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What You Don't Expect to Hear in the Psych Ward

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There are sounds you expect to hear in a psych ward. You expect to hear nurses talking to patients, medical carts rolling, thermometers beeping, doors opening and closing for 15-minute checks, and occasionally, alarms sounding. But one thing you don’t expect to hear in a psych ward is laughter. And I don’t just mean the awkward, fake laughter, like when you first meet someone or are uncomfortable. I mean full-out, belly laughter that makes your eyes water and your stomach hurt.

When I spent a week in a psych ward, I laughed far harder than I had in the months leading up to it. This might be surprising because over those months my depression had gradually worsened. You would think laughing would gradually decrease as my mood went south, and there would be no laughter by the time I was in the psych ward. And you’re right in that laughing had decreased over the months leading up to being hospitalized. But after a few days in the psych ward, once the patients had met and started getting more comfortable with one another, the laughter exploded.

I can’t remember a lot of what we were laughing about. And of what I do remember, I won’t share most of it because it isn’t funny unless you have also been in a psych ward. It’s a very dry, dark humor, and some of it could probably be offensive to someone who hasn’t had those experiences. We laughed about the millions of rules on the psych ward. For example, I wasn’t allowed scrunchies for my hair. If someone complained about a rule or talked about what they wanted to do once they got out I would often jokingly exclaim in exasperation, “I just want a scrunchie!” We would laugh at things nurses said, or the odd looks they gave us. Once I had asked a nurse for a pair of hospital socks from the supply closet. She said something funny about how she was already late to a meeting so might as well get it now, and then went into the closet. I stood outside waiting and was still chuckling a bit at her comment. Another nurse passed, gave me a deeply concerned look, and questioned, “Are you OK?” Granted, to her it looked like I was standing in the hallway just laughing to myself. A worrying but perhaps not surprising image of someone in a psych ward. I quickly reassured her that yes, I was fine. I was just waiting for socks. When I rushed to tell the other patients what had happened, this story was a hit. I often wondered if hearing us laugh this much scared the nurses and doctors, but thinking about this just made us laugh more.

In the psych ward, you get to a point where everything is funny because you are desperate for a distraction from your own thoughts and emotions. I think the laughter also stems from the community that forms. When you are in hospital for a mental illness, it’s no secret to anyone else on the ward why you are there. You’re either suicidal, detoxing from drugs, psychotic, or some combination of the three. Everyone there is scared and uncomfortable, and because of this also extremely vulnerable. Yet around you are 20 or so other people going through incredibly similar struggles. The empathy and support for one another is natural, even though you’ve just met and have little else in common.

After the morning psychoeducation groups, there isn’t a lot to do in a psych ward. So simply because you are bored (and because it will look good to the doctors), you end up hanging out in the common areas with the other patients. I’m quite the introvert, and even I spent a lot of time there. We had SVU marathons, played the game Fact or Crap, and ordered late night mac and cheese.

Now it would be a massive stretch to say I enjoyed my time in there. I was still sick and needed to be there for a reason. Plus, as someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the lack of my usual routine and sense of control was terrifying. Still, it wasn’t a completely awful experience. After all, a lot of therapies teach to not view the world in black and white, but to see the grays too.

I can look back on those evenings spent with the other patients and even have some fond memories. I’ll certainly remember the laughing fits, and with a sense of gratitude. It kept me going through tough, sad, long, boring hours on the ward. It kept me connected with others and helped prepare me to re-enter the “real” world. Perhaps most importantly, the laughter planted tiny seeds of hope for a future I might be able to have, one that I couldn’t have seen alone. Now it’s time to keep laughing and keep watering those seeds.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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'We Are Not Who You Think We Are': A Poem About Psychiatric Hospitalization

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My name is Eileen, I am currently 18 and I have spent almost a year of my life in psychiatric hospitalization. This is a poem I wrote about a year ago, during my nine-month hospital stay, about some of the people I have met and the friends I have made during that time.

When you say the words “psychiatric hospital,” we often picture a sterile, white environment with locked doors and screaming patients. Yes, that sometimes is the case, and yes, I have previously been one of those screaming patients, but I have also been a friend, a singer, a dancer and a student. All within those same four white walls.

You see, there is so much more to psychiatric hospitalization than medication and mindfulness – there is friendship, vulnerability, so much support and yes, there are happy moments. Sitting in the communal area with friends just being silly, playing “Just Dance” on the Wii for hours on end, bringing in a guitar and singing, making hot chocolates and doing jigsaws together. It may be a sterile and cold environment, but it is us, the patients, who come together and make it our home, make it warm, friendly, comforting and most importantly, bearable. Without the companionship of my fellow patients, I have no idea how I would have made it through my months in the hospital.

Here are the words to the poem:

My friends and I live on a supermarket shelf

Inside jars tins and boxes our labels announcing that we are

50 percent depressed, 30 percent psychotic, 20 percent suicidal

100 percent mentally ill, check the lid for the “best before” date

And although we live under lock and key

My friends are the bravest people you’ll ever meet

We may be shattered but that doesn’t mean

That we can’t still gleam

In the sunlight

Tarnished silver still shines

In the right light

And so do we

The pain may be constant but we are not

Always screaming, crying, shouting

Hitting, kicking, throwing

Pulling, pushing, scratching, scarring

Bleeding.

We are not wrong because we “malfunction”

Because we missed the right junction

In our lives

Why should we be cast aside for the mess

In our minds which could be tidied

Up with the sweep of a brush or failing that,

Some strong soap and elbow grease?

Get down on your knees

And scrub.

My friends and I, we may be partners in illness but we are partners

In crime

We laugh and we dance and it’s about time

We were recognized

As people.

Not as symptoms or fears

But as kids who lost a couple of years

To illness and hurt but that doesn’t mean this defines us or makes us broken

Or at least not irreparable.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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A Thank You Letter to My Wife, From Your Husband With a Mental Illness

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To the 20-something girl who took a chance on me with a broken limb and without a job:
Thank you for seeing beyond a missing job title and a temporary physical disability. Thank you for seeing the person I had been, wanted to be and could be again.

To the girlfriend who allowed me to talk openly about a problem I thought I had:
Thank you for being there, listening and understanding. Thank you for seeing it as a real problem; this invisible illness in my head.

To the girlfriend who agreed to marry me, my mental health disorder and all that goes with it:
Thank you for seeing past the negatives and embracing the positives of my muddled up mind. Thank you for making my problem … our problem.

To the wife who picked me up from my lowest low:
Thank you for researching symptoms, medication and therapies. Thank you for finding me the help I needed when I thought nothing could.

To the wife who came to appointments, assessments and held my hand:
Thank you for fighting my cause, for being by my side and believing me. Thank you for accepting it may not be “fixed” or “cured” — just managed.
Thank you for helping me manage it one day at a time.

To the wife who gave birth to our daughter:
Thank you for making me feel good enough that just a small part of me could be passed on to someone new — and that they would be a better person for it.
Thank you for knowing, without hesitation, what type of father I could be.

To the wife who repeatedly reassures me and picks me up – without hesitation:
Thank you for understanding it never lasts and knowing that it will pass.
Thank you too for knowing you may have to do it all again in a few months, weeks or even days.

To the wife who puts her husband’s mental health above her own:
Thank you for being mentally stronger than you’ll ever know.
Thank you for saving my life in ways you can’t imagine.

Thank you,

Your husband

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What It's Like to Be Someone Who Hears Voices

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I think when someone hears someone else say, “I hear voices in my head” their immediate assumption is that they’re out of some kind of horror film, that demons possess them and whisper bad things to them. Sure, it gets bad, and some people experience absolutely horrific effects from hearing voices. I’ve never been too open about this part of my mental health. This is the part I’ve locked away, and for what feels like a good reason. I didn’t want people to think I was “crazy!” The idea of someone hearing voices in their head that isn’t just themselves talking like an inner monologue confuses many. What is it like? What do they sound like? Do they have a body to match the voice? How much do they talk? Well, rest assured I will do my best to answer such questions.

My voices started as one voice. A male — a very strong and persuasive male. I know some people who hear voices know what they look like and see them, which must be terrifying. I’ve never seen who belongs to my voices. At least not properly. Sometimes I think I see them, then when I look again, there’s nothing there. They hide in the dark and behind me where I can’t see them. They breathe down my neck and make my hairs stand up. They know it’s what scares me because they told me.

What exactly do they say? Well, that’s a long story. They criticize every move I make, from the way I walk to the things I say. They often try appeal to me and get me to be on their side. They tell me my friends don’t like me, they just hang around me to see my boyfriend and I use our house. They tell me my boyfriend is only with me for my family, he only uses me for his own benefit and one day when he’s bored, he’ll leave me with nothing and only my voices will be there for me. They remind me they’ll never leave me like everyone else will. They also threaten me too. They threaten to make me hurt myself and endanger my life. Long story short, they’ve hurt me before. They’ve made me experience dissociative periods when I’ve self-harmed and attempted suicide. Now that I’m on medication, it doesn’t happen anymore. I might find myself in parts of the house with no recollection of how I got there, but I’ve not unknowingly harmed myself since I was started on medication.

My voices are incredibly persuasive. At the beginning when it was the one male voice, he would tell me he’d take away my chronic pain if I injured myself and performed tasks he told me to do. I never listened, but it was still scary. The second voice appeared a while after, this one belonged to a woman. She’s a very well spoken woman and always has a way with words. She’s the kind a woman I’d expect to see at a bar seducing a man while holding a martini. She’s calm, gentle, but incredibly clever. She says things my mind would never think of. She often tells me to do what she says instead of what the male says, and if I do follow what she says, she’ll get rid of the other voice and take away my suffering.

Now this has been an ongoing debate between the two for just over a year now. Occasionally they both agree and pick on me together. They don’t have the power over me they once had. I can control what I do more easily now, and can block out what they say. But sometimes they cause terrible night terrors, mostly of which include them standing over my bed, and I can’t move. I can’t see them properly, they’re just a blurry outline, and they begin to hurt my arms but no blood comes out, just black tar smelling liquid — and this is why I can end up self-harming.

I self-harm because it’s a reminder I’m here, I’m alive and not in some dream where my body is filled with black heavy tar. I self-harm sometimes to remind me I’m still human, to see red blood not tar. I think a lot of people need to be made aware of these kinds of situations.

These things are happening all over. People are hearing voices, fighting debilitating depression and anxiety, fighting their own demons and all the while, do their best to hold up a “normal” life. In an ideal world, no one would be mentally unwell — we would all be on a fluffy rainbow covered cloud, smiling all the time and blasting our happy moods across the world. But unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world. People are fighting wars in their own minds.

My voices are bad, they control a lot of aspects of my life, they impact my self-image and confidence, they scare me and worry me, but I’m alive. I’m alive through multiple suicide attempts my voices tried to put me through. They made me cut all my hair off, they scarred me for life. But I’m strong. I’m stronger than they are, they don’t define who I am. They don’t make me Sophie, I make me Sophie — my bright hair, terrible jokes and bright outlook on life is what makes me who I am. And I’ll be damned if I let this beat me. There won’t be a day that goes by when I don’t fight these terrible voices.

Please remember that just because someone says they hear voices or has schizophrenia, it absolutely doesn’t make them “crazy,” and it’s incredibly upsetting and disappointing to hear someone say it. Remember, our voices can usually hear, and you can fuel them. We fight our own fights, but adding fuel to the fire can be exhausting. These voices have power I can’t even put into words and it’s a daily struggle suppressing that power and pushing them back. It’s a constant struggle that makes life a very dark place, and it’s up to friends and family to be our supporters, to wave our flag and clap when we triumph over our demons. There’s an unlimited amount of spaces in the cheering support section, so pick up a flag and give us a wave, and we’ll do the same for you when we get out of our dark place, I guarantee it!

I hope in reading this it’s given you a little idea as to what hearing voices can be like, but I will never be able to put into words the true feeling of fear they can give. And no one is the same, my stories and experiences are going to be different to others, but I hope it has helped.

We’re not “crazy.” We’re just like you.

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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20 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Mental Illness

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I’m almost 20 years old, and life has been a struggle to say the least, especially in regards to my mental health. I’ve had ups and downs and have been to the edge and back again, but I’m still here and I’m proud of myself for fighting all these years and ultimately surviving.

I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was just 12 years old and have had a war raging in my head ever since. A war that controlled every aspect of my life even though I tried my best to fight it. I was put on medication (which didn’t work) and tried to continue with everyday life the best I could, even though it felt like I had a raincloud hanging over my head following me everywhere I went.

Rain turned to thunder and thunder turned to lighting, and I gradually got worse and worse over the following years. That was until an unfortunate series of events landed me in yet another psychiatrist’s office, this time with a different diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder. I have bipolar disorder,” I repeated to myself over and over again in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it even though it was written on the medical insurance form right in front of me. Let’s just say it was a hard pill to swallow, but that’s another story.

I have come a long way since then and am still on the road to recovery. That’s not to say I haven’t learned a few lessons along the way, though. There are a lot of things I wish I could tell my younger self, especially relating to my experience with mental illness. So in light of my 20th birthday coming up soon, here are 20 things I wish I could have told myself that I think would have helped me along the way and made the storm a little more bearable.

1. There is no shame in asking for help. Plain and simple. There is no weakness in vulnerability, and if you need help, ask for it. Your family understands for the most part and will get you the help you need. You don’t have to be afraid of being judged.

2. Use art as a form of self-expression when you feel too much. Paint, draw, write and for crying out loud please never stop singing. Music makes you so happy and gives you a feeling like nothing else in the world; follow that feeling.

3. Be patient. You are an impatient person, and you need to learn how to change this as soon as possible. It will decrease your anxiety and will make life a lot more enjoyable. You hate the saying “patience is a virtue,” but that’s only because you know how true it is.

4. You will have bad days. You will have days where you can’t get out of bed, and you will have days where you feel so high you won’t know what to do with yourself. But I promise you will survive and these days will pass. These moments don’t last forever, and just remember that you’ve survived everything you thought you wouldn’t this far. And you will continue to survive and thrive.

5. You will have good days. Along with your bad days, you will have good days too, and the good days will be really good. You will feel like you’re finally OK and like everything is right in the world. One day you will have more good days than bad days. I know that might be hard to believe right now, but it’s true. Take it from me.

6. It’s not your fault. I know you think it’s your fault that this is happening and you blame yourself for a lot of what happens around you, but I promise it is not your fault. I promise. You carry a lot of weight on your shoulders, and you need to learn to let the past go and live in the moment. I know it’s hard, but try your best. The past haunts you, but you will learn how to live with it and you will learn how to forgive.

7. Take your meds. I know you hate being dependent on something to get you through the day, but you have to take your meds. I know you hate the side-effects, but you need them. Everything will be OK, but trust me when I say that you need to take them.

8. You are beautiful in your own way. You don’t look like other boys. You don’t. And that’s OK. You are unique and soft and pretty, and people will tell you that all the time. And even though you don’t really want to hear it now, it will become your favorite compliment.

9. You may feel alone, but you are not alone. You will cry yourself to sleep more times than you can count because you feel so alone, but I promise you are not. Your family is always there, and you have friends that love and support you too.

10. Be kind to yourself and your body. You will do bad things to your body to try and survive and get through hard times, but please try not to. Your body is special and sacred and should be treated with respect. Take a day off if you need to. Take a week off if you need to. Mental and physical health come first.

11. Life is not a race; take your time. You will feel like you have to get everything done all at once and that everyone is ahead of you in life, but what does that even mean? Life is not a race and is not something to be “won.” Read “There is Still Some Time” by Jamie Tworkowski when you feel overwhelmed.

12. Don’t forget to appreciate the little things. Eat waffles and go to the beach and feel sunlight on your face and play guitar and do things you love. Take Polaroid pictures of your friends and make memories and don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers on your way.

13. Friends and family are more important than you think. You need people. I know this is hard for you to believe, but you’re not better off alone as much as you like to think that. Friends will become family and they will save you over and over again. Cherish them and never let them go. Your family will always be there for you. Never forget that.

14. Storms don’t last forever. You feel like you’re caught in a hurricane and it will never go away, but storms pass. Your very first therapist told you that, but somewhere along your way, you stopped believing it because you had been caught in the storm for so long. I know you find it hard to trust people sometimes, but trust me when I say this will pass.

15. A lot of your anxiety is irrational. You’re an over-thinker and I know it’s incredibly hard to stop thinking, but please try stop thinking so much. A lot of your anxiety comes from irrational thoughts, so try and be logical to combat them. Also don’t be afraid to talk about your anxiety because it’s very real to you and it’s important to express yourself.

16. People don’t care as much as you think they do (in a good way). People are not staring at you and aren’t judging you. So stop worrying what other people think and live your own life the way you want to live it. The people who care will stay.

17. You are worth more than you think. Lets face it. You don’t think you’re worth much, but you are. You have a bad habit of letting criticisms overpower any compliments you are given no matter how wonderful the compliments may be. As you get better, you will learn to focus more on the positives and less on the negatives. Your friends will help you a lot with this one.

18. Your mental illness does not define you. You may think these emotions and the label of “mentally ill” will define who you are for the rest of your life, but they won’t. You’ll grow and learn to control your illness better. It will just become another part of you, not the main part of you.

19. Showing your emotions does not make you weak. Crying does not make you less of a man. Having a panic attack does not make you weak. There will be a specific incident where you have the biggest panic attack you’ve ever had in front of your friends and you will feel ashamed and embarrassed. But listen to me when I say there is nothing to be ashamed of. Your friends will help you through it, and you will be OK. Being emotional and sensitive is attractive to many and a great quality to have. You have a lot of empathy, kid, and you will learn to use it to your advantage. It just takes some practice.

20. You will be OK. You will be OK. I swear, you will be OK.

And that’s it, 20 things I wish I could tell my younger self about my experience with mental illness. I still continue to grow and learn new things every day on my journey to recovery. And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned for anything. Mental illness has taken a lot from me, but it has also taught me some of the most important lessons I think I will ever learn.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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What It's Like to Experience the Storm of Mental Illness

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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.

You’re floating in a massive expanse of water. It’s like the ocean, but the water is still and calm. It’s a nice day. The water is warm and comfortable, until suddenly it’s not. The water is noticeably cooler.

You start swimming and quickly find the warmth again. The cool water chills you again. You keep swimming, but the water only gets colder. It feels like something is gently pulling you back as you try to escape this freezing cold water.

The current gets stronger. You know what’s happening because you’ve been here before. The clouds cover the sun as you keep swimming, trying to get away. The waves come. They threaten to pull you down but you keep fighting.

You’re fighting, but you’re tired. You’ve been swimming for ages and the storm is only getting worse. It’s tempting to give in, but you don’t want to. Every time you come close to letting go, the darkness below becomes too real and too scary so you swim back to the surface again.

You can’t do it anymore. You can’t. You’re too tired to swim, and too scared to drown alone. You scream for help, hoping someone might hear your desperate cries through the raging storm.

A boat in the distance brings some relief. They won’t save you. You know that’s not their job. The only way to get rid of a storm is to face it. You know that’s what you need to do.

You grab onto the rope your friend has thrown to you and you dive. The air in your lungs is replaced by water. The pressure builds and the darkness grows. You can’t breathe and the water feels more like ice. The currents throw you around like a dead fish, not caring what happens to you.

You hear the sounds of monsters as they cry out to you in angry moans. You can’t make out what they look like because their blackness blends in with the darkness of the ocean. You know they are there because you sometimes see flashes of light reflected off their eyes

You feel a little bit of warmth come back to the water. The currents weaken a little as you cling to the rope as tightly as ever. You slowly pull yourself towards the surface and away from the monsters of the deep. You see sunlight shimmering on the surface of the water for the first time in days. You make it to the surface and feel the air fill lungs once again.

You make your way towards your friend’s boat and they help you to get onboard. You crumple into an exhausted heap as they wrap a blanket around you and hold you close. Their warmth helps you to relax a little and catch your breath.

You look out at the water. It is still and calm. You dip your hand in the water and feel its warmth. You want to stay on the boat where it’s safe and comfortable, but you know you have to get back in the water again. You slowly and carefully step back into the water. The lack of support beneath you is unsettling, but soon you’re floating again. The monsters still lurk below you, and the storms will inevitably come back, but for now, you’re back to being OK.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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