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Why My Psychiatric Hospitalization Is No Longer a 'Hush-Hush' Situation

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I grew up with the stigma that you never wanted to be known as “crazy.” Keep it quiet. Don’t ever speak about it. It can affect your grades, your career, your relationships. Hush-hush, on the down-low. I obeyed this for fear if I was a diagnosed depressed person, I would only be seen as “crazy.” I could be known as a woman who talks to herself or becomes violent because, well, that is how mentally ill people have often been portrayed in the media.

I’ll even admit I fell victim to those views. I would thank God every day I was never hospitalized. I could live in silence with my depression and feign happiness by putting on a smile. Day in and day out, I plastered that smile on my face, hiding the turmoil beneath… And then it happened, the day I feared the most — the day I had to be hospitalized.

At the time of my first hospitalization, I was deep into severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Honestly, I was extremely delusional and felt only vaguely alive. My days were filled with multiple crying spells, several trips to the bathroom to vomit, not eating, not sleeping and spewing forth lies I believed — that I didn’t love my daughter and she and my husband would be far better off without me. The week before entering the hospital, I was at my new psychiatrist three times and my new therapist twice. Five of those seven days, I saw someone to help me, and yet I was getting worse.

The final decision to go to the hospital was based solely on the fact that I thought I was extremely malnourished.

My mother brought me to the ER. I spent the next hour pacing the room or rocking back and forth in one of the waiting area chairs, all while shaking uncontrollably and hyperventilating. My mother was extremely worried about me. She feared my life was in danger. No parent ever wants to get to that point. Her fear never crossed my mind once as my only concern was my malnourishment.

I wasn’t deemed an emergency because I was not suicidal or having thoughts of harming myself or my child. I did, however, have extreme thoughts of running away, of removing myself from this situation — this situation where I believed I didn’t love my daughter and wanted nothing to do with her. When I was brought back into a triage room and questioned by a physician’s assistant, I explained quickly that I was one month postpartum and then angled in on my not eating/vomiting situation for the past couple of weeks. The only doctor who was brought in to see me… was a psychiatrist. This is where I was officially diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety. Her next question to me was:

“Are you willing to admit yourself to the short-term psych ward?”

That is when I started to shake again. Tears rapidly fell down my cheeks.

Psych ward? But that is for “crazy” people! Me? “Crazy”?

Quick visions of straitjackets and padded rooms came into view. Fear I would be drugged and left for eternity entered. I would never see anybody again.

But this is what you wanted, Stephanie. You wanted to run away and eradicate yourself from this world.

Then I looked at my mother and my husband and said, “Yes.”

My initial day is a blur. I was so out of it, physically drained from all the crying, vomiting and shaking. I think I attempted to sleep through most of it. Of course, I was drugged, but at this point I didn’t care. I didn’t care about my well-being at all anymore. I could’ve wasted away to nothing, and I would’ve been cool with that.

But on day two, I was pulled from my bed and brought to group therapy under the condition that I would have to go home if I didn’t participate. Therapy brought on stories from others who were “obviously more sick than I was,” at least that’s what I thought. I heard their struggles and their successes. I was given food, and although it was very hard in the beginning, I started to eat. And guess what? I didn’t throw any of it up. I was given coping tools in art therapy like drawing, crafting and journaling. I was becoming more human. Within days, I anticipated visiting hours when my baby girl would come to see me, and I held her the whole time.

Being hospitalized saved my life. If I didn’t admit myself, I am not sure where my delusional thoughts would’ve taken me. The hospital gave me the “me time” I so desperately needed. It gave me a break from my responsibilities to others and forced me to take care of myself first. It gave me medication that got me stable (although apathetic). I felt safe there, safe from myself.

I felt so safe there that when I needed help badly eight years later, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and begged for it. Once again, I was riddled with extreme anxiety that had me nauseous from sunrise to sunset. I had lost lots of weight and was grieving the loss of my foster son back to the Department of Children and Families. This time, I was worried about myself. This time, I had thoughts of hurting myself. This time, I cared about getting better. I, without shame, admitted myself to the same short-term psych unit I was in all those years ago. I did it because it saved me then, and I knew it would save me now.

Being hospitalized was perfect. The psychiatrists were basically non-existent during my visits, the first of which lasted 12 days, and the second, five days. Both stays contained weekends and holidays — days that the doctors usually didn’t work. The life-saving measures I found in the hospital were through being able to focus on me, medication, their slipper socks (I still feel safe in them), and its therapists and nurses. They were nice and didn’t treat us as a “threat to society.” We were respected. We were people.

I don’t hide the fact that I have been hospitalized. It is not a hush-hush situation for me anymore. People need to know what it is really like. People need to know that anyone around you — your parent, your co-worker, a friend — could be battling a mental illness and may be or have been hospitalized. People need to know that “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is not typical.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Originally published: October 27, 2016
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