*TRIGGER WARNING* If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts - please call the suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255
**This post was written by a girl in her mid-twenties**
The general perception of a mental hospital is wildly misinterpreted by movies and shows...well actually sometimes it's also pretty accurate. Before I was admitted I had no idea what to expect other than a hope that this last resort would save me.
It had to.
Months and years prior to my hospital experience, I had been battling depression, anxiety, ptsd, alcohol use disorder, and other poor mental health symptoms. I'd been to countless psychotherapy sessions, biblical counselling sessions, sought help from my psychiatrist, doctors, as well as friends and family. Going in depth with therapists about my childhood helped me understand patterns of my experiences and why I react in the way that I do. It was immensely helpful, but also after the weekly 1 hour session I was left feeling confused, extremely vulnerable and basically like I had reverted back to my 12 year old self. This lasted for months but I tried to keep all my shit together because letting other people see the internal pain was an even worse thought. Throughout the past few years I've been going non-stop, always moving to a new place, saying goodbye, re-creating new friendships, and also newly engaged. My theory for constantly moving was to escape the pain when in reality I think I was just making it worse. Let me set the scene a little bit:
After a long battle with poor mental health, in 2016 I decided to finally try psychiatric meds to see if they could help at all. I went up to the highest dose of celexa. I took every multi-vitamin there was, medicine to stop alcohol cravings, medicine to prevent nightmares, anti-anxiety meds, focus meds, a change and new dose of antidepressants. The side effects of changing and introducing meds was real. The nausea and headaches never ended. I felt so full of energy and so so lethargic at the same time. I tried exercise, adult colouring books and all of the lavender bath bombs, which to be fair have been periodically helpful throughout. Can’t say no to a bath.
Now let’s talk about my friend alcohol - the constant through everything life threw at me. When I was 12, alcohol was my anchor through traumatic events. At that age I hadn't really registered it to be wrong... more of a life line. I used it on and off for a few years without thinking too much into it. Later at 18, a couple of nightly shots is what helped me sleep while I was going through another extremely disturbing event. At 20 I had gone through a couple months of sobriety, yet when I had my first glass of wine my brain signaled to me loud and clear that finding more alcohol was my only priority. I was battling with the reality that alcohol was more than just an occasional happy hour drink, but rather it was becoming a part of my dna. I didn't know what a one-and-done drink meant. I realized all this after I had slammed 4 shooters by noon, getting ready for work and feeling anxiety because my liquor supply was low. Drinking made me blackout, it affected my looks, it made me broke, it made me make terrible, terrible decisions, it put a heavy strain on my engagement, friendships and ability to function. I'd grown up Christian yet fought with all I had that getting drunk was ok and that y'all Christians over there just had to chill out.
Despite my life being destroyed, I still couldn't imagine my life without alcohol, my friend. Right?
Fast forward to 2018. As the months and weeks (and years of january) went on, my mental health deteriorated. The drinking and sneakiness got worse, the self-harm got worse and suicidal ideation was my constant companion. As a few token family and friends found out, I knew I needed to get more help, yet the hospital situation seemed so scary. I eventually booked an appointment for a general assessment at a hospital. 4 hours later, this resulted in me being admitted because everyone knew if I left I wouldn't be safe.
The walk down the long hallway went on forever. We went through multiple locked doors and then arrived in the psychiatric unit. It was around 9pm. There were two people playing scrabble in their pajamas. So stereotypical, I thought. I met a nurse who did standard physical checks on me, asked about my family history and did a skin exam on me (to note any cuts/scars/bruises). I signed a hundred papers, took my nightly meds at the in-house pharmacy and then was showed my room. All I had were the clothes I was wearing as I hadn't really planned this situation. It was a long, sad, uncomfortable night, sleeping in jeans, with a new snoring roommate.
I was on alcohol withdrawal watch, so every 4 hours the nurse came in and took my temperature and blood pressure; 10pm, 2am, 6am, so on. The support workers at the hospital had to do checks on us every 15 minutes, logging it on their clipboard, all day and all night. They would come in to do room checks looking for sharps, taking away toiletries brought in that have alcohol in the top 5 ingredients. Shaving and blow drying hair has to be supervised by a staff member. All shoe laces, bookmark ribbons, coat ties, necklaces aren't allowed. At meal times all plastic spoons and forks were noted down by staff and then collected again at the end of meal times. To get a plastic knife it would have to be checked out by the kitchen. In the main ward of the hospital there were mini kitchens, with an unlimited supply of cheese sticks, uncrustable pb&j's and oreos (calories didn’t count in there). The coffee was terrible but we would smuggle vanilla creamers from the kitchen back to the ward so that helped.
The schedule of the day was pretty full, yet everything was mostly optional. A typical day would include breakfast, medications, smoke break, group community time, group psychotherapy, music therapy, lunch, art therapy, psychotherapy, smoke break, dinner, yoga/fitness/pet therapy/ AA meetings, visiting hours, medication, chill/bed time. Throughout the day a therapist and psychiatrist would meet with everyone individually. Cell phones weren't allowed, yet we could make phone calls on the hospital phone if needed. This facility was mainly a short term place, where people then go on to sober living homes/rehab/ home, hopefully stabilized enough to be ok.
Some people were there just for their 72 hour hold, others were there for weeks.
Despite the wide variety of people there (about 17-25 people a day with admittances/discharges daily) some people have become my closest friends. It's not often you can sit with people, completely bare faced, no shame in our scarred arms, and cry about the trauma therapy session that was had earlier.
There was just no shame. we all came from different backgrounds, from some people being homeless, to CEO's of companies. Heroin, opioid, meth addicts, bereaved parents, alcoholic fathers, husbands, wives, mothers. Suicide attempt survivors, domestic violence survivors. Schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety. I realised that some of the people I met there I may have even seen around downtown at the thick of their addiction and so falsely judged them. Getting to know them totally transformed my perception of homelessness and what life can throw our way, to anyone. The conversation of mental health was so freeing; medication, therapy and painful life experiences often were our topics of conversation. In that we could learn and grow from each other.
I remember the morning after I first arrived, I was just wandering around in my socks and 2 day old clothes, so lost. One lady was so generous to me in that vulnerable time and let me borrow her clothes. We got to know each other really well (as a week there is like a year outside). Something changed within me when she told me 'you're so brave and can fight this'. Later on a bereaved mother and widow in her early 30's sympathized so deeply with my story which seemed like nothing compared to her heartbreak. It doesn't sound like much but just knowing the trauma and pain they've experienced, gave their hope for me so much more weight. And there I realised that sharing stories carries so much hope and light. It's so cliche but when you're in the depths of the pit with such beautiful broken people, it really means something.
At first I was skeptical about group therapy sessions because I prefer 1-1, however hearing others ideas and struggles helped inspire and motivate me. We talked about how our values we’ve been taught influence our actions and if we've never known healthy values, the chain reaction is what could be a contributor to poor actions. We discussed anger, relationships, healthy coping mechanisms. We used art to creatively display the masks we hide behind, and music therapy to.... quite literally sing bob marley 'don't worry'. (*eye roll* so typical.) The times I did meet with my therapist were pretty brief; I thought i'd have more 1-1 time but I was told that that is actually less effective, since being in the hospital is just for a few days and opening up to someone for such a short time can actually do more damage than good.
Thinking about that now makes sense to me, but that isn't what i thought it would be like. Despite the tears that were shed during my time, there were soooo many more laughs, which literally kept us sane. I left the unit 7 days after my arrival and it was the most surreal experience. For literally day and night 24/7 I was monitored, not even allowed the ribbons in my bible, and then after discharge i’m walked out to my car with my few belongings a free woman. I could have done whatever i liked. I drove for the first time in a week like a zombie, listening to the radio and looking at every other driver on the road thinking that they had no idea…. I had been in the psych ward for a week and they were just living their lives. It was a bit of a shock to the system. Getting home was nice though. I could shower in a room with a locked door, the novelty.
Now this is usually the part of the story where I give a short speech about how life is short and we should all just be thankful and call a friend, which will in turn give mental illness a 180 change and create a world without addiction.
Plot twist, life’s still really hard and I’m still all too familiar with the *pit*. I’ve relapsed again, but this time it wasn’t fun or appealing. It was just an expensive and messy night followed by a 3 day long hangover. To be honest I think what I took away from the hospital the most was that it’s ok to be broken and feel lost, because we’re all there together!! Let’s take the shame away from addiction and self harm. Reaching for help is the bravest thing that can be done. Unfortunately all too many people are familiar with poor mental health and secret addictions. Hiding does no good, and as I’ve learned, secrets literally make you sick. (this is not to shame those suffering in silence- it really is hard to reach out.) But if this can push you just 1%, it’s worth it.
All my love and hope for your fight.
**Resources for those in crisis or looking for help are below, taken from the faith and wellness community https://www.facebook.com/notes/faith-mental-wellness-community-christian-mental-health/community-resources/1146933798720643/
- To find nearby treatment services, call 1-800-662-HELP .
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK
- You can text NAMI to 741-741 for NAMI’s text crisis line.
The NAMI helpline (U.S. based) 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org can help answer questions about mental health issues including:
- Symptoms of mental health conditions
- Treatment options
- Local support groups and services
- Education programs
- Helping family members get treatment
- Programs to help find jobs
- Legal issues (the NAMI Legal Resource Service can connect individuals with attorneys in their area but does not have the resources to provide individual representation)
They can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.
- You can also visit NAMI.org and click “Find Support” for resources in your area.
- Visit your healthcare provider, pastoral counseling (usually provided within a local church), or urgent care who may be able to refer you to an appropriate clinician or therapist (All state Medicaid programs provide some mental health services).
- If enrolled in school, check out your counseling department for free services to get in touch with a counselor.
- Research/visit your local Department of Human Services or Public Social Services to see if you qualify for state or federal healthcare if you can’t afford medical insurance to see a clinician.
- For those specifically interested in Christian Counseling check out PsychologyToday.com, Find a Therapist, and choose “Christian” in your filtered search for your area. Get on the phone with a counselor and see if they’re a good fit for you (relationally, spiritually and financially) .
- Also, check out the American Association of Christian Counselors and Find a Counselor.
- You can also try Faithful Counseling at https://www.faithfulcounseling.com
- TalkSpace offers online therapy services at https://www.talkspace.com
- Exercise, even if it’s a 15-20 minute walk outside each day. This is a healthy and proven way to relieve anxiety.
- Get involved in a support group either via your church (such as Celebrate Recovery), online or even look into your local hospital.
- When you’re too overwhelmed to read the word, consider plugging in your earphones and let the word be read to you, via Bible apps like YouVersion. Faith comes by hearing and by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) This is still a filling of your Spirit which is so necessary.
- You may likely feel the resistance to engage socially, however try not to forsake fellowship and continue to surround yourself with like-minded believers who can be an edifying support system to you. Social support plays a defining role in our health.
- Create a worship playlist to uplift your Spirit each day and each morning.
- SAMe is a natural supplement sold in drugstores to help with joint pain but it is also known to assist in mood imbalances.
- If you ever find yourself in a Panic Attack (to get back in touch with your senses): Stop & Identify- 5 Things you SEE 4 things you FEEL 3 things you HEAR 2 things you SMELL 1 thing you TASTE
- Invest in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy book to educate yourself on the workings of anxiety. This is often the same type of therapy used in treatment.