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My experience at a psychiatric hospital

I remember it well. I was on the 3rd floor of the psychiatric hospital, Nov. 2016. I stared out the window overlooking the valley and kept asking myself, "How did I get here? How did it come to this?"

I don't think any of us think we'll actually experience a mental institution, but there I was. I remember watching the film "Touched with Fire" about a month before checking myself in. My husband thought the patients were out of touch and crazy, and that I wasn't at their "level". I sobbed and sobbed because even though I had not acted out on my worst impulses, I could COMPLETELY sympathize with the characters and knew I wasn't too far off. I knew they weren't crazy, they were sick and needed help. I needed help too.

It got to the point where I knew if I didn't do something, I would end up dead. The dramatic mood swings had become too much to bare. I had been seeing a general practitioner and therapist for my depression, but the medicine I was on only seemed to be making things worse.

I took a tour of the facility and asked if I could wait to check in because I was filming a Hallmark movie the next day. I was afraid that by admitting I needed help, they would hold me against my will, but alas, I wasn't deemed to be "a threat" so they let me go and told me I could come back any time. I was on a manic high while filming. When I checked into the hospital afterward I barely slept the entire five days I stayed there, even with heavy sedatives in my body.

I started my period on the second night I was there. This wasn't surprising because my premenstrual dysfunction had always affected what would eventually be diagnosed as bipolar 2 disorder. I was 34 years old and had spent the last 20 years living with a serious medical condition without the right kind of help.

It took three years after my hospital stay to find that lithium was my saving grace. The suicide ideation completely went away. Life coaching through the CTFAR model also greatly contributed to my mood stability. I still have bad days, but those are most often attributed to my premenstrual dysfunction. I'll be writing a completely separate blog post about that.

As far as what it's like to stay in a psychiatric hospital? Well, according to what I hear not all hospitals are the same. I was very lucky to be in a nice and clean facility with big open windows. It's very vulnerable. You have to wear scrubs the first couple of days and then any of your personal belongings that could potentially be used as a weapon against yourself or others are taken from you, including my coloring pencils and the drawstring out of my favorite sweatpants.

In that regard you feel like a criminal or the parasitical word "crazy". They shine a flashlight in your eyes every 15 min. during the night, and yes, I had flashbacks to the movie "One flew over the coo coo's nest" and feared I might be smothered in my sleep by a roommate. But all of my roommates were nice. One of them snored louder than anyone I've heard in my life. Another talked to herself a lot. But there was one roomate who I really connected with and she became a friend and someone I really admire to this day.

She was there in a moment of crisis like I was. Like most of us were. There were many high functioning, successful, smart, funny, caring people; who were just going through a really shitty time.

Each morning we would have group sessions where we would learn dialectal behavior skills. The hospital offered all kinds of therapy; art therapy, animal therapy, music therapy, yoga, and more. It was a safe haven from immediate harm, while being evaluated.

Not all of the staff or experiences were pleasant though. I don't want to get into details about those experiences here. I was very shocked by the misogyny and disrespect one social worker had towards the patients. One staff member in her 20's was also belittling to us. But those were just a few bad eggs. Many of the staff, especially the short man handing out the pills behind the window were extremely kind hearted and respectful of the vulnerable situation the patients were in. I was really grateful to meet people like that too.

After being discharged, I was still manic and my illness hadn't magically disappeared. I had a week's worth of information to digest while seeking out patient care. It was a really bumpy road for quite some time, but I feel like the hospital helped set me on the trajectory I needed to get better.

Since then, I have vowed to do everything in my power to break down the stigma of having a mental illness. The stigma cost me 20 years of suffering that could have been greatly reduced by the correct medicine and therapy modules.

It is what it is, and I've learned a lot. The saying, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is one of my favorite maxims. Another quote I love is, "be the change you wish to see in the world." I wish to see more vulnerability from people; more honesty, more heart. I can't expect anyone to give me that, but I can offer it to others.

I got my phone back the day I was discharged and took this picture. I didn't know if I'd ever share it with anyone, but it popped up in my phone memories. I've learned if you aren't ashamed of your past and own who you are; flaws and all; people can't use it against you. It doesn't hurt because you've already owned it.

I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital four years ago. I own it and I'm glad I did it. It was the path I needed to take to get to where I am now.

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