. I’m grateful for my amazing treatment team, who had my best interests at heart even when I didn’t think they did, and a special thanks to Monique and Nicole. When I arrived at Fulshear, I had a different specialist and a different therapist, and as I said to Nicole on Wednesday, I believe that this change happened for a reason, and what happened was what was meant to be.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank my parents. My mom and dad have always had what they saw as my best interest at heart, and while I may not always agree, and we may not always see eye to eye, I know that they will forever love and care about me, and nothing I ever do, could change that. They have been willing to change and grow, maybe not to the extent that I did over the past 15 months, but the effort and willingness was there, and that alone is proof of how much they care. I am so sorry about all the negativity I brought to my family. Thank you for caring enough about me to send me here, support me, and see me through all the way until the end. I love you.

At the risk of sounding cheesy or corny, I leave you with this: change is possible. I’m living proof. Thank you, Fulshear.