I have made my feelings pretty clear about how getting locked in a psych ward is pretty much no beuno. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the good that came from it. Just in case there are people out there that have ever wondered about in-patient treatment and if they should do it.
They did keep me alive and unhurt, which was priority number one. As one of my dear friends said to me as I was lamenting that going to the ER was a terrible thing (I already knew in my gut what was going to happen from there), sometimes you have no good choices. You can only pick the best option at the time and go forward with it. I know for people that have never struggled with the thought, it can be hard to understand being in a position of both knowing you will hurt yourself and not wanting to do it. Survival instinct is real and strong and you should listen to it. So keeping yourself safe is the number one thing. Even when every choice in front of you is a shit show, choose your safety first.
And thanks to the myriad of drugs they pumped into me, I slept for more than two hours for the first time in months. Sleep my brain desperately needed to start the healing process.
But, yeah, everything else about how the system worked can eat a bag jumbo-sized bag of penises.
Still. If I had to go back and make the choice to go into the ER knowing that I was going to be committed, I would do it again. There was one silver lining in all of this. And it’s one that has changed me forever. For that reason alone, I’m grateful for the entire crazy, awful, wild experience.
Quick aside. A fun fact for you is that there is no medical diagnosis of "insanity.” There is a definition, and there is a legal ruling for it. But there's no "insane" diagnosis listed in the DSM. I looked it up a few years ago when I started therapy. Whew. I was in the clear to go on living my life telling myself that I'm perfectly normal.
But I digress.
On a psych ward all of the patients are free to roam the hallways and shared common areas. And as I’ve said there is nothing to do most of the time in the ward.
Me. I spent a lot of time pacing. I did this for a lot of different reasons. I was having a lot of trouble with my thoughts. I was extremely distressed because I was worried about my relationship with the wrestler and couldn’t contact him (yes I am rolling my eyes right now, so you don’t have to). And I was just simply bored.
I spent the first night trying to avoid the other patients. I wasn’t like them. There were several people there that were having issues with reality. There were a couple having manic episodes so severe that they were having trouble functioning. There were people having hardcore withdrawal from drug use. Me? I was just sad. So of course I wasn’t like them.
I guess it’s worth mentioning here that I did have my fair share of scenes in lock down. But, come on, of course I did. I do love a good scene, and this was my time to shine. I have already mentioned the *spectacular* breakdown I had in the waiting room in the ER area that included a lot of wailing and hyperventilating. At one point, there were literally people fighting with cops in the hallway and I still managed to make more noise than them. They couldn't upstart me in the middle of my nervous breakdown. Amateurs.
There was a moment in the rec room my first night where I was trying to put together a puzzle while heavily drugged and crying. I searched and searched for two pieces that would fit and couldn't find any matches. Maybe when your life has fallen apart, a puzzle isn't a great way to pass the time. Nothing like being reminded that you can't get your shit together like staring at 1000 tiny cardboard jumbled pieces of a picture of a cat on a bicycle.
Then there was the following morning when the doctors had suggested that I might go home that day and then changed their mind. I took the news less than gracefully. Upon hearing the news, I began to have a panic attack. The good doc motioned for nurse, who helpfully brought a cup with the little green pills. The doctor suggested I take medicine because so I would feel better.
I picked up the cup, threw it as hard as I could down the hallway, and screamed in his face “I don’t want your goddamn pills. I want to go the fuck home.”
Like a totally sane and rational person.
For the record, no regrets on that move. If you can’t lose your shit as a psych patient, then you are doing it wrong. Honestly my only regret is not doing more. Although I did have a fear of too many outbursts prolonging my stay. That kind of fear takes some of the shine off of making a scene.
Still, I kept telling myself I’m not like them. I mean, I was woken up in the middle of the night by Mac screaming and then tap dancing down the hall singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” At one point I passed a patient who had taken off his pants, walking down the hall, dick swinging, happy as a clam. One night I watched a kid watching a basketball game who was very excited about it being March Madness. And I had lunch with someone who refuse the Jell-O because he was certain it was alive.
I’m totally not one of them.
By the second day my boredom was getting the best of me. And, I can’t help myself. I am a social butterfly by heart no matter the sitch. And so I started talking to the other patients.
Technically, they started talking to me. The first one to break the ice was Vance. I had watched Vance when he was brought in. He had been drug into the intake room the night before by two very large cops. Vance was a handcuffed and visibly terrified as he was dropped into the plastic chair like a sack of potatoes. I was livid watching the scene unfold.
Vance had found me in the hall crying in a corner after I had thrown the medicine and made my scene. By that time he was a different person than when he had been brought in. He was calm and almost happy.
He sat down beside me asked if it was my first time and I nodded and he began to give me a pep talk. He, like most everyone else there, was a repeater to institutionalization. He sat with me until I stopped crying and then we went to the rec room and played cards. Vance is an artist who suffers from paranoia and delusions when he is not medicated. Medicated, he is just a sweet, sensitive guy. He show me some of his drawings, which were very impressive, and we talked about our shared love of art. I had made a friend.
Later that night, I hung out with Mac, who was still very manic and was the most “crazy" presenting of the bunch. A young girl, in her 20s, she hadn't slept in days and her energy was overwhelming to be around. But the girl could sing, I can give her that. That night while I was pacing the hall, I passed Mac. She was still manic, still sleep deprived, still claiming to have the word of God coming through her, but also oddly concerned about me. She asked if I wanted to sit and try EFT tapping. I said why not? We sat in the hall and tapped our foreheads, our cheekbones, our collar bones. And as we tapped, we talked though the night. Mac had an eating disorder and an extreme case of bipolar disorder she had struggled with her whole young life. She also had a wicked sense of humor and compassion for everyone around her. I had made another friend.
The next morning I was waiting for my lukewarm coffee with two sugars (because that’s the rule, so you can't throw hot coffee) and I was struggling. I generally drink a pot of coffee that has been pre-programmed to brew before I even wake up. I was also struggling because I had a lot of little green pills in my system. I was not happy camper. A very large man named Larry was in line in front of me and as soon as they opened the snack counter he asked them to give me a cup of coffee. When a struggling drug addict with withdrawal symptoms thinks you look bad from lack of caffeine, you might have a problem.
After breakfast we ended up walking the halls together. Larry is abrasive and has a lot of anger issues. Still, we somehow ended up talking and laughing and I got to see the softer side of him. We were both released the same day and cheered each other on during the discharge process. I had made yet another friend.
Group therapy, as previously mentioned, was a joke and a huge waste of time. But in the second morning's group therapy session there was a new patient. I immediately took notice of her because of her age. She introduced herself as Rose. Rose is 81 years old. She interrupted the session to proudly introduce herself: "I am Rose, and I like to eat ,and drink, and smoke, and get laid." I yelled back "yaaasss, girl" and walked over to sit by her. It was an excellent decision.
Rose and I became nearly inseparable for the next 30 or so hours. She was tiny and sweet and adorable, until someone crossed her, and she then her eyes flashed and she was quick the the "fuck you's" and riotous indignation. She was kind of my hero.
Then I learned more about her. And let me say, no 81-year-old needs to be locked up on a psych ward. It is the biggest reflection of our failing system. This woman had led a fascinating life. She also led a tragic one.
Rose was in for alcoholism, depression, and a suicide attempt. She told me that she had been institutionalized four other times in her life for varying amounts of time. She had been forced to do shock treatment back in the day. Nothing had ever helped and she lived her life under the shadow of depression and alcoholism.
I want to add that Rose was a most excellent wing-woman. As we walked slowly up and down the hall, sharing stories and laughing, every time we passed a guy she would stop them to point out that I was the prettiest girl in the ward, and how fascinating and funny I was. I feel like I should have a tiara for that. Miss Psych Ward 2022. How could I not love this feisty little lady?
As we chatted, I had mentioned my reckless behavior before getting to the ER. I mentioned how I had worried my friends by taking medication and drinking and soaking in a tub (and then sending long woe-is-me texts to them). When they had expressed their fears that I would pass out and drown, I had become excited at the prospect. It hadn't actually occurred to me.
Rose’s eyes lit up and she she grabbed my arm and said "do you really think that would work?"
Folks, I've talked a lot about heart break lately, and I've had my fair share. But none of it compares to that moment, looking into her eyes full of pain. It was like staring down my future.
It is my hope that Rose gets out and lives the rest of her days happy. I actually doubt that will happen, though. I told her that I would go and live the rest of my life as boldly and happily as I can. Rose is a big reason for this blog and this next year of my life. Our system sucks, but there have been advances in medications and therapies (I will never be forced into shock therapy, for example). I want to live a life that she never got a fighting chance to live. I want to find out how to be a happy and whole person. For Rose. And for myself. I had made another, and incredibly important, friend.
The morning that I was released, I made my rounds and gave hugs and exchanged contact information. I truly hope that we stay in touch.
I told myself that I wasn't one of them. I wasn't insane or crazy. Just sad and taking a dramatic step to get back into therapy. A few meds in me and I'd be good as new.
But then I met the people behind the illness. And I realized how much we had in common. But more than that, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I felt truly and completely seen.
The other patients understood what I was going through. They didn't judge where I was or how I had got there. They were in the same place. We all had our stories of how we had struggled, but the common denominator for all of us was that we had all been brought to our very lowest and were still fighting. They looked at me and saw the depression, the anxiety, the self-harm, the suicide attempts. And they looked right past it to the person.
Being forced into in-patient treatment was a humbling experience. It was degrading, and scary, and horribly uncomfortable. It was also one that opened my heart in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
And it is also incredibly important to me that the experience not be a shameful one. We all struggle. Some just struggle differently than others. But what I saw in the people I met was that they were also fighters. There is a beauty in being someone that continues to fight, against all odds, to find a life that is worth living. They were all fighting and they were all beautiful. I'm fighting too. And I just might be beautiful, too.
I learned a lot about empathy, compassion, and strength during my stay. I learned a lot about others and myself. I learned, it turns out, I am completely one of them. And I’m okay with that.