Prior to 2012 I had never been hospitalized. It had been recommended a couple of times, but I was too stubborn to let anyone “lock me up.” Besides, I always said, I could always control my suicidal impulses. Until, for some reason, I couldn’t.
Here’s why I was hospitalized the first time…
The summer of 2010 I was working an okay job, making decent money, with good insurance. But I wasn’t happy with my job or my life. So I decided to go back to school full-time days and work full-time nights. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t do both full-time. I chose school over the job because I was afraid that I’d never finish my Bachelors degree. As of mid-September 2010, I became unemployed (my job didn’t offer part-time hours). I thought I’d be fine. My school offered on-campus, free, health services as well as a counseling center. And at first I was fine. After a couple of months I found a part-time job to keep my lights on and concentrated on my studies. It was hard, but I was doing it. I thought things were going okay. Sure, money was tight and my landlord/creditors were not happy with late/under payments, but hey, I was living with it all. Basically, I was on the edge. One puff of wind and I would tumble.
Tumble I did. It took a bit longer than I thought, not till May of 2012. Up till then I kept it together, sometimes by the skin of my teeth. Sometimes by a patchwork of charities and payday loans and prayer. Eventually I used up all my second and third and fourth chances and my landlord wouldn’t work with me any longer. I got evicted. Thankfully, my brother let me sleep in his guest room so I wasn’t completely homeless, but it wasn’t good.
Then, I had to go off my meds. At that time I was getting my psych meds for free. The manufacturer of the meds had a program that would send the meds directly to your doctor for free if your income was below a certain amount. And mine was (how could it not, I was only working 20 hours a week at a minimum wage student job). So, every few months, I’d go to my university health services, which had on on-site pharmacy, and pick up my meds there. That summer, the university changed its policy. If you weren’t taking classes over the summer (and I wasn’t, my financial aid wouldn’t cover it) you couldn’t use health services without paying a fee. A fee you couldn’t pay in increments. A fee I couldn’t afford. I had meds; they were waiting in the health services pharmacy. But they couldn’t give them to me unless I paid the fee. Off meds I went.
So there I was, broke, off meds, only getting counseling through a group that focused on eating disorders (I have Binge Eating Disorder—hence the circus lady physique) and was essentially homeless. Yes, my brother was allowing me to stay at his house, but I only stayed at his house to sleep or do laundry. Not because he or his wife didn’t want me there, they did. And not because I didn’t get along with them, I do. I love them to pieces and we get along great. I stayed away because I felt that I didn’t have the right to disrupt more of their lives than necessary. So every day I’d leave right after I got dressed and didn’t return till it was time to go to bed. At the time I was only working 30 hours a week at my student job so I spent a lot of time sitting around the library. Without my psych meds, my mood got worse and worse. Feeling like I was a burden on my family didn’t help. And I had no friends (or so I thought. I had friends, just not in my town). At this point, I nearly gave up on my degree. But I was so close, one semester left.
That September, when my financial aid kicked in, I used some of the money to get a cheap place to live (why didn’t I do that before? Would you give up a nice studio apartment to live in a rooming house where you had to share your kitchen and bathroom with four total strangers—and possibly bugs?), and breathed a sigh of relief. I was able to pay ahead a couple of months rent and get up to date on my car payment. For the first time in two years I had a bit of time where I didn’t have to worry about being evicted or having my car repo’d. I wasn’t sleeping in my brother’s guest room, passing time at the library, never really having the alone time my personality craved. I could come home after class and be completely alone. No one would be bothered by my comings and goings. No one would “people watch” me (like at the library) while I read. I could breathe.
I breathed. Then I imploded.
I didn’t go back to health services for my psych meds. I rarely went to group counseling (the only counseling I was eligible for at the time). And if I did, I didn’t talk about anything other than my eating disorder. I told no one that the suicidal thoughts were getting worse, that I was having a harder and harder time getting out of bed, that going to class or work was becoming a fight against anxiety, that it was all I could do to breathe much less go through a regular day. By November, breathing was pretty much all I could do. I quit my job. My world shrank to the size of my room and the walk to the bathroom and kitchen. If I ran out of food, my only real coping tool, I would throw a coat on over my filthy pjs and drive to a grocery store. But only after hours of talking myself into it. For two weeks, I rarely washed, never talked, and spent my days fighting the impulse to kill myself.
You see, my brain seemed determined to kill me. Images of me with slit wrists, ropes around my neck, handfuls of pills, were all my brain sent me. I couldn’t see that I had family in the next town over who loved me. I couldn’t see my friend’s phone numbers in my phone. Death was all I saw.
But that wasn’t the truly horrific part. The worst part was the impulses, those were new. Never before had I had nearly physical impulses to act out those images. Driving meant white knuckles on the steering wheel and a “stay in your lane” mantra. I didn’t dare get my groceries at any store that sold anything other than food. I could spend hours in the pharmacy section staring at bottles of pills (regular sleeping pills or the pain/sleep combos?), weeks contemplating what kind of rope would be best to hang myself with (nylon or cotton?), months pouring over the pocket or kitchen knives (which would be sharper, cleaner?). And never, ever, did I enter my rooming house via the exterior stairs. I would go through the longer entrance on the opposite side of the house because it was enclosed. No chance of flinging myself off the second floor landing that way.
Time after time I avoided the cutting, hanging, swallowing of pills by telling myself that having to clean up after my attempt would be a worse burden on my family (and landlord) then my live, worthless, self. Finally, I reached out. In preparation for my graduation (and loss of university supplied health services and insurance), I had obtained the phone number of our local community mental health center. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, I called to make an appointment. And the person on the other line saved my life by asking a simple question: “Do you feel as if you might hurt yourself?”
Yes, God yes. “Yes,” I told her, using the calm, professional, voice I’d spent years using as a telephone customer service agent. “I’m suicidal.” (You would’ve thought I was talking about paper towels. The poor woman was shocked when I finally told her the truth). Before I knew it she was asking for my level of suicidality (on a scale of 1 to 10, how suicidal are you feeling, with 10 being you’ve got a gun to your head) and talking me into going to the emergency room. So off to the ER I went. There a shrink—I mean psychiatrist—asked me a bunch of questions about how I felt and told me that I was going to be admitted.
My local hospital doesn’t have a psych ward (or as they like to call them Behavioral Health Facilities), so I ended up being taken (by ambulance, they didn’t trust me to drive myself) to a hospital 45 minutes from home. I spent the next 10 days, including Thanksgiving, at that hospital. Locked in.
Check out my next post for what that hospitalization was like…