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The 13 Eye-Opening Observations I Made After Being Hospitalized for My Mental Health

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

One year ago, I was close to being released from an inpatient program in a private psychiatric hospital. When I was admitted two weeks earlier, the lovely nurse asked if I had been here before. I smiled through my tears and said, “Yeah, but it was just to visit a friend — she was ‘crazy!’” He gave me a rye smile and continued on with his questions.

It was such an eye-opening experience for me. I was absolutely terrified when I was admitted, but when I left, it was almost sad to say goodbye to the place I had started to feel so safe in. At the time, I still felt ashamed of being admitted to a mental clinic. I was ashamed of my anxiety and depression. But now I look back at the experience with a thankful spirit.

Being there did not make me “crazy.” Being there made me, and all the other patients there, brave. These are a few of the observations I made about myself and about getting help while I was there. I hope they might help others who are in similar circumstances.

1. Nothing prepares you for entering a mental health facility. 

It is truly a shock to realize you have reached such a low point that your last hope is to accept hospitalization. Nothing prepared me for the shock of being away from my family and living with strangers — it was quite frightening.

2. Even professionals sometimes think I am “fine” because of the mask I wear.

I noticed that while other patients received extra attention from the nurses, I was left alone except for the hourly knock on my door or glance in my direction to check if I was still breathing. Putting on a mask each morning hid the extent of my illness. I am sure that most of the professionals there questioned my psychiatrists for having such a “healthy” patient admitted to the facility. It made me realize that to get the help, I needed to become more vulnerable and open.

3. I had to realize that I wanted to get better and it’s pointless being there if you don’t do what the professionals ask of you.

Most importantly, it really is totally pointless being there if you do not do what is asked of you and work to get better. I was asked to promise that I would try not to self-harm. I was asked to go to daily therapy groups and asked to see my doctor twice weekly. They were all things that were really difficult for me to do, but it seemed that I would be wasting time and money if I was not going to at least try to start to heal by taking advantage of the things offered to me.

4. It is hard to sleep when you’re on hourly suicide watch.

It is really alarming when you know that someone opens the door and watches you sleep for a few seconds every hour. I was really quite afraid and felt terribly vulnerable, but I also learned that it was possible for people to be trustworthy too. Not once in those two weeks did anyone overstep boundaries and try to harm me or take advantage of my weakness.

5. Hospital food is extra terrible when you have half a dozen food allergies.

I still remember the day the fill in cook tried to tell me that the pizza for dinner was fine for me to have. One look at the cheesy, crispy gluten-filled dish made me shudder. I’m a very sensitive celiac with a dairy allergy, peanut allergy and banana allergy, plus a few intolerances that I try to ignore. There were a few nights where I retreated back to my room and nibbled on the rice crackers that my husband had brought in for me. I lost a lot of weight in those two weeks because I was terrified to eat.

6. Medication is not the enemy.

I had so many bad experiences with medication in the past, including suspected serotonin syndrome, which cause me to go cold turkey off my medication. I was unwilling and incredibly frightened to attempt to find an antidepressant that would work because I was quite sure that there was unlikely to be one. But this time was different, my doctor started me slowly and worked up to larger doses. There were barely any side effects and I started to feel more alert and balanced within a few days. Just because one, or even ten medications, have not worked in the past, does not mean that all hope is lost.

7. Art therapy is very effective.

It was not exactly high on my to-do list, but since it was expected that I would attend at least two to three therapy sessions each day, and I wasn’t keen on going to the relaxation group or yoga, it was essential that the art group was attended. But what I found was that it was rather enjoyable and soothing! The mindfulness and focus needed to repeatedly draw lines and curves to make an image appear was very therapeutic, and something I have continued to do over the past year at home.

8. Mental illness affects all types of people and professions, and addicts are not what I pictured in my mind.

There is no rhyme or reason to who is attacked by mental health issues, and addictions are, in my opinion, simply the result of self-medicating to try and feel better. I saw old and young, male and female, professional and blue collar, and mothers and fathers who were all battling the same things that I was. We were all unique, and yet, the same. Mental illness takes many forms and causes many symptoms. While many of us had the same diagnoses, the forms our symptoms took were so different and varied. I think we all felt lost and alone, I think we all needed help to heal.

9. Doctors can’t help you unless you let them.

Newsflash: your doctors can’t help you unless you let them. You have to be open and honest with them. I had not disclosed my past abuse issues with anyone previously, but after my release from the hospital, I knew it was important for me to do so. Doing this was a big step for me to be able to start healing, because it meant my doctor could understand the reasons I feel like I did. It opened the door to be able to get effective treatment. As much as they probably wish they were, doctors are not mind readers — they can not help us unless we let them.

10. Sometimes you find “therapists” in the most unusual of places.

The first day I was there, the cleaning lady came and gave me the biggest hug and assured me that everything would be OK. I got a hug almost every single day from that beautiful lady. It was something that I came to really look forward too. Her warm empathy and assurance helped me get through and made me feel seen and understood. Even now, a year later, I still think of her and smile. She was a light in the storm.

11. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

Mental illness can sometimes be caused by long term stress. There might even be physical changes to the human brain when it has been exposed to stress, anxiety or depression for a long period of time. These changes make it impossible to “think positive,” or “move on.” It is like you are stuck on a roundabout that you can not get off. There is nothing to be ashamed of because there is often little you can do to control this without help. If you are getting help, you should be proud of yourself for doing so because it is one of the hardest things to do.

12. I felt unprepared and scared to go back to my real life.

At the end of 2 weeks, I had become reliant on the routine of being in the clinic. It felt safe and I was actually frightened of go back to my real life; a life where I needed to be more self-reliant. Thankfully, my dear husband was able to take some extra time off work to help me to readjust, and that helped me to acclimate, but it wasn’t easy!

13. Hospitalization is a stepping stone, not the final destination.

Being hospitalized was not a cure or some magical final destination — it was just a stepping stone toward the right direction. There has been a year of hard work, both from myself and from others, and a lot of pain, heartache and dedication to get to where I am today. Hospitalization gave me a chance to reset, start medication and rest long enough to be prepared to do that work, and I am so grateful that it was an option for me.

If you need help, please reach out and take it from wherever it is offered. Don’t be afraid of hospitalization or medication. Seek out a doctor who you can trust and be vulnerable with. Be prepared for hard work and painful realizations.

You are worth the effort it takes to heal!

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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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Lead image via contributor