T is for Today vs. Yesterday (and Tomorrow)

t fancyToday was okay. Yesterday was bad (but not horrible. Horrible is when I think of death).

Today I only slept 10 hours. Yesterday I slept 18.

Today I gave myself a sponge bath (a shower was too much), got dressed, combed my hair. Yesterday I spent the day in my nightgown, unwashed, uncombed.

Today I ate something of nutritional value. Yesterday I binged.

Today I looked for a job and organized my craft supplies. Yesterday I spent the day in bed.

Today I can write. Yesterday I could not.

Today my brain is clear and my thoughts move quickly. Yesterday my brain was full of gross, green pond scum. My thoughts got stuck, dug trenches, grew poisonous roots.

If this is your picture, please let me know so I can give you credit.

If this is your picture, please let me know so I can give you credit.

Today I challenged my negative thoughts and attempted to reframe them. Yesterday I fell into the negativity abyss.

Today I can smile (but not grin). If someone calls, I can fake normalcy. Yesterday I could not speak.

Today I can feel. If it is funny, I can laugh (but not giggle). If it is sad, I can cry. Yesterday I was numb.

Today I can dream, I can plan (but not do), I can think. Yesterday I had nightmares, sludged through the day, could not think.

Today I have hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better. Perhaps tomorrow I will have enough energy to shower, to go for a walk, to be productive. Maybe tomorrow will be a day when I can grin and giggle, laugh and cry, dance and see the beauty of the world.

Tomorrow will probably not be great. Great is too much to ask for. Great days are days of belly laughs and happy tears, children and cats, blue skies and warm sunshine, unsolicited hugs and gentle kisses. Great days have boundless energy, completed projects, gainful employment. Great days are out of my reach.

Today I have hope that tomorrow will be good, not great but good. Because today was better than yesterday.


This post is a part my pledge of commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. Please click here for more information about this pledge.

 blog for mental health 2014

Blessings to you all.

Be well.

T is for Thanksgiving

t fancyFor anyone unfamiliar: in America, the fourth Thursday in November is a Federal Holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday commemorates a peaceful harvest meal celebrated by the European colonists and Native Americans nearly 500 years ago (more on that here). Somewhere along the way it became about appreciating your blessings. Now it’s mostly all about food, family, football, and Black Friday. (Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally considered the first shopping day of the Christmas season, when most retailers go from “being in the red” to “being in the black”. More on that here.)

Growing up, my family spent Thanksgiving with our paternal relatives as they lived nearby. Back then, Black Friday wasn’t such a big thing. (Or at least it didn’t seem like it, maybe because the media wasn’t so omnipresent with the internet and all.) Typically, we would go to my paternal grandparents’ house where my grandmother would cook. Stuffing came out of a box and cranberries out of a can, but we always had mashed potatoes freshly smooshed by hand. The kitchen was too small for more than one or two people, so usually I wasn’t allowed to help until the meal was nearly done. As usual for family gatherings, I was in charge of drinks. Then we would all sit around the table, pose for a picture, and dig in. Sometimes we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, sometimes we just ate until there was nothing left (grandma hated leftovers). The Friday after Thanksgiving was spent at home, relaxing.

After my grandfather had a stroke, and my grandmother sold her house, my aunt (I mean, the only aunt who lived in the area) took over holiday dinners. I hated this. Not because my aunt wasn’t a good cook (she was a fabulous cook), and not because I didn’t like her (she was actually my favorite aunt for years), but because she was married to the man who abused me. I didn’t tell her about the abuse until I was an adult, and when I did she asked me to keep it a secret (and did little about it). My aunt’s house was even smaller than my grandparents’ and somehow it seemed as if I always ended up sitting next to my abuser.

The older I got the more uncomfortable I was with being in that household. There were years where I became physically ill from the stress of being there. I hated having to act as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t taken away part of my childhood. But I had promised (because of my own misguided sense of shame) not to tell the rest of the family about the abuse, so I felt obligated to act as if I was fine being there. I learned to smile through the pain in my stomach, to hug him without revealing my revulsion, to keep from shaking with anger.

It wasn’t until my paternal grandmother died that I experienced a Thanksgiving without the stress of being near my abuser. From 2009 to now, I’ve spend Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law is a great cook and loves to host holiday/family dinners. She lets her kids and grandkids help and makes as much of the dinner from scratch as she can. There are always prayers and laughter. Often, friends are invited. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I may or may not participate in the Black Friday shopping.

But the holiday still gives me anxiety. As much as I love my brother and sister-in-law, their celebration of the holiday is different than how I would celebrate. It’s more rambunctious, louder, crowded. It works for them, and I love that about them. I love that they open their home to friends. They’re wonderful people and deserve every bit of happiness they have. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t enjoy loud, crowded and rambunctious. I like quiet and small. Rambunctious I can handle (as this usually comes from the under 10 crowd. Kids I’m good with.) I’m just hoping that one day I can celebrate this holiday stress-free with an emphasis on thankfulness and peace.

That said, this year I am thankful (in no particular order) for:

  • You! Thank you for reading my blog.
  • Health. Both physical and mental.
  • Family and friends
  • Blue skies and fluffy clouds
  • Cats!
  • Books
  • The internet. It helps distract me.
  • Unemployment insurance. Otherwise I’d be homeless and car-less.
  • That I’m not in a hospital. For any reason.
  • Modern medicine. Without it I’d be either dead or in a hospital.
  • God “from whom all blessings flow.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate!

Blessings to all of you.

Be well.

T is for Twitter (the Sequel)

TaslI meant to wait until the first of the year to make this decision but I just couldn’t. I’m quitting Twitter. Yes, I know, I was only on it for 9 days. Here’s why I’m leaving:

  1. Too many tweets. When I signed up to Twitter and started following people/organizations, I purposely only followed those who seemed to not tweet every few seconds. But still, every few minutes I’d get an alert telling me someone tweeted something. Usually it was something silly like “eating PB&J. #yummy” or “join us on…for a discussion of…” So I removed the alerts from my phone and email. That just resulted in a long list of tweets I had to read whenever I signed in.
  2. It was a burden. Since the whole thing about tweeting was to get things in real time, I felt obligated to sign in frequently or to stay logged in whenever I was online. This just made me feel like I had to constantly be looking to make sure I was “up to date” on everything. In other words, a big ol’ burden.
  3. I wasn’t live. Another problem with the “up to date” thing was that it seemed to require that I have access to live TV if I wanted to join in a conversation. I don’t have cable and where I live, you can’t get a good signal over the airwaves. So I get my TV on the internet, usually a day or so after something airs. By then, the conversation is over.
  4.  Irrelevant or repeated information. A lot of tweets seem to be about things I could care less about. While I enjoy knowing that a stranger also likes the same TV shows or charitable causes I do, I don’t care to know how they feel about the color red. And I followed a lot of the same organizations I “like” on Facebook or people who write blogs I enjoy. While most of the bloggers made an effort to differentiate their tweets from their blogs, the organizations didn’t. This resulted in a lot of repeated info.
  5. I started to dislike some celebrities. I’ll admit it, I followed a few celebrities. The problem was, some of them came off in tweets as having an attitude. And not the kinda attitude I appreciate. I’m sure they meant it in a good way, but it came across as kinda weird and was making me think of them differently. Of course, not all of the celebrities did this. Some of them were just as funny, gracious, and intelligent as I imagined them to be. But I prefer all of my celebrities to be the fantasy creatures I make up in my head, not the human beings they are in real life.
  6. Hate-mongering. I purposely followed Pope Francis and read what other people tweeted back. And I was appalled. I’m sensitive enough to hate language in real life and through the media; I don’t need to read it in a forum that is supposed to be about public discussion.
  7. I felt like I was yelling into a void. I did tweet a bit. Sometimes something just as vapid as I complain about above. Sometimes something with substance. But it didn’t feel like a conversation.
  8. I was bored. Maybe I’m just too picky. Or maybe I only like to have a conversation with people I know or who I expect to say something interesting. Or maybe Twitter’s just not the forum for me.
  9. It gave me anxiety. For all of the above reasons.

I think maybe I expected more than Twitter could give me. I wanted to have conversations with people about interesting things. But what I got was a lot of people asking celebrities to tweet them, celebrities tweeting about their favorite makeup artists or newest projects, and hate language.

What I do know is that I probably didn’t give it long enough or didn’t look in the right places. Maybe someday I’ll try Twitter again; hopefully when I can give it more attention or when I’m in a different place. Until then, my only social media experience will be Facebook and this blog.

Question: Should I set up a Facebook page connected with this blog? If I did, I’d have links to articles about mental health, cats, pretty pictures, etc, as well as the usual notifications of blog posts and status updates. Tell me what you think in the comments.

T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Four of Four)

letters-alphabet-cursive-tOnce 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.

T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Three of Four)

dark TFor those who are just joining us, here’s a recap: After a stressful couple of years, I found myself in a deep pit of depression and suicidal thoughts. Although I have been suicidal basically all my life, this particular incidence was different in that the impulses to kill myself were nearly impossible to fight. I was hospitalized for the week of Thanksgiving of 2012.

So how was I when I was released? A bit better. I was no longer having the nearly physical impulse to kill myself. The thoughts were still there, but I pushed them away with anger. I was angry at myself for my “weakness” and angry at my disease for putting me in the hospital. I thought was I was “less then” for allowing my control to lapse. I despised myself for having let myself to be suicidal to the point where I was “unsafe” with myself (“safe” and “unsafe” are terms the doctors used to determine how bad your suicidal ideation was. If you were “safe” with yourself, you could be trusted not to hurt yourself or others. If you were “unsafe”, you were likely to hurt yourself).

After the hospitalization, I still hated myself. I hated everything about myself from the strand or two of gray in my hair to my toes. I especially despised my need to be seen as special and my desire to be loved. I wanted to be perfect, with no needs, no desires, no emotions. I wanted to be someone, something, anything, other than myself.

At the time, I was finishing my last semester of college (undergrad). The medication I was given at the hospital made it possible for me to graduate. I didn’t graduate the way I wanted to though. I wanted my last semester of college to be like my first semester. I had made great grades and felt hopeful my first semester. In my last semester I failed several classes, was terrified of my future, and felt undeserving of breathing.

After graduation, I waited. I waited to feel better, waited to get a job, waited for an appointment with my local community mental health center. I waited because I knew the medication I was on was not right. It barely helped. The difference between being on that medication and being unmedicated was the difference between taking an hour to get out of bed and taking an hour and five minutes. I was still suicidal, still avoiding life, still terrified.

I finally got in to see a psychiatrist in January of 2013 and my meds were changed. I started seeing a counselor and finally got a job in February. I was doing telemarketing. Not because I enjoyed it, not even because I was good at it (I wasn’t), but because it was the only job I could get at the time. I hated the job, but I took it so I could pay the bills.

Slowly, I started feeling better. The suicidal thoughts became less and less intense until they were more of a soft whisper at the back of my head. I still didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything, especially anything I enjoyed. I still didn’t take good care of myself. But I had found a balance that allowed me to get though the day.

It was on April 29th that that precarious balance was, quite literally, broken. That was the day that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my left arm.

April 29th, 2013, was a Monday. And, in my typical fashion, I was reluctant to go to work, but I was going anyway. I’d waited till the last possible second to get out of bed, but I’d done it. Like any other day, I got dressed and started out the door, a bag of garbage and a tote bag of books to return to the library in my left hand. At the top of the flight of stairs I take to get to the ground floor (it’s about ten stairs) I tripped over my own feet and fell, face first. The strange thing is that the moment before I fell down the stairs, I saw myself in my mind’s eye falling down the stairs. Then I felt the impact. I landed on the (appropriately named) landing right before the stairs turned a corner.

My first thought was for my glasses. They were new and expensive and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Fortunately, they were fine. There was something under my chest. For some reason, I thought it was the stair carpeting. “That’s why I fell,” I thought. “The carpeting came loose.” I tried to push myself up with both hands but flopped right back down. My left arm wasn’t working. The thing under me wasn’t the carpeting, it was my arm.

I managed to push myself up with one arm and sit up. Then I took inventory. My left arm wouldn’t work by itself and I noticed that I was bleeding from some sort of cut right above my inner elbow. I didn’t feel any pain though. After a second or two I realized that my arm was broken and that I probably should do something about it. So I called 911 and waited for help, trying not to cry.

You see, I was afraid that if I started to cry, I’d start to feel the pain. And then I’d never stop crying.

When the EMTs got there, they helped me off the stairs, into a neck brace, and onto a stretcher. Still I felt no pain. I remember being loaded into the ambulance then nothing until I woke up in ICU.

I’m told that I spent the rest of the day in the ER (I fell at around 7:30am) then went into surgery to repair the break at 1am the next day. I had broken my wrist and demolished my elbow. The spot that I thought was just a cut was actually where my bone had poked through the skin. It took six hours of surgery to put the pieces together. I had three pins in my wrist and several plates/pins in my elbow.

It took two days in the ICU for me to wake up. My brother and sister-in-law told me that at one point they weren’t sure that I would live. Apparently every time they tried to take me off the respirator, I wouldn’t breathe on my own. They were terrified and having flashbacks to other times they’d watched loved ones die in the ICU. But eventually I did breathe on my own (when I did, I immediately pulled out the breathing tube myself. Which you’re not supposed to do because if you do it wrong you can rip out your vocal cords), and became coherent.

After another day in the ICU, I was transferred to a regular floor where I had a room to myself. The entire time I was in the hospital I was given really good painkillers and spent a lot of time sleeping. The hospital staff was nice, but very busy, leaving me in pain a time or two, but I thought I was dealing well. I was visited by people I hadn’t seen in years (one in decades) and felt okay. I’d never broken a bone or had a (medical) hospital stay before, so I thought I was doing okay.

My left arm was in what they call a soft cast. The bottom of my arm rested in a cotton covered immovable fiberglass shell that was shaped to my arm in a slightly bent position. The rest of the arm was wrapped in an Ace©-type bandage from just under my armpit to just above my fingertips. After a few days, the hospital wanted to discharge me, but there was a question of where.

At first, they said I shouldn’t be alone upon discharge because I’d need help. And they were right. I’m right handed, and the breaks were in my left arm, but there’s lots of stuff you need your non-dominant arm/hand for that you don’t realize you need it for until you can’t use it. For example, pulling your underwear/pants on. So I asked my brother and sister-in-law if I could stay with them for a few days. They said no, because they had a house full of people and nowhere to put me. Then the hospital tried to get me admitted to a short-term care facility. However, I had no insurance, wasn’t on Medicare, and had no money. To make matters worse, not all facilities were “equipped” to take someone of my size. After a day or so, (when my orthopedic doctor caught me making my own bed because I was sick of waiting for someone else to do it) it was decided that I could go home alone after all, if someone checked on me periodically. So home I went.

The first few days were okay. I slept a lot, had painkillers (not as good as the ones in the hospital, but they did the trick), and my family checked on me once or twice a day. Then I made my first mistake, I started to worry about money. I had no insurance, no savings, and had missed two weeks of work (half a month’s pay). So I got permission to go back to work, mistake number two.

How did I work with only one arm? Easy. I was a telemarketer, most of my job consisted of talking and pressing two or three buttons. If I needed to type more, I could take more time. No problem (or so I thought). What I didn’t think about was how the stress of the job, combined with the trauma of my injury, would affect me. I had to cut back on the painkillers in order to drive to work and be coherent when I was there. The job itself was stressful for me before my injury  (because it was such a mismatch to my personality), but after my injury it became impossible for me to deal with. After a couple of days, I started to call in sick, saying I was having a medication interaction.

The truth was, that precarious balance I’d established with my mood had been shattered along with my elbow. While I was in the (medical) hospital I could distract my mood with painkillers, talking with the nurses, watching TV, and sleeping. Now that I was out and trying to work, my family checked on me less and less, I didn’t have as much to distract me, and my mood dived.

Let’s put it this way, in the space of a couple of weeks I went from being functional in every way (all my limbs worked, I was working, I wasn’t happy but I was moving forward) to having trouble pulling on my underwear and crying all day. The suicidal impulses returned with a vengeance. There were times that the only reason I didn’t take all of my painkillers at once was because the bottle was on the other side of the room and I didn’t have the energy to get up to get them. I spent a week lying in my bed, crying, arguing with my brain, calling off work sick, and praying that I’d be brave enough to live so my landlord wouldn’t have a mess to clean up (can you image the bodily fluids a corpse leaves behind?). It happened so fast and went so deep that I was more than terrified. I was “unsafe” with myself and I knew it. Everyday, every minute, every breath, was a fight.

So what got me in the hospital? I had an appointment with my psychiatrist. It took me all day to get myself there. Arguing with myself each step from the bed to the bathroom, putting on clothes, driving; telling myself that I would be fine, that I just need an adjustment of meds, that if I just took the next step, put on the next article of clothing, drove to the next light, that I was closer to an end to the fight. It wasn’t until after I got to the doctor’s office, checked in with the receptionist, and sat down, that I realized that I was lying to myself. I couldn’t do it any longer. I had a plan to kill myself, I had access to materials that would definitely kill me, and I no longer had the energy or will to fight anymore.

Picture your typical doctor’s office. A hugely fat woman is sitting in a chair, left arm in a bulky cast and sling, hopeless tears streaming down her face. Frankly, I scared people. Wide-eyed, the nurses asked me what was wrong. All I could do was shake my head and cry. After a minute or two of letting me cry in the waiting room, one of them lead me to another room where my vitals were taken and I eventually told them what was going on. The nurse immediately got the doctor. He told me that, instead of having our usual 15 minute medication maintenance appointment, he was going to hand me over to a crisis counselor (in the same clinic). The counselor told me that I had two choices, going to a psych ward by ambulance or having a family member drive me there. I chose to call my sister-in-law.

Stay tuned, my next blog post will have the rest of the tale.

T is for a Tale of Two Hospitalizations (Part Two of Four)

t blackWhen we last left my poor depressed self, I was enroute from my local hospital to the psych ward. But what I didn’t mention was the most important thing, what got me admitted: I had a plan. I honestly think, no matter how much pain I was in, how miserable I was, I would not have been admitted if I hadn’t admitted to having a plan. I won’t say what that particular plan was (it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway), but I had an out available if I got too tired of fighting myself.

That said, let’s return to November of 2012. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital 45 minutes from home to be admitted to their “Behavioral Health” ward. Read “psych ward.” Now, throw out any images you may have gotten from movies or TV about psych wards. There was no padded room, no drooling patients, no Angelina Jolie leading patient revolts.

This hospital, located in an affluent suburban area, had multiple areas within the “normal” hospital for their psych patients. Patients were separated by age (child, adolescent, adult, geriatric), medical condition (did you require constant monitoring? Were you detoxing from something? Did you have any physical problems that needed watching like open wounds or broken bones?), and how functional you were (were you in a psychotic state or not). Obviously, I was taken to the adult ward with no major medical problems and was functional.

To picture the ward, imagine a square separated into four quarters with a circle in the center. The circle in the center is the nurses’ station. One quarter was for administrative stuff (where they kept the meds, charts, and the staff break room), one for the geriatric patients, one for adults with medical problems, and one for adults without problems. Each section was kept locked so a patient couldn’t wander into a section they didn’t belong to. Everyone on my floor was functional. Those who weren’t or were younger were kept on another floor altogether.

By the time I arrived at the ward it was one in the morning. The EMTs had me strapped into a gurney and they wouldn’t let me get out until we were actually in the ward, behind locked doors. A psych tech met us in the ER and lead us to the ward, unlocking the doors on the way. I was to later find out that the locks were because we weren’t supposed to leave without permission.

After I was allowed off the gurney, I was strip searched. Yep, strip searched. I later found out that they had to do that to be sure that we had no hidden wounds or contraband (sharp things, drugs, etc) hidden under our clothes. The tech was very respectful, she didn’t touch me, but it was still embarrassing. They even had to check between my rolls of fat. Humiliating. After allowing me to dress, they took an inventory of what I brought with me. My wallet was locked up and any personal items, including my cell phone, were tucked away in a locked storage room. I was allowed access to them twice a day. Then I was taken into an office and asked a bunch of questions about my medical and psychiatric history. Everything from “have you ever been abused” to “how often do you feel suicidal.” I had to sign a bunch of paperwork, including one that said I agreed to be admitted for at least 3 days. I was told that I didn’t have to sign that form, but that if I didn’t my case would be brought before a judge and the judge would commit me against my will anyway. I had to sign another form that informed me that I would not be allowed to legally own a gun for the next 3 years.

Then I was given the rules. They were simple: no violence, be respectful, no personal items on the floor that could possibly be used to hurt ourselves (with the exception of pens. I guess they had to allow us to write), if we wanted to use our own toiletries we could (but they were kept locked up and only allowed out while we were using them), family could bring us books and candy but it all had to be searched before we were allowed to have it, and we had to attend as many activities as possible.

Finally, I was lead to a room. It mostly looked like your basic hospital room. Two beds, a couple of nightstands, a bathroom. The big differences were that all the electrical outlets were covered and the beds weren’t your typical hospital beds. They were wooden platform beds attached to the floor. They gave me a couple hospital gowns (since I didn’t bring a change of clothes with me) and some toiletries. I didn’t have a roommate (I got one the second day), and they allowed me to close my door to sleep (although they did do “bed checks” to be sure I was where I’m supposed to be throughout the night).

In the morning, they woke me up at 7am. I was told that I could hang out in my room or in the group area (a living room type area) until breakfast. The group area had a coffee maker/hot water dispenser (for tea or hot chocolate) that we were allowed access to most of the day. Our days were scheduled from 7am to 10pm. The first few hours of the day were for getting our meds, having our vitals checked (blood pressure, temperature, etc) and getting access (monitored access) to our personal items. After breakfast, we alternated between group counseling and free time until lunch. After lunch there was an hour of visiting time then more group counseling. At 3 there was a “shift change”. Basically, we had to stay in our rooms while the first shift staff updated the second shift staff about our individual statuses. Then there was more group counseling until dinner. After dinner, we were again allowed access to our personal items, there was another visiting time then, yep you guessed it, more group counseling. After a final bit of free time, we had “snack time” (granola bars, chips, pudding, etc), a final group then more free time. We had to be in our rooms by 10, although they didn’t make us go to bed if we didn’t want to. Bed checks occurred throughout the night and we weren’t allowed out of our rooms until 7am. On weekends and holidays, the schedule was slightly different, more free time, an additional visiting time, and less group counseling.

Group counseling in the psych ward isn’t like it is out in the real world. Yes we sat in a circle and yes there was some sharing, but each session was focused on something different. In the morning, we each had to set goals for the day (something concrete and attainable for the day. “Feel better” was too vague, “sharing more in group” was better). Our final group was a check to see if we accomplished our goals. Some groups consisted of being taught the symptoms of our various diagnosis’ while others were about specific things we could do to manage our diseases. Not all sessions allowed for sharing, but most did. And there was at least one art therapy session and one “spirituality” (non-specific spirituality so as not to offend anyone) session a week.

You didn’t have to attend all the group counseling sessions, but it was highly recommended. The psych techs wrote down everything we did. How much time we spent in our rooms, how much we ate, if we showered, how many groups we attended, if we participated, and so on. The more cooperative you were, the more you shared, the more groups you went to, the faster you were discharged. The first day we got a physical from a medical doctor and, if we had any concerns, specialists were called in. In my case, the doctor called in a nutritionist since my diabetes wasn’t well regulated. We saw a psychiatrist the first day as well. Everyone was immediately placed on meds. You then saw the psychiatrist every day or so until you were discharged. You were also assigned a social worker who was supposed to help you with your family issues and discharge planning.

My section of the ward held mostly people with Depression and Bipolar disorder. There were also a couple of people who had substance abuse issues. If they were still detoxing, they slept in the medical section of the ward and allowed onto our area for counseling when they were coherent enough to participate. The ward was co-ed, but each room was, of course, single sex. We had access to two phones in the hallway that we were only allowed to use during free time. We were told that our calls would be monitored if it was necessary (like if we had problems with an abusive partner or were an abusive partner. During my time there this wasn’t an issue).

I spent the first part of my first day wide-eyed, hyper-vigilant, with my shoulders up around my ears and my arms wrapped around me. I think some part of me expected the other patients to grab at me or something. I must have looked pretty freaked out because the staff kept asking me if I was okay. After lunch, I started to get sick with a headache. That’s when the proverbial shit really hit the fan. My room was right next to the phones and one of the patients was constantly on it. Unfortunately, this particular patient had one of those high, screechy, loud voices which set my teeth on edge. The anxiety of being in a strange place, being strip searched, her voice, and my headache made me completely lose it. I threw up, argued with the staff, and refused to go to a group counseling session. These are all things I never do. Especially since I hate to throw up (control issues) and feel disrespectful if I argue with those in authority. After a nap, my head felt better. Unfortunately, that was when the anger set in.

Suddenly, I felt that I didn’t need to be there. After all, I knew I wasn’t going to kill myself, even if I did have a plan. I’d lived my entire adult life suicidal and never had to be hospitalized before. I was self aware and in control of myself (or so I thought). I was a g**d*** psychology major! And every group counseling session just made me angrier. It was all Psych 101 stuff (because most of the patients didn’t know much about psychology, therapy, or their diagnosis). I didn’t need this, I thought, I already know this, I’m better than this. I was a confused, arrogant, messed up soul.

Of course, after that first day, I figured out how to play the system. Cooperate, hide your anger, do whatever the staff asks, attend all the groups, and talk in groups. Be a good girl and eventually they’ll let you out. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was shooting myself in the foot. There was good information being discussed in group counseling. The staff was more than willing to have individual talks in private to help us deal with our specific needs. If I had had a more open mind, I may have learned that I needed to review all that basic psych stuff. It might have kept me from having another incident. If I had opened up and let myself talk about my issues, I might have felt better faster. But I didn’t do any of those things. I just played the game, kept everyone at a distance, and waited to be discharged.

There was one exception to my game playing. I was reluctant to contact my family. They didn’t know I was there. For all they knew, I was happily studying and going to classes. One of the requirements for discharge was to have at least one “family session.” Basically this was a meeting, either by phone or face to face, with a patient’s family and/or friends, whoever would be their support system upon discharge. The primary purpose was to be sure that the patient would have someone to keep an eye on them and help prevent relapses. The secondary purpose was to deal with any issues the patient may be having with their primary relationships and/or to deal with any questions or problems the family/friends might have with the patient’s diagnosis. I didn’t want to “bother” my family. Or at least that’s what I thought. Looking back on it, I now know that I was embarrassed to be in the psych ward. I felt that I was weak because I’d “allowed” myself to get that bad. My pride was bruised.

It took them three days to convince me to call my family. What eventually convinced me was that I had to get a ride home and I’ve only got my brother and sister-in-law in the area. No way was I gonna tell anyone else I had been admitted. If I had been thinking clearly, I would’ve realized that telling my family wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like they weren’t aware that I was a “screw up.” They knew I made bad decisions because of my mental illness. But what they didn’t know, because I never told them, was exactly how bad it was. They didn’t know how close to death I got or how much I worked to simply get through a day. So I finally got on the phone and called them. And, of course, they were understanding and supportive. After another couple days, we had a family session via phone (it would’ve taken them an hour and a half, one way, to drive out there). The only things I remember from that session were my family saying that I needed to talk more (everyone tells me I need to talk more. I’m not a Chatty Cathy) and that they would keep an eye on me, try to intervene if any symptoms of my disease got worse or changed abruptly. Then my discharge date was set.

Another thing you had to do before you could be discharged was have follow up appointments set with a psychiatrist and a counselor. This was to make sure they weren’t just sending us out into the cold world to try to figure it out all on our own, and to be sure we wouldn’t be right back in the hospital the minute we got out.

I was discharged the day after Thanksgiving, a day or so later than the psychiatrist said I could go home, by my choice. I didn’t want to disrupt my brother’s Thanksgiving plans, he always invites a bunch of people from work and my nieces would be there. I didn’t want any of those people, especially my nieces, to know I was “crazy.” Again, my pride was in charge. Thanksgiving at the hospital wasn’t that bad. There were less group sessions and the hospital fed us turkey. The food was actually good at this hospital, so that wasn’t so bad.

The thing was, I did get better while I was there. I was given medication that, while it didn’t completely alleviate the symptoms, did make it possible for me to finish out my last semester of college. While I was there the interaction with the other patients and staff, and my anger at the situation, kept my mind busy and I was able to ignore my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t leave cured, but I left safer than when I arrived, so the primary purpose of hospitalization was fulfilled. At the time I was too angry and ashamed to appreciate how much this was a gift.

Yes, hospitalization was a gift. It was one I didn’t do much with, but it was offered in kindness and respect by the hospital staff members. That gift was a break from my normal life, a chance to focus exclusively on my disease and try to manage it. It was an acknowledgement that I was worth spending so much time on, regardless of my disease. Because the staff at the hospital didn’t treat me like my disease. They treated me like a complex individual with a complex problem who needed to stop and breathe and be nurtured. They treated me like Bonnie, not like “Major Depression with Suicidal Ideation.” And sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

Stay tuned, my next post will be about my second hospitalization. Because I didn’t get it right the first time.