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Moving Beyond My Life at the Psychiatric Hospital

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I was inpatient at the hospital for three and a half months. I’ve been out of the hospital for almost three months now. My relationship with the hospital has changed a lot.

When I was inpatient at the ward and got home leaves, towards the end of the day I couldn’t wait to get back to the ward. The ward was my home and my safety net. It was familiar, comforting and a place where I could put everything down and rest. I thought of it as an “artificial heaven” — I lived free of responsibilities, a simple yet well-scheduled life. I got to do whatever I wanted, I was in a safe environment and I was isolated from reality while still staying alive.

I liked the ward. The people there were as much of a comfort as the ward itself, even though I didn’t talk to everyone. But, we were put together in such a small space and without any other “distractions.” We saw each other first thing when we woke up without make-up and in pajamas. We saw each other through breakdowns, fresh out of the shower with wet hair and at night when we were ready to doze off any moment. There’s a bond between us, sometimes through actual bonding, and other times through physical proximity.

When I was first discharged, I thought of the ward a lot and my life there. I missed the hospital. I wanted to be back in there. I did not cry when I was discharged and walked out that door because I knew I would see those people again during soccer practices. I knew I would see the nurses again at the hospital a couple times a week for activities. So discharge didn’t seem like a finality, and that provided me with comfort and with support.

Four days after discharge, I went back for my activity and stopped by the ward on the way to say hi to my primary nurse. Going back to the hospital that first time after discharge was such a comfort. It felt like I was going home. After all, the hospital has been my home for almost four months. It felt nice standing on the hospital grounds, walking on the same tiled floors. It also felt nice to breathe the hospital air. A lot of people where discharged the same time I was, so I constantly ran into people I knew who would greet me by name and with a familiar smile. I felt like I “owned” the place and I was surrounded by all these friends and people I knew. It was really comforting. I felt complete.

Throughout the weeks, I continued to attend activities — youth support group, as well as soccer. I looked forward to Mondays and Thursdays. It gave me hope and excitement throughout the week. I was happy to go back to the hospital — for the comfort from familiarity and the love that I feel when someone recognizes me from meters away and calls me by name. It made me feel like things hadn’t changed from when I would sit at the same table I sat during therapy sessions before, walking into the same rooms, seeing the same therapists and sitting on the same stools. It was a beautifully peaceful and “full” feeling. At that time, I was upset when my mom would remind me that I cannot be associated with the hospital forever. She said I should look for outside activities because sooner or later, the hospital will stop providing me these services. There will be new patients and newly discharged patients who will need these services. It made me sad to know that I will be “replaced” or “disregarded” the longer I am discharged, and that all this support and activities will come to an end. There will be a day when I walk off the hospital grounds and say goodbye to all the lovely people I’ve met there.

After a month or so, I still look forward to going back to the hospital — I like the physical familiarity of the place, a reminder of the stress-free days I’ve had and the bonding with my closest IP friends. I feel excited and cannot wait to be back to the hospital, but when I leave, I now feel worse. The hospital is starting to get triggering — especially when I see some of my inpatient friends doing worse, or even some who have been admitted back in the hospital. And also the sight of ambulances trigger negative thoughts. These scenes make me suicidal, make me want to do something dangerous in order to be back at the safe environment of the hospital wards. I felt “jealous” at those people who were admitted back to the hospital because I wanted to be one of them. The hospital stopped being a place of comfort, but a place of triggers. I continued to attend activities, knowing I would be triggered, because I still looked for the sense of familiarity and mutual connection and love even when there wasn’t.

Now, almost three months after discharge, I think what my mom said earlier was correct. Not in the sense that the hospital “disregards me,” but that I should start to slowly retreat from the hospital. There comes a point where the hospital and its activities aren’t helping me anymore. This is where my friend’s mature words fill my head:

“Some things and people are only meant to be in our lives for a season to teach us something or serve us for the period, and it becomes saddening and unproductive if we give it the meaning that it was supposed to last a lifetime.”

The hospital was there when I needed it, but now it has served its purpose and it’s time for me to move on — to find a life outside of the hospital, to live a life free of association with the hospital.

Hospitals change. There are always new patients and people coming and going. I cannot be “relevant” forever. Three months after discharge, I realize the people (nurses and patients) at the ward have changed. Especially the patients, it’s almost a 99% turnover rate. They are strangers to me and I’m a stranger to them. I have to accept that at some point, I will no longer be relevant, although I might still be on the minds of some of the nurses and therapists. When I no longer know the people at the ward, I have to back away because it no longer provides the same sense of familiarity.

It feels like a different decade when I was at the ward. That original group of people will always be in my mind and in my thoughts… those early days were the brightest in my memory even though I struggled the most. Even when I was at the ward the group there changed over time.

I have to accept I am making progress and I can move beyond my life at the hospital. I have been going back to the hospital at least two times a week. It’s a little much. There was a point when going back to the hospital really helped me mentally, and now I’m at the point where it is causing more harm than good. And at this point, I have to learn to let go, to move forward and be free of the hospital. The hospital will always be there and the nurses will always be there when I need them. But for now, I think I will reduce the activities I attend at the hospital and slowly withdraw myself from it.

Getty image LewisTsePuiLung

Originally published: July 23, 2019
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