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Why I Left My Most Recent Hospitalization for Bipolar Feeling Empowered

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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 741741.

If someone had taken my 10-year-old self aside, an imaginative child lost in her mind, and told her that her struggles had legitimate names (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and sensory processing disorder) and that help was available, she would’ve cried out of relief and possibly confusion, a mixture of the two.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

On the other hand, if this same mysterious person from the future had told her she would also have severe mental illness as an adult, including diagnoses of bipolar I disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and anorexia, that would lead to multiple hospitalizations, she would have not been able to process this information. It would’ve seemed so foreign, so separate from the reality of her childhood self.

I am quite familiar with “The Psych Ward,” as I’ve often referred to it as, as if it were the name of a scary movie. To be honest, while being hospitalized for your mental health may be emotionally painful because you are feeling ill enough to seek inpatient care and safety, it can also be empowering. I will explain what I mean by that.

As I said, I have been hospitalized several times between 2014 and 2021. Most of these visits occurred during 2017 and 2018, when I felt I was at my lowest in terms of my struggles with bipolar, OCD, anxiety and my BPD. I also hadn’t yet discovered I had been living my life, the first 20-plus years, with undiagnosed learning disabilities and ADHD.

All of my admissions were voluntary; however, the moments that led up to them were scary for me and those around me. They often involved racing or intrusive thoughts, impulsivity and urges or even actions regarding self-harm and suicide. I have also struggled with anxiety, eating disorder behaviors and trauma during some of these episodes, as well as chronically. What I am trying to say is, going to the hospital can be life-saving and help me “reset” myself as I work with professionals to alter my medications and/or find the next steps in therapeutic treatment. However, I often, not long after admission, find myself in denial.

“I’m fine now!” I would say to my parents through the corded phone, wearing my favorite pajama pants (string cut out) and a hoodie (string also removed), and of course, my no-slip hospital socks. These words only amplified their concerns.

This last hospitalization, it was different. But… but why?

I usually would leave the hospital, three to seven days later, feeling happy for a day, only to come crashing down as if nothing had changed. I was almost always admitted for reasons regarding depression and self-harm or suicide, along with intrusive thoughts. This time, my sister brought me to the hospital for a mixed bipolar I episode (for a long time I was actually diagnosed with bipolar II because my depressions were significantly more severe than my [hypo]manias).

I had severe racing thoughts, disorganized thinking, memory and concentration issues (more than the usual), pressured speech, irritability, anxiety, sensory overload. I also struggled with impulsive urges and sadness, excessive crying, self-harm, as well as a lack of appetite. This also caused a reemergence in my anorexia symptoms. My mood-stabilizing medications clearly were not working, and I wasn’t really functioning. It was time for a change.

I left feeling empowered this time, though. I ended up staying in this psychiatric unit for 10 days, and it was much needed. I didn’t beg to be discharged early. I ate my meals, I complied with medication, but also advocated for myself with the doctors; I got advice from other patients.

I journaled intensely, reflecting on my present situation and realistic, attainable goals for the future. Key words: realistic. Attainable.

I was told by the staff and patients I was helping so many other people on the unit, and that I was an inspiration.

At the end of my 10 days, I felt ready. I am writing this just a few days later, and while my medications are working better, they might still need slight adjustments in an outpatient setting. I am feeling emotional as I write this, overwhelmed by returning to “real life.”

But in all honesty, my life has always been real. It is real regardless of whether I am inpatient or outpatient, working, in school or in treatment. Or a combination of all of the above. My attitude and willingness to work toward recovery during this hospital stay is what made it so much more… empowering.

I also learned something else important: Recovery is not perfect.

I had always felt as though I needed to “do recovery perfectly,” but now I am realizing that just isn’t possible. Recovery is not linear. It has an upward trend, but it also has peaks and valleys of varying sizes. Reminding myself of this helps me gain perspective and feel better about where I am currently, where I have been in the past and where I am going in the future.

I think my 10-year-old self would be surprised. She would be shocked by all the hardships she will go through, but I also think she would be happy to hear all she will do between 10 and 26 years old. She will live in Europe, travel the world, learn to snowboard and ski, run a half marathon, write a novel, graduate college with a psychology degree, make friends from all over the country, live in Washington D.C., learn to speak Spanish and French, get her very own corgi and even start a master’s of fine arts program in creative writing. She would be happy alright.

Hopefully, she would be empowered, too.

Unsplash image by Azrul Aziz

Originally published: August 8, 2021
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