8 Takeaways From Being Hospitalized for My Mental Health
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It’s been almost seven months since that day — and it still feels like yesterday.
As I write this, I can hear the rain hitting the window to my left as the gray clouds roll over this city. And it hits me. Not that it’s raining — I live in Southern Alabama, we are no stranger to the rain — but rather the fact that I am sitting here listening to a rainstorm that a few months ago I never planned to be here to listen to.
You see, this is something I’ve been wanting to write for a while, yet I still don’t know exactly what “this” is.
A confession maybe? But to me confession is synonymous with sin, which is synonymous with wrong, and I am trying to convince myself I did nothing wrong.
A blog post maybe? But to me a blog post is synonymous with joy and gladness and fancy recipes I can never seem to get right, because everyone loves a great story when it makes them smile.
Nevertheless, it matters not what this is but rather what this isn’t.
This is not a cry for attention, for pity, or anything of the sort.
This is me sharing a piece of myself in hopes that maybe by doing so I can plant a mustard seed of knowledge inside someone.
The month of October started off with a fairytale. My aunts got married in a beautiful ceremony full of the kind of love and hope that hardly exist in this day and age and I had the blessing of being a bridesmaid. I smiled and laughed more that weekend than I had in almost a year. For those few days, I felt “normal.” I felt, dare I say, happy.
However, just a short week later I hit one of the lowest points of my life. I was hurting, I was exhausted, and I was done. I had been swimming for so long that my muscles were tired and my lungs were full of water and I was so oxygen deprived I couldn’t think clearly. I was ready to give up and I fully planned to.
At this point, I wasn’t me; I was completely irrational. That feeling of utter lack of control is terrifying and something even now I cannot forget. Through a series of events, my therapist at the time learned of my intents and I ended up hospitalized. The week that followed was something forever ingrained in my memory. I cried — often — those ugly tears that choke you up and get snot everywhere. I was angry at the world, angry to be there and angry that I was alive. Nevertheless, in the midst of this, I learned some valuable things.
I want to pause here by saying that when I first began writing this, I thought about writing about the experience as a whole, what each day held, etc. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to focus more on the lessons than the experience. And to be quite frank, there are parts of it I am not ready to share with the world. This is an intimate thing for me, something I am ashamed of in some ways. This was me at one of my most vulnerable points and I am beginning to learn it is OK to keep some things for yourself. You do not owe the world your trauma, your pain, your story or anything else. You say what you need to, when you need to. So, this is what I am ready to say and what I need to say for now.
Here are some things I learned:
1. They do what they have to in order to ensure everyone is safe.
I am very much an independent person. I like my autonomy and having control over things. In reality, I probably need control a little too much — I am petrified to be without it (don’t worry, I’m working on it). However, being there, that is stripped away from you. Every decision is made for you; you are told when to sleep, when to eat, when to shower, etc. There are numerous rules about what you can wear, possess and do. For me, it took quite a lot of getting used to. I remember a couple days after I came in another girl came in and was visibly shaken. I asked her if I could sit on her bed with her to comfort her, and when she nodded I did. Not a moment later, a member of the staff walked by and told me I had to move and was breaking the rules. Looking back, I recognize I was emotionally vulnerable and could have overreacted, but feeling as though I had gotten in trouble sent me into a tailspin. Another night, I was writing in the journal I was given and asked for a pencil and was surprised when I was told they weren’t allowed, it was a safety hazard. That same night I had taken my journal back to my room with me and was reprimanded for doing such. It was was a big adjustment, but looking back I see that it was to keep us safe.
2. Mental illness is not always visible.
Being there, I met girls from all walks of life. I didn’t really fit in well and many of them told me I didn’t belong there. I think one of the greatest downfalls of our society and even our mental health system is the inability at times to see beyond external appearances. Being told I didn’t belong there not only by my peers but by staff made me feel as though even with an active suicide plan I wasn’t “sick enough.” As someone who hates attention and already felt extremely selfish, this was extremely invalidating and frustrating. Looking back, I am trying to reframe this as a good thing for to them, telling myself they meant it as I had a future, a potential, more to me than this. I realize now that my tendency to hide everything with a smile and in some ways even invalidate my own feelings causes a great dissonance. I am working to be more honest with myself and my therapist about how I am feeling, and letting myself not be OK without having to shrug it off. Giving yourself the ability to just be however you are in that moment can be one of the most powerful things. We have to stop judging books by their covers and getting to know more of what lies within, not just in regards to mental illness but in regards to life
3. Hurt people hurt people.
While there, I was astonished at the bullying by some of the girls. I often found myself almost angry at them, shocked that they were acting that way in what was supposed to be a safe place to heal. Now I know that they were hurting, just as I was, but they just expressed it in different ways. I am not saying that excuses their behavior, but they were there for a reason and just needed help and perhaps love, and we had more in common than I originally thought.
4. Good coping skills are essential and speaking your truth is monumental.
While being there was not exactly the greatest experience of my life, it did teach me some great coping skills. As someone who cannot stand sitting around (something we did a lot of), I took up writing and poetry. When I was released and went home, I knew I needed something and I found OutLoud here in town. Finding my poetry family and letting my voice be heard has been instrumental for me as a person. Through losing myself on stage I find myself and am able to break the chains of silence that held me captive for so long. Here I have found the part of me I never knew was missing, my family of choice, my village and my home. While there, I also spoke to many girls who had experienced similar things as I had, which showed me that as much as I wish I was I am not alone in that. Hearing them share their story showed me that silence can be both powerful and destructive depending on how it’s used.
5. I am going to be an amazing therapist one day.
OK, I am not being conceited on this one I promise. While there, I had the opportunity to have some incredibly deep and insightful conversations with a couple of the girls that I will never forget. As we spoke, I shared with them all the wisdom I possessed (none of which I could apply to myself) and did my best to plant in them a seed of hope that they could nurture and grow to last a lifetime. I saw real changes in them when they began to believe in themselves. The most powerful thing in the world is to see it on someone’s face when they decide they want to live. I’m not in any way saying I did that. I think that is the result of their inner strength and their treatment team, but I like to think perhaps my words may have had a tiny impact. I learned then that if I could inspire at one of my lowest points then when I was in a good mindset and with schooling and training, perhaps, I could be someone who could be the change they so desperately need in their life. I met girls there without families to go home to, ones that had been there for months and even years in a couple cases. I met a girl with schizophrenia who was raped by her father and forced to have the baby, a confused 12-year-old with a traumatic past experiencing blackout rages that she had no idea occurred, and a girl with hallucinations and the biggest heart. I learned that behind every person is a story, and I learned that giving hope is addicting and that I have to be alive to do so.
6. The only key to fear is hope.
There is the fear you will never be strong enough to stand on your own two feet. That is the moment when you pull out that sliver of hope. Whatever got your heart beating, whatever made your eyes light up, whatever moment made you realize you are still alive and not going down without a fight — that is what will save you from yourself. That is the hope that will tell you you can do hard things, and there is a purpose for you in this world. That we are all human, we all matter and we are all fighting for our lives. We show up — trembling and fighting — and we win, because we are all worth the fight.
7. Recovery is a daily process, not an event.
Being there was not what I expected it would be. After I calmed down and was in a mindset to think clearly, I was under the impression it would just be a few days — three or four tops. That there would be some medication changes, a magic cure, and “bippity bopping boop” suddenly I am OK and happy to be alive. However, I quickly learned that was not the case. I have to choose each and every day to get better. Some days I am unable to and the secret is, that’s OK. I have OK days, bad days, really bad days, and days where I get close to that scary place again, when I am toeing the line between rational and irrational (but so far I’m winning). Something extremely valuable that was once told to me was you can’t walk ten miles into the woods and expect to get out in five. Things did not happen to me overnight. I have years of trauma, years of pain and hurt to overcome, and I know now that is going to take time and work. You take each day however it comes, take a deep breath, and when all else fails, you punt. Some days it will be hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second — and that’s OK. You do it because you can’t get better if you’re not around to.
8. This is not how your story has to end.
I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true. I was under this impression that being hospitalized was the end of the world. While it is certainly not something I would wish on anyone, I know now that it kept me safe and alive when I couldn’t do so myself and that it doesn’t have to define me. In the last seven months I have accomplished so many things, had so many experiences, things I almost was never around to see. I learned the power of friendship and that everyone has a purpose in your life, even if they don’t stay. I found my love and passion for poetry and performing. I’ve gotten to take care of the most incredible baby and watch him grow up, seeing the smile on his face, pure and untainted, reminds me there is good in this world. I’ve had some incredible mentors and had the blessing of being an intern with some truly beautiful humans. I’ve laughed until I peed my pants and smiled until my face hurt. I’ve had deep conversations with people full of laughter and tears, I’ve shared my wisdom and gained some more. I have made memories to last a lifetime. I am learning that my past does not have to define me, that it’s about what happens next. This goes for whatever you’re dealing with — maybe it’s a hospitalization, maybe it’s a traumatic event, maybe it’s a life change or stressor — whatever it is, this is not the end.
Today, things are different in ways I never imagined they would be. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and the reflection that stares me back is not someone I recognize, and perhaps that’s OK. I am taking it day by day, learning how to breathe again, learning how to live again. I am changing, a total unbecoming of who I was so I can be who I was always meant to be. Who knows where I will be seven months from now; today, I am trying to take it moment by moment and see what comes next.
So, I want to end on this note.
I wish it hadn’t taken me getting to that point to begin to learn these things. Hospitalization is not pretty or glorious. It’s not a “vacation from real life” or fun by any means. It is not something to wish for. But it is also not any of the stereotypes. It is a place full of real people who are often going through extremely low points in their life. If you need help, reach out, before it gets to that point; and if you, like I did, luckily have help, be honest about how you’re feeling as that’s the only way anyone can help you (I am saying that as a reminder to myself as well). Don’t be afraid to take chances, try new things and have a little faith. Dealing with a mental illness isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint thing, and you never know what might work next.
Remember, there are people who love and want to support you, people you will find in the most unexpected places. So many people are on your side and believe in you, I think you just have to become one of them.
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