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What My First Psychiatric Intake Experience Was Really Like

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Agitating is the best way to describe the cold, eerie, commercial way people handle mental illness during a psychiatric admissions intake. You would assume they would be warmer given the circumstances and fact that this soon-to-be patient is, in fact, nervous, and maybe even terrified.

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The nonchalant scripted conversations upon admittance are frightening when considering you are entrusting these individuals with your sanity and humbly approaching these strangers with your secrets, pleading for help. The rarity of kindness is a perfect example of the reason that stigmatism exists. If we cannot depend upon the ones that are trained to know us better than we know ourselves, how could we hope the rest of society would?

The counselor was warm but the questions were brutal. The sound of my own nervous feet tipping and tapping on the floor as my hands tap away at the sticker on the health form placed in front of me.

“Do you drink?”

“Yes,” I say sheepishly.

“Do you take any controlled substances?” he asks.

My face reddens and suddenly I panic.

“Will this affect my job or life in anyway?” I think.

I was afraid of the ultimate admittance of something the counselor had probably heard a million times before, but was news to me. This was my fear. The fear of the world knowing I had flaws. Of course the professionals knew, but I had yet to admit it, even to myself.

Writing is organized and well thought out. It provides a release that has no after-effect. When you write your thoughts, you almost never have to see how the readers perceive you. Unlike writing, in therapy, you essentially provide all of these trying and delicate emotions out loud. You must share your personal thoughts, feelings and history that not even some of the closest people to you know. Not only does it feel invasive, it also feels embarrassing.

“It’s all for the greater good,” you tell yourself. So I hunker down and open my mouth like a good little patient in anticipation that they will fix me. Eventually I am scurried from one doctor to the next, listing over and over all the reasons why I am here and the events that led me to this point.

I sit in another office furnished with the same melodramatic furniture from the last three offices. I wait silently and read the posters and brochures they have available to pass the time. Suicide hotlines are apparently a trend here and I have read up on all of the signs, should I or a loved one feel the need to end his or her own life.

Suddenly my psychologist arrives. Although everyone before her has stated and reassured me of how much I will love her, I am saddened to realize I do not like her one bit.

She’s a scraggly women who appears to be in her late 30s. I analyze her tight blonde bun, her cold exterior and the way she welcomes me to the program without providing a smile or even a bit of eye contact. I want someone who is relatable and who understands, but this woman doesn’t seem like she would.

Without providing boundaries, and with not a care in the world, because I assume she knows based on my chart that I am “crazy,” I outright ask her if she’s married. I ask her if she ever had a  mental illness. Does she have children? All answers lead to no. She then returns to her notepad and begins to ask the same questions I have been asked time and time again.

“Do you think you have powers?”


“Does the radio or TV talk to you?”


“Do you feel like everyone is out to get you or that your phone is tapped?”


With a strike of the pen, I am told yet again, I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder. My medications will be changed again and I am escorted to campus for a full tour of the facilities. In the blink of an eye the counselor is gone and I feel no better. In some instances I actually feel worse and it all suddenly hits me like a ton of bricks. I feel a bit woozy and the room starts spinning. I hold onto the table in need of reassurance that I will not collapse. The realization that I have actually just admitted myself into a psychiatric hospital is unnerving and surreal. A new stage in my life has begun and I know I’m in for a tall order. I urge myself to look beyond the obvious and carry an open mind. Either way I better buckle up because I’m in for an adventurous ride.

Thinkstock photo via Rachel_Web_Design

Originally published: June 26, 2017
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