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What These Items in My Room Remind Me About My Psychiatric Hospitalization

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I open my wardrobe door and there it is, the pink shirt I wore when I went to an inpatient psychiatric center for suicidal thoughts.

It’s the shirt I pulled on when I was trying to look put-together before dragging myself to my therapist’s office for an emergency meeting because I didn’t feel safe with myself. It’s the shirt I wore for three days after I was admitted to the hospital because I didn’t know visitors could come see me, let alone bring me a change of clothes.

It’s one of my favorite shirts, or it was.

When I see it hanging up now, I wonder, if I were to wear it to work, for example, would my supervisor remember seeing me wearing it when he visited me in the hospital? (I work with an incredible staff who are basically family.) If I happened to put it on, thoughtlessly, on the day of a therapy session, would my therapist remember I wore it on the day I told him I didn’t want to be alive anymore, like seven out of 10 wanted to die?

The truth is, I’ve maybe worn that shirt once or twice since I was admitted to the hospital and lived in it for three days. Regardless of whether others would see it and remember that day I didn’t think I would live through, I can’t look at it or wear it and not feel shame — shame for how much I worried my friends and family, shame for how weak I felt, shame for how much help I needed and how much of a burden I worry I was. And I feel shame I still have these suicidal thoughts. That shirt, to me, almost reminds me of how close I am, still, to falling apart and needing to return to the hospital.

But then I look at the wristband I received when I was admitted. I held onto it, along with the one from a month earlier when I went to the ER after having an allergic reaction to tomatoes. I joked with my friends that I had survived an assassination attempt from that tomato. Indeed, it was something that almost succeeded in killing me… but it didn’t. Even as I doubted whether my reaction was that severe (it was), even as I told myself I was over-exaggerating (I wasn’t), even as I wasted precious time getting worse while trying to figure out whether or not I should get help (don’t do that, trust your gut), I eventually reached out for help. There was something in me that wanted to live and realized, even though it took a while, that this thing that was happening to my body was dangerous and I needed someone else’s help to survive.

I look at that ER wristband, and the wristband from the psych hospital, both of which sit on my coffee table, in plain sight, and I think to myself, these two aren’t all that different. In both cases, something was threatening my life — a tomato in one instance, my very depressed mind in the other — and I needed help from someone else to stay alive (even while, in the second case, I didn’t think I wanted to live). I look at those bracelets and see them as reminders of me brushing up with death and surviving. They are tokens of survival, not of shame. I didn’t feel ashamed for going to the hospital when I had a serious allergic reaction, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed for going to the hospital with suicidal thoughts. Everyone gets sick, my supervisor has reminded me over and over again, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a tomato or my mind — there is no shame in getting help or even going to the hospital when you realize you need it in order to live.

Every therapy session, every prescription called in and picked up, every hospital wristband — these shouldn’t make us feel ashamed. They should make us feel mighty. There is something within us striving to live, even when our mind is telling us we don’t want to. We are mighty for battling that voice daily, and anything that helps us do that is part of the process of surviving, not something that we should ever be ashamed of.

Originally published: April 9, 2019
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