I wake up in the ambulance with the guys above me jamming an oxygen mask on my face and they’re telling me to stay calm, I’m going to make it.
I remember taking every pill in my purse on my way to see my therapist. I was a walking pharmacy. I figured I would be fine until I got back home. I was nodding in and out during our appointment and she knew I had taken something. I guess I told her and passed out until I was in the ambulance. I side swiped a box truck on the way to see her so the whole right side of my car was wiped out.
I wake up again to the bright sunshine coming through the ambulance doors. Where are we? They were treating me like a child and I was cussing them up,down, sideways and all around. I knew I was at the hospital for some charcoal or something and that I would go right back home.
When we walked through those huge steel doors and they locked behind me, I knew exactly what I was here for. They were so loud that it made me jump. They were heavy and rusted. Another nightmare I said to myself. I asked the weird admitting nurse if that was really needed, such a loud lockdown. It sounds like we all need to hit the floor. She kept going through my paperwork making her hmm…uh huh….hmm to the point that I started singing with her. She looked at me through her glasses and says, “You’re one of those aren’t you? You’re the smart ass, the party animal that is full of life but has an empty soul.” WOW!!! It was powerful. She lead me to the second set of doors where I would change, give all of my possessions away and change into yellow scrubs that 5 other people could have fit in. She gave me minimal linens and showed me to my room.
I laid on the bed of steel and must of cried for 3 days straight. I wouldn’t come out unless they used force. I turned away that stuff they call food for 3 days straight. Every other 30 minutes a screeching alarm would go off because the lady across from me tried to escape all of the time.
Day 4: I decided to venture out into the hallways to witness the banging and screaming that I would hear every night. I wrapped my only blanket around me, took a deep breath and walked out. I could hear people talking about the new one. I hate being the “new” one. This is my 2nd stint in a Ward, not the same place, but I remember how the new patients come in and sit in one place telling themselves they don’t belong here. It’s never fun to be the new one in the Ward. I decided to eat after I heard my dad stopped by with hygiene products and cigarettes. You have to earn your cigarette privileges by becoming a part of “the community”, aka Ward. Actually all privileges are earned, I wanted a cigarette. At least the smokers get to hear, see and feel the outside. Being a smoker had it’s pluses after all. We all had 15 minutes to smoke and watch others grab cigarette butts to smoke or eat. I quickly got the memo to bring 2 cigarettes but pretend to only have one or they will hassle you every second of the day. We were behind a 30 foot wall. It became official to me that I am in fact one of these lovely but damaged people. One guy saluted the B-52 bombers that flew over every single day to check on him, that of course didn’t exist. By the end of that week, I would be right there with him while everyone made fun of us. A beautiful woman always sat by herself, always looking down so that her beautiful blonde hair would cover it. It would be a few more days before I saw her again. In Lounge Room A, there was a tall, skinny man in orange scrubs reading the phone book and laughing himself stupid. I asked him where he got the orange scrubs, that I hated the yellow. He just laughed and asked me if I was homicidal and I said no. He says” You must be suicidal then and you’re rocking the yellow. I’m busy with my new book. Have a great day. ” That was my exit queue. I went back to my suite with the metal bed and brick walls, and tried to absorb my day. My take was that I didn’t belong with these people that will be in a psych Ward most of their lives. I was only 22, why am I over here?
Just as I walk out of my room a very cute guy just knew he was going home that day. The doctor was in and told him he had to stay, that he wasn’t ready. He got in the doctor’s face and BAM that needle went into his thigh and he was taken to the dreaded padded room. After that was all calmed down, I requested to see him. I have got to at least get over to the side where you can wear your own clothes…besides I found a new boyfriend but they moved him first and I wanted to see my Ward boyfriend. You know you are manic when you have a psycho boyfriend that you met in the Ward. The doctor agreed that I needed more intensive therapy that they don’t offer on this side. Yes!!! I’m a little free bird in the Ward now.
Day 5: I’m packing my bags to see freedom at it’s worst. My dad is coming at 9:30 with clothes and just him. My mother refused to come see me but my dad did every single day. I looked forward to my visits. It was good to see him. I would always promise him that I would be out soon. Of course I told him about my boyfriend and he rolled his eyes and said, ” You aren’t getting out anytime soon, thinking you have a boyfriend in here. I just want you to get better Hun. I want my girl back. ” Little did he know that the girl he wanted back so much, would never be back. Ending our visits was horrible. He cried, I cried more and followed him to those heavy doors. I hated seeing him walk away sobbing. I would sit against that steel door for an hour, just wanting one more hug. I got back to my room and there was a bag that the staff had already rummaged through. My favorite pajamas, my razor, my favorite lotions and all of my favorite things. My Dad always supported me. I can never be thankful enough.
I was Miss Social Butterfly! I rarely made my group therapy sessions because who needs therapy when they are in the Ward! One of the guys that worked there pulled me aside and told me if I could just work the program, show progress and a little more respect for the staff that I could go home. They had already sent my Ward boyfriend to a halfway house because we were getting too close.
So, I did the Hokey Pokey and turned myself around. I watched the credits from The Simpsons over and over one night with another patient. He cackle laughed the entire time, so I did the same. I worked the program and still tried to get meds that they were in no way, shape or form, going to give me.
Day 8: I finally meet my roommate. She was always asleep. I would always tell the staff that it wasn’t fair. They literally locked me out of my room every day because I was good at sneaking into the bed. She was an older lady. I had been trying to talk to her the whole time we were there. She didn’t speak much just told me I was beautiful and to take advantage of my time here. Later that day I see them taking her in a wheelchair through another set of startling metal doors. I asked someone in Lounge B what her deal is. Then I see them rolling her in a gurney to the room we share, and it clicked. She’s receiving ECT treatments at her age. She must be really sick, in and out of Wards. I fell apart, I wanted ECT! I even asked my doctor about it. I don’t want to be that sick at her age. I want ECT now. My doctor promised me if I came back that we would talk about it. I think he just said that to make me happy.
Day 9: this place is getting old. I’m so bored that I decide to observe everything going around me while I’m supposed to be writing which coping skills I should use for being a nut job. There’s a young guy that came in for depression. He never had to go to the dark side. No fair! They have definitely given him Lithium with a big side of Thorazine. He’s just dragging himself against the wall around the U shaped pod. Definitely the “Thorazine shuffle”. He looked happier when he was
admitted. He was unapproachable. I never meet a stranger, even in the Ward. Next was the lady that constantly messed with her hair, thinking she has bugs in her hair. I ran to my room, got some gloves and pretended to get all of them out. She said she could sleep that night, that those bugs have been driving her nuts. Everyone just kept telling her there were no bugs. There was a new girl wrapped up in her only blanket and looked like she had been crying for days. I’ve been there sister. So I approach her and ask her if this is her first time in a psych Ward. She looks at me like I’m crazy (hello, we are both crazy because both of us are here) and says YES! but I don’t belong here. I’m too good for this place. I wanted to smack her but that’s how I felt when I first got there. I just told her the staff was really nice and if she works the program, she will be out within a week. Long term psych admittance is rare anymore. I turn to the guy that waits for credits to scroll down the screen. I gave him a wink and was headed to my blue, old, freezing cold room.
I’m almost asleep and 2 orderlies drag me out of the room. Of course I’m resisting. I’ve done nothing but follow their damn program. I felt a burn in my thigh and I was out like a light. I’m assuming it was a few hours and I woke up, in the dreaded padded room. What did I do to deserve all of this?? They came in and asked if I was ready to work the program again. Wtf? I’ve been working hard, hating every second of it. That sad bitch that was too good for this place told on me for talking to other patients like I was a counselor. “That is not a part of the program.” I went off! “Fuck your program, fuck you, fuck that bitch that I tried to make her feel welcome, you lock me out of my room! Oh yeah, the lady that constantly thinks she has bugs in her hair, I pretended to get them all out. Where the fuck is she now? That’s right, sleeping. Yes sleeping. You’re all full of shit!” Burn in the thigh again and sleeping like a baby. I kind of liked that Haldol. A few hours later, my favorite orderly came in and I just started bawling. He told me to get my shit together, that I was scheduled to go home the next day but hitting the padded room twice in one day ruined that.
Day 10: I have decided to work really hard to get the hell out of here. I finally went on the ” therapy hike”, I attended my dual diagnosis group therapy sessions. I attended the narcotics group therapy sessions. I ignored everyone and only talked to my favorite orderly. He did let me know the doctor wanted to see me and it’s possible that I’m going home. I shot back, ” With my new type of pharmacy. “He laughed and said he would never forget my tiny spunk. He also told me my 2nd incident in the padded room was a little much but you are not here to heal others, I need to focus on myself. Dammit his point was valid and totally legit.
Day 11: I am completely exhausted, the mania is beginning to fade. I was also up late trying to get the nurse to call my doctor. They finally gave me some Ambien and I got some sleep. I hear a knock at the door, you know a doctor kind of knock. Here he is, my angel with the bright halo above his head. First out of his mouth, ” You would make a wonderful psych nurse.” I’m like okayyyy. Why would he say that? He says he heard from Sam, my fave, that I was trying to help other patients and while he appreciates it, it’s just not safe.
Under his conclusion, I have Bipolar Disorder. Well no shit! I learned that my first visit to a Ward. He told me he considers me a rapid cycler bipolar patient and it’s intense and has the highest suicide rates in mental health. Those magic words that I was waiting to hear for days flowed out of his beautiful mouth, and so eloquently said, ” You’re going home today! ” I hugged his neck so tight I’m surprised I didn’t put him in the choke hold. The deal was after our institutionalized lunch and my afternoon meds that I could call my parents to come get me. Perfect, I had time to shower, pack and sit at those double doors.
Sam called my mother to come and get me. The same mother that refused to visit me. She asked them if they were sure I was ready because she can’t handle it. Of course they told her yes and she told Sam to tell me it would be a few hours. I was so disappointed. She didn’t want me home. My lifetime disease is too much to handle.
She finally showed up with her bitch face on, signed my release papers and threw the papers in my lap. She looked at me and said, “You better not ever pull a stunt like this, I’ll kill ya! Just imagine what the neighbors think. I felt like asking her to take me back.
Had my mother embraced the reality that she has a mentally ill daughter, then maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t have taken 15 years of psych drug after psych drug to get somewhat stability. She was a nurse. I was an embarrassment to her for years and she still brings it up.
Please don’t ignore your family members or friends. There are signs and symptoms, sometimes you have to dig deep. It is startling that 1 in 3 in the US have some sort of mental illness, and that is diagnosed. Together as a community we can erase the stigma!