(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

A couple posts ago I wrote about how certain dates or seasons can stir up emotions. Well, as anyone with a memory knows, a number of things can grab us and transport us back in time—smells, tastes, sights, locations, just to name a few. And if what happened is bad enough, we can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms when reminded of what we’d rather forget. That’s just part of the baggage we pick up along the way.

The trick is to notice we are only experiencing an emotion in the present, not really going back in time. Of course, PTSD is a recognized mental disorder, so sometimes we can’t just will away our responses, even when we understand why we feel so anxious. However, with a whole lot of work and some more time on our travels, maybe we can lose that baggage in transit—or, if nothing else, reduce the size of the luggage.

Nonetheless, it was hard to pack away that luggage enough to let our daughter go so far away to college. Despite our daughter’s improved mental health, we were concerned about the distance between her and us, as well as from the providers who knew her and had helped her get back on track. Freshman year is complicated for almost all—even for those who have no record of mental illness difficulties. Dorms are poor places for good health practices, mental or physical. Yet, we figured her breaks would allow her access to her providers and we could re-assess treatment after her first year away.

Good plan except Sherman’s work switched insurance options in July—which left off her providers from our list of those covered. So I began trying to find providers where she would attend college—or through the college counseling center. After several conversations with the director of the center, she and I decided her needs could be handled through the center.

Well, turns out the center isn’t really funded well enough to keep up with the campus needs. After she had a few bungled encounters with different people at both the counseling center and the health center, we no longer felt we could trust those providers with our daughter’s needs. Since time had passed getting to that conclusion, we needed to find providers ASAP.

Finally, we realized we could pay her former providers out of pocket for now and decide later.

Which meant she and I got to visit them in their location twice this week now that she’s home from break.

Yesterday, as we waited an additional half an hour for her scheduled appointment, she said, “I don’t know if it’s me or not, but I always feel sick when I come here.”

Me, too, baby. Just returning to that building brings on multiple emotions and responses from me.

First of all, I don’t want to be reminded of all those hard times our family experienced together in our own home and otherwise. And then, I’m also trying to forget the people within the system who were harmful to us rather than helpful. Additionally, every trip there requires all patients and their families to go through multiple frustrations: difficult highway traffic, constantly changing parking situations, security systems that delay appointment arrival once in the building, lines at the check-in desk, having to wait for providers even though a patient’s late arrival can mean a charge and re-scheduling, etc. Plus, there is always an underlying worry the illness will return and the location will become too familiar once more.

Amazing that all these feelings are stirred up by this place where a few people did bring about great healing—which is why we return despite all the reasons not to.

Thankfully, the providers we saw this week have been helpful. Coming back was the right decision for now. But I think she and I both ought to recognize there’s nothing odd about our mixed emotions when we enter that building. The few neutral emotions we have about the place cannot quite hold up against other intense feelings and responses.

We’ve just got to keep working through what got us there and doing what we can to make sure this is no Hotel California for us—we do get to “check out” even if after each visit it takes some time before we lose sight of the place–and how we were at an earlier date in that place–in our rearview mirrors.

So the best I can do is to turn the car onto the road home and get us away from there as fast as I can. It’s like that Stan Ridgway song “Drive, She Said”—only the baggage she and I carry isn’t stolen from some bank, but something we’re hoping to dump off at the first chance. Yup, I’m driving getaway straight to that pier.