Shirlee Finch - Crystal, MI
"It wasn't just the medications - we were actually working on different lifestyle changes."
A Unique Program Helped Her Regain Control from Emotional Hardship
Underneath a seemingly normal life, Shirlee Finch of Crystal, Michigan, was struggling to get by. She had a loving wife, played the saxophone, loved her dog, and had been working at a rewarding job as a school teacher for over 30 years.
However, Finch had struggled with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder since she was a college student. Her mental troubles sometimes manifested into destructive behaviors, such as an alcohol addiction or getting caught up in unhealthy relationships. "I was so sick," said Finch.
Things came to a head a few years ago when Finch's mother tragically passed away. "I didn't think I could survive without her," said Finch. Later, when all of her problems had built up to an overwhelming burden, Finch even attempted to take her own life.
When this happened, Finch was immediately admitted into an inpatient program. She remained there for one month while psychiatrists worked to get her depression to a manageable level. During this time, she was placed on an antidepressant medication.
No longer needing full-time hospitalization, but not yet ready to handle normal life on her own, Finch was admitted into the Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at MyMichigan Medical Center Alma. This unique program offers intensive help for people who need a level of care greater than weekly sessions, but that don't require the 24-hour supervised care of an inpatient program.
She initially left the program after a couple of weeks but ended up returning two more times. "I was in the program three times before it clicked and I started participating," Finch said. "I didn't want to be there, but I saw a little spark of hope that things really could change because they told me it could."
Louise St. John, B.S., R.N., the program's nurse specialist, says that Finch's type of timeline is perfectly fine. Sometimes patients come to the program directly from an inpatient program, other times patients come from an outpatient program, and sometimes patients simply call and say that they need help. "All of that is okay," said St. John. Anybody is able to call us and receive a screening to determine if they are eligible for the program, and a referral is not required.
Patients who are unsure if they are eligible are still encouraged to call and a team member will talk to them and determine which program would best meet their needs. "If people are really depressed, even if they are having suicidal thoughts but no plans or intent, they can come here," said St. John. "We make sure we give them the correct level of care.”
In the program, Finch soon developed a trusting relationship with St. John and Will Thomas, M.A., L.P.C., program counselor. This was a major achievement for Finch, who had developed a serious difficulty building trust in others over the years. "It felt so safe in there," she said.
One of the program's psychiatrists met with Finch in her first couple days to review her medications, then continued checking up on how they were working every week. The predominant activity of the program, however, was the intensive counseling. "It wasn't just the medications," said Finch. "We were actually working on different lifestyle changes."
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every weekday, patients meet for group counseling to discuss their personal goals, strategies to achieve them, and coping mechanisms. "They provide you with the tools to help you deal with things," said Finch.
St. John noted that meeting and working together with other patients is beneficial. "You can see people at different levels of their progression, and that provides hope," she said. "They share with each other and can support each other, and that lets them know they aren't alone in this journey." The staff also offered support to Finch's wife.
When she came every afternoon to take Finch home, they would touch base with her individually to give her ideas about what to expect and how to help. "We worked on building trust up again," Finch said. "They let her know she was a big part of the recovery process."
Bit by bit, Finch could tell that the program was helping, and she eventually was able to resume her normal life. Since then, she was able to finish her career and formally retire. She is back to playing in a band, singing in a choir, and training for the next ironman triathlon. With her new tools, Finch says, "I purposefully put things in my life to try to stay positive." She feels her mother would be happy that she is doing well and knows that she is always watching over her.
The Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization program accepts voluntary admissions via self, community or physician referral. Those interested in referral information or are interested in insurance acceptance for the program may call (989) 466-3253.