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I Hated My Psychiatric Hospital Stay, but I Needed It

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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.

Do you ever feel like your life is a movie?

Everything seems to be cruising along just fine and then all of a sudden it all spirals out of control and you can’t remember how you lost it?

That’s how I felt at the lowest point of my life.

I was in college, studying a pretty intense program with an internship that did not allow me much free time to spend with my daughter and partner. Rushing to an 8 a.m. class, sitting through lecture for hours, and then commuting to placement where I’d be until dinner time or after my daughter’s bedtime. I’d spend the rest of the night studying, or trying to.

It wasn’t all bad by any means. I met some pretty amazing people, had some unforgettable experiences, and earned my degree! But it also broke me. Shattered my life into pieces. And I couldn’t stand up.

I couldn’t catch my breath.

It was like my brain turned off. There was a constant struggle between my desire to finish my degree and my longing to stay in bed. Walking down the street or through the halls didn’t feel like reality anymore (I later learned this is called dissociation, when you feel disconnected from your surroundings, feelings, emotions, and thoughts). I felt like my life was a video game and everyone else was participating, but I wasn’t engaging, like I was part of the backdrop. I started having suicidal thoughts.

Eventually my relationship with my daughter’s father ended and everything really came crashing down. I was circling the drain for a while, but this was the event that washed me out. My life as I knew it was over, changed forever. We fell out of love and this would be the end of our seemingly “happy” family.

From outside looking in, we always got compliments that we were perfect for each other. There were never arguments, I was chasing my dream, and we were raising our daughter together. It felt like the three of us against the world (we set some pretty high expectations for parenting, but I’ll get into that another time). The perception of who we were was so different compared to how it actually was. Again, it wasn’t horrible, there was no abuse of any kind, we had everything we needed to live comfortably, and we really didn’t fight, ever. But we didn’t take time for ourselves. The best way I can describe it is: We lost ourselves in parenting, and our relationship took a backseat.

When our family separated, my daughter stayed with her father and I left. This was such a hard choice for me, but I wasn’t able to care for her. At this point, I could barely take care of myself. I wasn’t eating, wasn’t working due to the pandemic, and it was hard to just get out of bed. I was neglecting my studies. I wanted to stay under the covers all day. It felt safe, like the world didn’t expect anything of me. My suicidal thoughts were becoming more frequent.

I paced my room arguing with myself. I knew if I left the house and got into my car, I would drive it off the road. It took everything in me not to go out my door. I made two calls. Call one, rang. No answer. Call two, rang. No answer. I got a text saying, “Hey, I’m having dinner, everything OK?” To which I said, “yeah, no worries.”

I broke down. I was crying so hard I couldn’t move. My head started pounding and I was on the floor curled up in a ball. I fought my urges to leave and stayed on the floor for a couple hours, eventually crawling into bed, where I stayed for a couple days.

And it continued to get worse.

A couple days later, on a Friday night, I had just finished an evening at my internship and I sat in the car. I was triggered by a combination of things. My living situation, my family situation, my education (which I was hating at the time). There was laundry in the backseat that needed to be washed. I was falling behind in school. I missed living with my daughter. Everything got to me and I couldn’t calm down. My mind was racing and I wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to die, but the doctor didn’t believe me when I told them what happened. I went to my local pharmacy around 11 p.m. and made a purchase I would regret.

I didn’t want to do any damage. I just wanted to be numb.

But it got out of control and I ended up in the hospital later that night.

I turned my phone off in the middle of discussions with my now ex, the father of my child. I went to a local baseball diamond and parked the car. I left the engine running because it was the middle of winter and I didn’t want to freeze. I had no plans on going home. I sat in the driver’s seat and ingested my purchase. More than the recommended amount. I quickly passed out.

*Knock knock*

I opened my eyes and saw a figure outside my window. It was a police officer. My car was still on and I was very groggy. How did he find me?

I opened the window and he asked me how I was doing. He told me he got a call about me and they were worried. I got embarrassed. His partner came over to the window and asked if I was having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to lie, so I said yes. After a short conversation, she convinced me to turn off the car and get out. They told me they thought it would be a good choice to go to the hospital so I could get some help. I agreed.

Then instantly regretted it.

The female cop said I could lock my car and put my belongings in the trunk of her police cruiser. As we walked beside the car, she held out some handcuffs. My stomach dropped. She said it was protocol.

I got into the back of the car and as we drove to the hospital, she tried to make conversation. It just made me feel worse and I stared out the window wishing I didn’t do what I did.

When we got to the hospital, we entered the emergency department from the back, through the ambulance bay. I still had the handcuffs on and felt judgment from the hospital staff right away. As I sat in a back hallway, away from everyone else in emergency department, I just watched and listened to what was going on around me. I could hear screaming from the ambulance bay. The male cop said to a nurse it was a regular who had come in and they were trying to restrain him. In the other direction, more yelling.

The cops had to stay with me until I was admitted and they continued to try to make conversation. I was weary to share any information about myself and where I went to school just in case they knew anyone who knew me. I didn’t want anyone to find out. They eventually took my handcuffs off so I could fill out paperwork and decided to keep them off after determining I wasn’t a threat.

After I was admitted, I was walked to the emergency psychiatric ward, where they determine if you’ll be moved to the regular psych ward. Things got real very fast.

At first, I had all my belongings with me. My phone and everything in my backpack. I turned on my phone and texted my daughter’s father, said I was in the hospital and I would call when I was out. I was determined to get out of there as fast as possible. That wouldn’t happen.

A staff member came over to me with a gown, some socks, and hospital bags. She said I was to go change and put all my things in the bag, including my phone. I wasn’t allowed to keep anything with me. She took my things and put it in a locker.

I turned and settled in to a lazy-boy like chair. We were expected to sleep here overnight, no privacy curtains. There was a security guard seated to the left of me and another guard at the ward entrance. About 5 other people surrounded me, of all ages. Women and men. Everyone was fighting their own battles, some very different from mine. Hallucinating, arguing, yelling. I felt like I didn’t belong. I wanted to leave so badly. Eventually I drifted into a light sleep and woke several times until I couldn’t sleep anymore.

In the morning, I was given access to a community landline if I needed to make a call. Mind you, I don’t have any phone numbers memorized so I had to ask permission to get numbers off my cell phone. I was supervised for this task. I got back to the community phone and made a call. It was my ex. He told me he called the cops to go look for me and I was so mad. I told him I’d call when I didn’t have an audience and hung up.

A couple hours go by and I approached the nurse’s desk asking when I would be able to leave. She said I had to be assessed by a psychiatrist and she would be in soon. I sat back down and waited patiently. What else did I have to do?

Finally, my name was called and I went to a separate room to speak with the doctor. After a quick conversation about my childhood, my current living situation, and what happened, she informed me I would be staying in the hospital for at least three days. I was crushed.

The nurses transferred me to the mental health ward on the other side of the hospital. I was assigned a bed with a roommate (thankfully, she brought me solace during my time there). It was here my nurse went through every single one of my belongings. My backpack was full. I had my laptop, a change of clothes, candy wrappers, pencils, pens, makeup bag, flash drives. Typical of a college student. She took all the objects that were forbidden in the ward. Tweezers, bobby pins, electronics (including my phone), earrings, clothing, shoes, eyelash curler. I cried while she threw my things in a bag and took it away.

I spent the rest of the day in my bed.

I was jolted by the sound of a voice coming out of the intercom above my bed.

“Alexis, time for your medication”.

I exited my room which was down the hall directly in front of the nurses desk and noticed the other patients in the ward gathering for their medication as well. One by one we approached the nurse, she gave us a pill in a cup and some water. I had to swallow in front of her.

Then it was dinner time.

We lined up at the end of hall just outside the locked doors of the ward. It felt like I was in elementary school. I held my gown tightly and picked at my hospital bracelet, waiting for the nurses to lead us to the cafeteria. We slowly walked to a private seating area. Once it was my turn to get dinner, I had to show my bracelet to get my pre-made plate and find a seat. There was no option to sit alone. I was joined by another patient, but we sat in silence. I couldn’t eat.

I went back to my room and sat in tears. My roommate asked if I was OK and I said no.

She told me the first few days were the hardest, but that it would get better. She was right.

The next day, I made a few calls at the community phone by the nurses desk. I mumbled hoping no one would hear me. I called my ex. I told him how horrible it was in there and I asked him why he did this to me. I called my best friend who was so worried about me and explained to her what I had done. And I called my coach who had noticed my spiral and had been a huge support leading up to this.

I was too embarrassed to call my dad.

Over the next couple of days, I tried my best to put on a fake face to get out of there. I hated it, but I needed it. I had a break from social media and school that was long overdue. I met a lot of people who told their stories that shocked and saddened me. My roommate turned out to be a great friend even after I was discharged. I learned it was where I needed to be at that moment in my life.

On day three, I met with my doctor, whom I’d been having visits with every day, and she decided I could go home and continue treatment with my regular doctor.

I was so happy to leave.

My ex picked me up and brought me back to my place to settle. I spent the next couple of days adjusting to the medication. It made me very tired, dizzy, and lightheaded.

A couple months later, I started cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It taught me ways to process my thoughts and feelings in a way I never learned how to before. I also continued with my medication for a little over a year and made lifestyle changes to influence my mood and behavior.

Everything seemed to be calming down. Quieting in my head. I felt like a part of reality again.

Although I have never gotten back to that low point, I still go through periods of low energy and negative thoughts. Days I don’t want to get out of bed or cook myself food. But here I am, a year and a half later, still alive and dealing with the obstacles as they come in the best way I know how.

Getty image by Ridofranz

Originally published: November 11, 2021
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