Once upon a time, there was a middle-aged gal who fell down the stairs and broke her arm. Unfortunately, this gal was not able to get right back up and go back to her life. She sank quickly and completely into a deep depression and came very close to killing herself. That gal was me in May of 2013.
On the day I admitted to my psychiatrist that I was no longer able to fight off the impulses to kill myself, my sister-in-law drove me to the nearest hospital with a psych ward. This was a different hospital than I was in the first time so things were the same but different.
Picture a rectangular hallway with hospital rooms on the left hand side and offices on the right. The offices were used for groups and for family meetings. At the midpoint of the hallway, instead of rooms and offices, there was an open area with a living room type area on the left and a nurse’s station on the right.
In this hospital, the rules were stricter. No toiletries were allowed in our rooms unless we were using them; they were locked up and we had to ask for them. Our rooms contained only beds and a bathroom. No other furniture. We were only allowed pencils, no pens, and only if we had a reason to use them. We also had to return the pencils as soon as we were done with them.
My ward, again, consisted mostly of Depressed and Bipolar patients along with people detoxing from various substances. The hospital, located in a lower-middle class city, had a lot more detoxing people than the other hospital I was in. But otherwise, the set up was the same: group and free time alternating with meals and visiting hours.
When I arrived, I was once again was strip searched. But this time, I was not allowed to put my own clothes on. Instead, I had to wear hospital scrubs until they could be sure my clothes were “okay” (not hiding anything). Unfortunately, they didn’t have scrubs in my size. I had to put on scrubs that were tight and barely made it over my fat stomach if someone helped me pull them up.
I went through the same kind of questions and exams that I had had at the previous hospital, then went to bed. In the two weeks I was there I had four roommates: one with Anxiety, two with Bipolar and one with Depression. One of my roommates rarely left the room.
When I got up in the morning, I went to the bathroom, then couldn’t get my pants back up. My broken arm was in the way and the pants were too tight to pull over my fat without that arm. I was too proud to ask for someone to help, so I wrapped a blanket (we weren’t allowed sheets) around myself until I was allowed my clothes. That took all day. For some reason that was the worst part of being there, I felt like I had lost all my dignity. I cried off and on all that first day, wanting nothing other than to have my dignity back. But I refused to tell anyone about it. When anyone asked why I was crying, I’d just shake my head. But that very loss of dignity was the thing I needed to make me open to the purpose of hospitalization, getting better. Would I have gotten better without it? Definitely, I was terrified at my loss of control over my own impulses. But I don’t think I would have been quite as open to making the changes that I needed to make to prevent going back to the hospital without that day of walking around without my dignity. Somehow, that loss forced me to realize that I wasn’t “special” (Depression-wise). I had to go through the same hard work that everyone else goes through to get better. Prior to that, there was some part of myself that believed that my Depression was different, I was different, and the normal ways of treating it wouldn’t work. Losing my dignity broke down a barrier within me that allowed me to see that I was just like everyone else who has Major Depressive Disorder. And I could get better the same way they did.
So I listened when I was in group. When the psychiatrist at the hospital asked how I felt, I told the truth, as bald and ugly as it was. And, unlike my last hospitalization where I spent the entire time angry and wanting to leave, I took time to think, to get to know my fellow patients, to heal.
Now, that’s not to say that I suddenly turned my back on my normal way of interacting with people. I still kept everyone at arm’s length, not really divulging much about myself. I still was more comfortable talking about the academic side of psychology, instead of going into depth about my own experiences. I also wasn’t assertive with my own needs. If a nurse was busy and I needed my meds, I’d wait until I couldn’t stand it anymore before asking for them. If the group wanted to watch one of those “ghost hunting” shows on TV that I hate because they trigger my anxiety, I didn’t say anything. I just read a magazine until it was over. But I was open to trying things differently from what I’d done before. And I avoided isolating myself.
And yes, it did take me two weeks to get discharged. Most hospitalizations are much shorter, three to seven days is the norm. But I didn’t want to leave until I was sure I had control over my impulses. Thankfully, the staff psychiatrist agreed with me. Neither of us wanted me to go back to my “real” life until we were sure that I could handle it.
Of course, many of the obstacles that I had before were gone during this hospitalization. I wasn’t angry. I was open to making changes to things other than my meds. I listened to what the staff had to say, even though I had already heard it in either my previous counseling or in college. I thought about what I needed to change, what I—not my meds—needed to do to prevent a relapse. And my family knew I was there. I didn’t hide the depth of my problem from them.
After a family session with my brother and sister-in-law, face-to-face this time since the hospital was closer, I was discharged with new meds and a different outlook. Not that I realized that my outlook was different. All I realized at the time was that I wasn’t angry, like the first hospitalization, and that I wasn’t scared, like I was when I got there. I knew that I was no longer in the same place I was in when I arrived and I knew that I was better. I wasn’t “cured” of course, I was still really depressed. But I wasn’t in danger of killing myself.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized that the seeds that are helping me survive unemployment and are helping me accept myself were sown there. Looking back, I think my second hospitalization may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. If it hadn’t been for that hospitalization, I may not have had the courage to make this type of post public. I may have started a blog, but not a blog where I have been this open and truthful. Before, I may have mentioned that I had Depression, but I definitely would not have described how bad.
If it wasn’t for my second hospitalization, I might still be in that hopeless and helpless place I was in after my first hospitalization. At that time, I may have said that I thought I was going to get a better job, feel better, improve myself, but I didn’t really believe it. I believe that I would have stayed in a place where I hated my job, my life, and myself. Eventually, I would have stopped going to counseling, stopped taking meds, and killed myself. Because at that time, no matter what I said, deep down I didn’t believe that my life could get any better.
Now I know I can get better, if I do what I have to do to get better. It’s not just about the meds. I have to take steps, sometimes baby steps, but steps that only I can take to improve my life. I received the knowledge, the bone deep knowledge, that my life is a multi-pronged thing. I have a disease that need meds, yes, but I am more than my disease. And I no longer want that disease to control my life.