Returning to Independence, Creativity, and Community: My Experience at The Pavilion

April 29, 2020

The following is Karen’s story about her treatment at The Pavilion, an intensive two-week program at McLean Hospital designed to provide unparalleled diagnostic evaluation with an emphasis on evidence-based care, discretion, flexibility, and confidentiality.

My stay at The Pavilion in 2016 was at the lowest point of my life. It’s hard to describe how exhausted and depressed I was. When I arrived, I could hardly see straight, and the nurse put me right to bed. It was really what I needed—to sleep. My experience just went up from there. The people I worked with were fantastic.

At The Pavilion, you don’t feel sick. They’re so warm and welcoming. Even though you’re given a barrage of tests—they test everything, and it’s hard work and exhausting—they treat you normally.

Understanding My Past Traumas

I’d been hospitalized for depression several times throughout my life. When I was admitted to The Pavilion, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). I had been suicidal, and I was struggling with two significant losses: my husband passed away in 2010, and before that, I lost my son when he was only 17.

My childhood trauma contributed to my suicidality and depression. Both of my parents had been abusive: I had been molested by my father—I would jump if he moved too fast. My mother was verbally abusive, but she could also be very loving, and the contradiction was confusing.

“At The Pavilion, you don’t feel sick. They’re so warm and welcoming. Even though you’re given a barrage of tests—they test everything, and it’s hard work and exhausting—they treat you normally.”

I once attempted suicide when I was five years old. It was a dark night. No one else was outside with me. There was a busy street right near my house. It was spontaneous. I closed my eyes and ran across the street. Nothing happened, so I closed my eyes and ran back across the street. This time I felt the heat of the tires and heard the squeal of the brakes. I kept running until I got back home. My mother was sitting in the kitchen and said, “That was you, wasn’t it.” In that moment I knew I had to take care of myself.

A Healing Experience

Despite the immense pain I was experiencing when I entered The Pavilion, my team helped me realize the effect suicide would have on my survivors. I have grandchildren, and if I were to have killed myself, it would have had a huge impact on them as well as on my daughter and surviving son. There had been a number of suicides in my family, so the concept wasn’t foreign to me. The main thing that kept me working on my mental health was just the idea that it would have been a horrible thing for my grandkids and my kids to experience. Suicide wasn’t a legacy I wanted to leave them.

Because of my father’s abuse when I was young, it turned out to be healing for me to work with male therapists. By being in therapy with Dr. Joe Flores and my care manager Marc Zuckerman, I realized not all men are abusers. My husband hadn’t been an abuser either, but my male therapists reinforced a sense of trust in men.

Marc served as the liaison between my daughter, my son, and myself. We would have three-way conversations over the telephone. My son wasn’t able to handle the fact that I was receiving inpatient treatment, and he dropped out of those conversations. My daughter persisted, though, and these meetings were very helpful. I was in a skills-based group run by Dr. Rima Saad, where I learned new ways to handle problems. In my therapy sessions with Dr. Flores, I learned coping skills, and I uncovered themes and patterns in my personal history. Eventually, Dr. Vuckovic was brought in to manage my medications, and everybody worked well as a team.

Freedom Through Art

Earlier in my life, I’d been an illustrator. I worked on children’s books as well as Judaica, bar and bat mitzvah invitations, and wedding certificates (ketubah), which in the Jewish religion are very ornate. I’d never really starting painting, though, until I worked with Dr. Flores. During my entire time at McLean I worked exclusively on one oil painting that represented my time there.

The piece reflects my experiences during my stay at The Pavilion, as well a reoccurring image of my trauma: a sunrise that transitions into day and then to the night sky.

Patient art

Detail of Karen’s painting, which prominently hangs in her home

The painting portrays the type of unusual window frames at The Pavilion: softly molded unlike any others that I’ve seen. They are about six to eight inches wide and undulate like an ocean’s wave. The night sky is on the exterior of the depicted frame, while the interior contents of the frame represent my therapy experiences. Dr. Flores is symbolized by flowers because of his name, and Rima is symbolized by a planter. The bird represents my anticipated move to New Jersey as well as a sense of freedom.

Building Life After The Pavilion

I stayed three weeks at The Pavilion before I moved into McLean’s Lincoln Residence, a step-down program. After that, I was able to go out and have my own apartment. This all happened within a year, which just shows how much I improved from not functioning on my own to being able to rent an apartment and call it my place. At that time, if I found my mental health slipping, I would remind myself that I didn’t want to go back to the hospital, and this motivated me to practice good self-care. I had needed to be in the hospital in the past, but it wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat.

I now have my own place in New Jersey, where I live with my companion, my Havanese, Laila.

I still meet twice a week with Dr. Flores either by phone or through video appointments. In therapy, I work on creating paintings as well as on creating my life in my community. After my husband died, I spent a lot of time in bed—that was my go-to escape. Dr. Flores would call this “killing time,” so I don’t take naps anymore. I focus on tasks: I made chocolate cookies for a function; I plan to invite some women over for coffee; I just signed up to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. These are all life-building structures as a result of my therapy.

It’s been a long road, but I think I’m doing pretty well.

For more information on The Pavilion or to make a referral, please call 617.855.3694.

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