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What It’s Like to Be in Hospital, Manic and Denying My Bipolar Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The doors to 5A open and the white lights blind my eyes. My eyes are drawn to the white — white walls, white floors and white ceilings. Men and women in long, white coats scurry from one room to the next to pick apart brains and ensure stability. Screams escape the privacy of the rooms and echo off of the walls, streaming through one ear and out the other, not missing a single beat. I wish they could be quiet; maybe then, the muscles in my face could relax and the tension in my eyes would disappear.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

The wheelchair I am forced into, even though I’m capable of walking, stops in front of the nurse’s station. A screechy voice from behind my back startles me. “Hi. I’m Lisa.” I turn around to check her out but she grabs my hand and examines it two inches from her face. “You have a tattoo? That’s okay, you can get it removed and God will love you again.”

I stare blankly at her while she runs off. “Where the fuck am I?” I shake my head and a nurse appears to take me to my room.

Beth is a level-headed young woman who always wears a smile and smells of compassion. Patients on 5A are put on “one-to-ones” because doctors think we need closer observation than the more stable individuals on the other side in 5G. I was lucky to be assigned to Beth.

“Here are your scrubs and the medication the doctor prescribed for you,” Beth says. She hands me two cups, one filled with water and the other containing a little white pill.

I lift the pill up in the air between my thumb and pointer finger. I stare at it for a minute then ask, “What is this for?”

Beth responds as if I have asked this question before. “It will help level out your moods, sweetie.” She shakes her head then disappears into the white.

I watch that little white pill swirl down the toilet and I change into the scrubs. I’m quite relieved to see blue for a change. I place my clothes on the only piece of furniture in the room next to my bed and sit there counting the tics: 1,800 total.

A man in a white coat enters the room and takes a seat, careful not to sit on my clothes. He is dressed sharply in his white coat, nice slacks and freshly polished shoes. I can almost see a reflection of his silhouette in them. In one hand he holds a stack of papers each containing the same name in the top right hand corner that I can’t make out. In his other hand is a blank piece of notebook paper. Resting above his ear is a black ballpoint pen. I study his face for a moment and replay his features like a broken record in my head — golden brown skin free of wrinkles and blemishes, neatly groomed black hair gelled to perfection, and a beaming white smile. Before he can open his mouth to let out his accent, I interrupt him abruptly. “You must be my doctor. You are extremely attractive.”

He gives me a complex look and his straightforward response takes me a minute to comprehend his words. “Yes. I’m your psychiatrist. Tell me, why you are here at Memorial Hospital?”

I inch myself to the edge of the bed, sitting with my legs crossed, with my elbows on my knees and my hands folded under my chin. I bite the corner of my lip and give him puppy dog eyes. “I don’t know but you have got to get me out of here. I’ll do anything, doctor.”

The doctor shakes off my invitation with another question, “Well, our records indicate you haven’t slept in days. What’s that about?”

I crash my body into the bed and bury my head in the pillow. “I’m not tired!” I scream. “Is this why I’m here, because I haven’t been sleeping?”

“That amongst other symptoms,” he says as he scans his stack of papers. “Have you been engaging in impulsive behaviors such as excessive drinking, unprotected sex or promiscuity, and/or sporadic spending sprees?”

I sit up straight and I look down and to the right, avoiding any eye contact. “No, sir.”

“Alright,” he says. He straightens his papers and heads for the door. “We will try this again tomorrow.”

I catch him right as he’s about to leave. “Wait! How long am I going to be here?”

He halts and turns his head around towards me. “Until you can get some sleep. I’ll have the nurse bring in medication to help you with that.” He turns out my light and disappears into the white.

Beth returns to my room and hands me a cup of water and another white pill. I make a gesture to swallow then place the cup back into her hands. We exchange a friendly smile then she turns out my light and shuts the door behind her. Immediately that pill transfers from between my gums and my cheek to the trash. For the first time, today it is relatively quiet and dark.

For the next several hours, I pace around my room. I could really use my cell phone or iPad right now. I lie on the cold ground with my legs parallel to the wall counting the tiles on the ceiling. Every so often I can hear the sound of footsteps getting close to my room. As soon as I see the white from under the door overlapping the darkness on my walls, I dart back into bed until the white subsides and the footsteps again fade then, I’m back to tile counting. Somewhere after 20,0 I lose track.

A fine-looking face awakens me. The doctor is dressed similar as he was yesterday, though today he is wearing a black tie underneath his white coat. He is holding a new stack of papers and this time I can make out the name in the corner. It says, “Lynsey Bradshaw, psychiatric admissions and evaluation.”

“Good morning, Lynsey.” He takes a seat on the lonely piece of furniture. He crosses his arms and gives me a slight smile. “The overnight staff tells me you slept last night. Did that medication help?”

“Um. Sure. What are those for?” I point sternly to the papers he is holding.

Doctor takes a seat and begins talking. “This is what I was trying to talk to you about yesterday. Based off your previous medical records and your psychiatric history, it is certain to me that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is only ascertainable. I’m going to ask you one more time the same question I asked you yesterday. Are you sure you haven’t engaged in any risky behaviors lately? If you are honest with me, then we can get you out of here quicker.”

My heart starts to race and my palms are getting sticky. It takes a moment for me to answer because my head has been so foggy the past week. I’m not sure what was real and what was fake. I’m not sure if I can answer his questions truthfully, and it’s not by choice. I do my best to answer anyway. As I speak, the ink fills his pages.

“Each one of those things could pertain to me I guess. I haven’t been able to see straight since Thursday. Today is Monday. I went from having $1,502 in my checking account down to $1.57 in a matter of hours. Ten new pairs of tennis shoes to add to my collection of 242 seemed appropriate. As far as the promiscuity, I’m sure you can see for yourself considering the first thing I did when you walked into my room was basically jump your bones. Less obvious, I also went home with three different men in two different nights. This doesn’t mean I’m bipolar though. I’m not. I just like to have fun. Can I go now?”

I can see the black from his pen fill up an entire page with his concerns. He tucks his pen back onto his ear and folds his hands into his lap. “When fun becomes endangering, then it becomes a problem. I don’t believe it is smart to release you quite yet. You seem to be less delusional than previous admissions, but the delusions are still apparent. You aren’t taking on the personas of anyone famous this time, which leads me to believe this isn’t a full manic episode, maybe some hypomania. I’d like to keep you one more night and see how you sleep.”

Right before he leaves me in the plain white room by myself once again, I snarl at him. “Whatever. I’m not bipolar though.”

At 8:30 p.m., a new nurse tells me it is time for nighttime meds. She hands me a cup of water and two white pills: the medicine to level out the highs and lows and the medicine to sedate me. I cup both in the same hand and guide my palm up to my mouth. She snatches the empty cup from my hand then turns my light out and waddles her way out the door. When it is dead silent, I open my palm into my pillowcase. Now, all that is left to do is count the tics until the morning.

“Lynsey, it is 8:30 a.m.,” a voice calls out. I turn around and see it is Beth standing over my bed with my discharge papers. “Yes! I finally get to leave!” I hug her and run out into the “Gathering Room” with her ten steps behind me.

For the next half hour, Beth runs through the list of the basic procedures for my aftercare. She tells me:

1. Take your medication once daily before bed with water.

2. If you have any side effects, call your psychiatrist.

3. If you have any thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately.

Blah, blah, blah.

The doors I was initially chaperoned through open up and welcome me back to “reality.” Beth hands me a bag containing my clothes and shoes and also my discharge papers, including information on bipolar disorder. I shove the papers in my bag and head back into the “real world” where I am surrounded by the full spectrum of colors. I feel fresh air for the first time in nine days.

I felt euphoric for a few days after my discharge, but a switch turned off and I shut down. I stayed in my bed for four days, only getting up to use the restroom. I didn’t eat or drink and my room smelled of sweat from not showering and blood from the marks of sadness I left on my skin. I didn’t understand how I could go from feeling so “good” to so “bad” in such a short period of time. In the midst of my self-pity and despair, I opened the bag I was discharged from the hospital with and read:

Bipolar disorder:

A mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression.

I’m being escorted through doors and into a room. The white lights give me a headache. A nurse hands me a pair of scrubs and a white pill with some water. I put it in my mouth and swallow. She has me show my palms, open my mouth and move my tongue up and down to confirm it has been ingested. She smiles at me, pats me on the shoulder and walks out of the white room with the only hint of color resting in my lap. Three-hundred tics go by and a familiar face enters.

“Hello, Lynsey. Nice to see you again. Do you know why you are here?”

I look up at the handsome doctor who is standing right beside me and answer, “I attempted suicide. Doctor, I think you were right.”

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Tereza Rubá on Unsplash

Originally published: September 29, 2019
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