What I Learned From Spending Christmas on a Psychiatric Unit

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

So for the last six weeks of 2016 — including Christmas day — I was an inpatient in a secure psychiatric unit. Not where I’d planned to be. In November, I was initially sectioned and discharged two weeks later, but was readmitted the same day as an informal patient after a suicide attempt.

Now this is the only experience I have had of being detained on an acute mental health ward, so my experience is very limited. I would describe the ward as a mixed sex, clinical version of a low security prison. Two locked doors separated me from freedom and in the first weeks admission, on both occasions, I was granted no leave.

You may think, as I did, that seeing as they used legal powers to remove my liberty, they would use my time on the unit to explore all manner of treatment options to get me better, or at least in a place where I was not acutely suicidal. But no, I’m afraid to say, treatment only meant medication in this facility.

The reality and dare I say it, my hopes, from being on a psychiatric unit were reduced to knowing I was in a place that had been specifically designed to be “suicide proof.” Curtain rails and hooks were magnetic so with any pressure they would fall. No wires or cables were allowed, so to charge my phone I had to be escorted into a locked room where they were kept. Any sharp objects were kept in personal lockers. Anything that could be made into a ligature was confiscated. And so on…

To have a bath or a shower you would have to request the room be unlocked and nurses would check in periodically. There were three levels of observation. Level one: Once per hour, Level two: Once every 15 minutes, Level three: one to one supervision. This was 24 hours and was particularly annoying when I was trying to sleep and my room light would get switched on every 15 minutes just to check I was there.

Did it help?

Well I’d say for the first two weeks I was completely “offline,” not thinking straight and putting a lot of thought and planning into killing myself. So how did I get discharged, you ask? Well it was very easy for me to passively surrender myself to the system, nodding along with professionals and not making any unprompted disclosures of suicidality. Of course, when I was readmitted the same day, professionals took somewhat of a different stance and no longer took me at face value. After my attempt however, I came back “online,” was thinking logically and although was not pleased, I no longer wanted to end my life. I stayed on the ward for another four weeks, continuing to be void of suicidal thoughts and then was safely discharged home.

What difference did it make?

Being sectioned did stop me from trying to take my life at an earlier date, though due to a negligent discharge, all it did was simply delay it. Christmas is quite a triggering period of time for me, so my second admission kept me in a safe environment when I could have possibly dipped. This gave my friends a little more peace of mind over the festive period.

What have I learned about myself?

I learned a lot about my triggers, not because of any treatment, just because of the situations that arose on the ward. The biggest being control. Nothing better than a secure unit to bring out your issues around being controlled. Sometimes it was the behavior of other patients that were triggering. It all worked towards a greater understanding of myself. I learned I am so blessed to have so many amazing and wonderful friends who travelled across the country, sent support packages, wrote letters, rang for updates and made sure I heard the message “you are so loved.” I do believe I would not have gotten through the ordeal without them. Last but not least, I learned God is not done with me yet, and this is what I need to remember.

This post originally appeared on Trevor’s blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

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7 Things I Wish ER Doctors Knew About My Suicide Attempt

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Similar to many people who have been to the emergency room for a suicide attempt, there are many things in my experience that could have gone better. Whether that is linked to the way I was treated by medical staff, their reactions to mental illness or my treatment and care in itself, there are many things I wish medical professionals in the ER knew about us and our conditions.

Here are some examples of what I would personally want them to know:

1) I did not attempt to die for attention. This was not a cry for help, and nor was it an act of attention seeking. Your attention is the last thing I want in this difficult and painful situation.

2) I do not want your pity, so please don’t give me any. I am not the sorry result of the mistakes society has made; please don’t treat me like so.

3) My mental illness is just like any other illness. However, it is not contagious, nor will it kill you to simply be kind.

4) I am not a feral dog. So please don’t treat me like I am “crazy” or like I am a lost cause.

5) Some words or stimuli may affect me more than your average, “normal” patient. Please take this into consideration and be sensitive to this.

6) Most mentally ill people are not dangerous or unpredictable, contrarily to what people often think. We are just in an incredible amount of mental or emotional pain.

7) I am someone. I am human. Please treat me as such — a minimum amount of respect towards me is always appreciated, even if you do not understand me or my illness.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via KaraGrubis.

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How My Father's Suicide Forced Me to Acknowledge My Own Mental Illness

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I was a fatherless daughter.

When I was 2, my father died. It was not an “accident.” It was not old age. He died by suicide.

Every year, Father’s Day cruelly mocked me. My relationships with men were cautionary tales. I was in a spiral.

Self-harm, a teenage eating disorder, attempted suicide and depression were gaslighted to a degree in which I was convinced I was a moody teenager looking for attention. Barely surpassing legal drinking age, my life was in such disarray I gut-wrenchingly decided to place a son for adoption to give him his best shot.

I still was not convinced my father’s suicide had any effect on me.

Blur of my early 20s passed and I got married, had another son and lived that picket fence life I saw on TGIF growing up. Then, one day, I crashed. I had a breakdown. Forced to admit I needed help, I sought a psychiatrist. My doctor asked me questions off of a clipboard, made a few check marks and asked me what brought me in. He soon zeroed in on my father. My father coped with an unnamed mental illness with alcohol until one day he needed the pain to end. There, 26 years after the fact, I broke down in a stranger’s office, angry and abandoned. My doctor diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder with generalized anxiety disorder. My quirks, my moodiness and my struggles had a name. In that moment, I knew I had to survive for my little boy. I struggle every. single. day. But, I take my meds and I journal and blog and do whatever the hell I need to in order to be my best self in that day.

I cannot say I never got anything from my father. I find myself talking to him, asking if he’s proud of me.

My heart breaks for the little girl who cried herself to sleep, convinced that she had somehow made her daddy leave her. Logic and grief cannot exist together. My life has since changed. I came out to my family, my ex-husband is a wonderful friend and we co-parent beautifully. I forgive my father. I now understand that though we both have mental illnesses, he nor I are “weak.” Mental illness carries a deadly stigma. He paid the price. In his own way, he saved my life. I advocate for suicide prevention and equal medical care for mental health. We can change the outcome so that my past does not have to be anyone’s future.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Christopher Robbins

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When My Pastor Preached About Gratitude, I Couldn't Relate

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When you are suicidal, is it possible to have a grateful heart? My pastor made a point on Sunday that struck a nerve triggering bitterness within me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. That morning, I believed what he said would be impossible for me to do and quite frankly, it annoyed me.

My pastor spoke about waking up each morning with an “attitude of gratitude” in order to set the tone for the day, moving our hearts and minds toward light and away from darkness. It could be as simple as thanking God for waking up and the ability to get out of bed. When our feet hit the floor thank Him for the ability to walk. As we get into the shower we should appreciate the hot water as it flows over our head. However, as someone who often goes to bed praying for God to end my pain, how could I ever embrace that? At that moment, guilt completely washed over me because it sounded so easy, yet I couldn’t ever imagine doing it. If this is how we learn to be grateful, it definitely wasn’t possible for me.

When I am in the midst of a depressive episode, the mere act of opening my eyes in the morning is accompanied by disappointment and resentment. God, why do you insist I keep waking up? The weight of the fog of depression engulfs me, detaching me from the outside world penetrating every inch of my body and mind. I am debilitated by the possibility of any movement. The thought of getting out of bed carrying this weight of blackness is nothing short of torture. Trying to force myself to appreciate being alive, having the ability to walk and the presence of hot water for a shower seems absurd. It is extremely unlikely I will be able to remove myself from my bed. All I can do is cry as I wonder why God would have me face another day in this state of mind.

Of course I believe this is completely selfish. How dare I not be thankful for every breath I take and all that God has given me? But mental illness wreaks havoc with my thought processes and what should be obvious, makes no sense.

There are people who would give anything for the ability to get out of bed on their own, and here I am resentful because I can. I want to be grateful. I long to say it from my heart and truly mean it. Depression causes me to look at all of my blessings and tells me I am undeserving. Deep down, I know the truth but I am consumed with guilt for my feelings of despair and I become trapped in a maddening battle for my mind.

Recently, a friend of mine died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and two children the same age as my boys. Not once have I ever thought he was selfish. I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been trapped in a suicidal state of mind and I know what it feels like to firmly believe there is no other option. But after he took his life, my frame of mind ultimately changed. His pain may now be over, but his family’s pain had just begun. Whenever I think about suicide — even if it’s only passive — I redirect my focus to the faces of my family. The reality of what they would have to deal with if I ever ended it is unbearable. Despite any desperation I may feel, when I see their faces I am convinced I am supposed to stay, no matter how difficult it may be for me.

The memory of my friend and his family who has to continue on without him sparked a desire to find a way to appreciate my existence. My pastor’s words along with the memory of my friend clicked. I immediately realized it was possible to shift my focus to my loved ones and I wanted to express my gratitude to God. Maybe there are steps I can take to change my heart. I’ve been trapped believing if I couldn’t be grateful for something as simple as waking up, I didn’t deserve to be alive and was incapable of being thankful for anything.

But when I reframed my mind I had a revelation.

I am so grateful my children are going to wake up tomorrow and still have a mom who loves them more than anything. I am grateful they will have a mother in the bleachers cheering them on and supporting them at a basketball game. Their mom will be there to make breakfast for them and pack their lunches. They will not have to live without me. Thank you God for protecting them and helping me step out of the darkness. Thank you God for allowing my husband to continue having a partner to share his life with.

There have been days this week when depression has threatened to take me down. I’ve felt my mind “go there.” I’ve winced upon waking the moment I realize I have to survive another day. However I’ve forced myself to get out of bed and go immediately into my sons’ rooms to wake them for the day. Looking at their peaceful faces, I become truly grateful to God for protecting them from waking to a nightmare they would have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

I hold on to the hope I will wake up one day with excitement and gratitude for the gift of life in and of itself. Never before have I believed that possible. When my pastor spoke about it on Sunday, I sat there beating myself up because I was convinced I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed pointless. But God showed me it is possible when I take the focus off of myself.

No matter how badly I’ve felt, I’ve never wanted to cause my loved ones any pain. I truly only want what’s best for them — a life full of blessings, love and joy. Opening my eyes may be painful. Facing a lifelong illness is daunting, but when I do it for my family, I know they won’t have to open theirs to devastating news and pain.

As I was laying in bed on the eve of my son’s 13th birthday, telling him about the night he was born, I became overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I thanked God profusely for carrying me through the worst parts of my illness to bring me to that very moment to celebrate my son becoming a teenager. I was able to tell him how proud I am to be his mother and how much joy he brings into my life. When the bad days come, I know I will get through because I’ve discovered the treasure of gratitude buried in my heart while gazing at my son’s face, taking my eyes off myself in order to focus on the things for which I am truly grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Sean824.

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To Amy Bleuel, Founder of Project Semicolon

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Dear Amy,

My name is Haley. I am 18, I love raspberries, I have an odd love for cats, elephants and sloths and Disney movies are a form of self-care for me. Now, I don’t know you, and you do not know me. Today, I came across an article that told me the founder of Project Semicolon had died. Let me pause for a moment, because there is more to me than those silly facts I listed. I have my battles. I talk about them, I have support, I’ve received help, but they will forever be my battles. I have ink on the inside of my left wrist.

Last September, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I got a tattoo and I participated in your project. I wanted to personalize it. The word “inspire” faces me to remind me of the people I inspire by sharing my story and the people who inspired me to keep going. You were one of those people, I just didn’t know it at the time. The second “I” in my “inspire” is a semicolon.

When I clicked on the article, the headline left me speechless and I read your name. I did not know you, but my heart sunk in my chest.

I looked down at my wrist, and I’m not going to lie, I asked myself if it would still have the same meaning. If that semicolon would be just as powerful. I looked back up at the article to a picture of you with a bright smile, and I knew — I just knew — it would be. I am sorry you are gone. I am sorry to those who did know you and love you, because I’m sure you had silly facts about the Amy you are, just as I have about the Haley I am. Lastly, I’m sorry you were hurting so badly, where you would give anything to not hurt anymore. I want to thank you though. Because of you, and because of social media where your project has reached people of many backgrounds and many different battles of their own, your message found its way to me. Because of you I have a permanent reminder we all fall down, but you must keep going. Because of you, I am reminded my story isn’t over.

I wake up and see the semicolon when I am brushing my teeth or putting my hair in a ponytail. I am reminded I am not alone, as you have formed an entire community in this world all with the same mark in common. You are gone, but I just know you wanted the project to carry on. I am writing to you to tell you I will do my part in making sure your message lives on.

To your strength, bravery, resilience and long fight, may you rest in peace.

Sincerely,

Haley with your semicolon tattoo.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor.

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Why the Netflix Series '13 Reasons Why' Is an Important Watch

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” is based on the book by Jay Asher, and follows high school student Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he returns home from school to find a mysterious box under his porch. In the box? Thirteen tapes and a map left behind by his classmate, best friend and secret crush, Hannah, who died by suicide two weeks earlier. Each tape is dedicated to one person who somehow led the teenager to kill herself.   

Directed by Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) written by Tony and Pulitzer winner Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”), the series was also executive produced by Selena Gomez, known for having struggled with her mental health and now for being an advocate and spokesperson on this topic.

To me, there are 13 reasons why this new show is an important watch.   

1. It has a strong message against cyberbullying, as it shows the repercussions of social media and the misuse of technology.   

2. It highlights feelings of hopelessness and describes how depression engulfs someone in an endless and inescapable whirlwind of real life nightmares.   

3. It underlines what it’s like to have people judge others and how it can be extremely harmful – no matter the age or maturity.

4. It shows the accumulation of the small things that can often lead to very deep and overwhelming feelings of despair. It shows every single thing and person matters.

5. It shows a cry for help isn’t always obvious.   

6. It’s very raw and doesn’t shy away from the very uncomfortable, making it all very real and important.   

7. It’s honest.   

8. It tackles extremely relevant societal issues like sexism and slut shaming, and proves once more how women don’t have it easy.

9. It’s not just a show for and about teenagers. It is for and about everyone.   

10. It reminds its audience suicide should never be an option, but unfortunately still is a reality.

11. It’s real in showing how therapists sometimes fail to recognize someone in an immediate crisis.   

12. It praises the importance of having an excellent support system to be able to heal and sometimes, all we need is someone to show they care enough. “Hannah. I’m not going. Not now. Not ever,” Clay says while imagining the alternative path he could have taken.

13. The soundtrack is amazing.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page

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