This is a bold statement, but one I believe with all my heart. Now let me tell you how. Depression and anxiety were kicking my butt. I was 26 and convinced that I was bound to spend the rest of my life going in and out of mental hospitals. I mean, I had spent the past Thanksgiving and Chanukah on a locked unit at McLean Hospital and New Years at a residential program in Boston. Now it was April and the last six weeks of my life had been spent back at McLean, my fourth visit in the past 6 months.
Spring Lake Ranch saved my life.
I had tried everything.
Medicine after medicine had only seemed to make me worse. The doctors thought ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) was about my last option. After a lot of thought, I decided to let them shock my brain. Multiple times. And it was scary. When I woke up and couldn’t remember where I lived, I knew it was time to stop that one. I felt totally hopeless. I felt like I had no friends. I was keeping a distance from my very loving family because I couldn’t stand to hear the pain in their voices – the pain I knew I was I causing.
It was clear that I needed to try something different. My doctor at McLean gave me two options – a residential living program in Cambridge, MA, or Spring Lake Ranch. I needed a dramatic change that Cambridge could not provide, so I took a risk and decided to move to a farm in Vermont. Now, my parents will tell you that ever since I was a young kid, I had dreamt of living in Vermont, despite having spent very little time there. I am not a city person and the outdoors had always spoken to me. As soon as I got up here, I felt like I could breathe a little easier. No more traffic, no more rushing, no more people everywhere. It was exactly what I needed.
The Ranch provided something that I had really yearned for: a community.
I had severe social anxiety, which was making it almost impossible for me to interact with groups of people – but I needed people. Everyone at the Ranch was kind and accepting, and I slowly but surely got used to being around others. I also found people that I could open up to on a human level instead of on a clinical level. It was a crash course in social interaction, and it proved to me that people were not the scary beasts I thought they were.
I took right to the work and tried all the crews at various points. Eventually, I found two homes, one in the woods and one in the garden. It made me feel so good to be productive again. After eight and a half months, it was finally time to move off of the Hill and into the Rutland Aftercare Program (RAP). I was very hesitant – after all, Rutland is the second biggest city in Vermont and I am just not a city person, but it was clear that it was the right move. I could start relearning how to live independently while keeping a lot of the important connections I had made on the Hill. While in RAP, I got to be the Gardens Crew Intern and continued to find my voice as I learned how to lead crews.
For so long, I wished that life would be tolerable and now it was. I had friends, people I could count on, and everything was looking up. I also knew I had found my home living in Vermont.
Six months after graduating from RAP, I started working as a substitute Crew Leader and duty person at the Ranch. This gave me the opportunity to give back to the Ranch the gifts that it gave to me.
Now my life is much better than just tolerable – it is positively wonderful. I have hit the jackpot and am surrounded by love and happiness in my home. My relationship with my family has improved dramatically. Hearing the joy in their voices and the pride that they have in me is about the best gift I could have hoped for. I have friends, community, and a dog. And this is just the beginning…