Author’s Note: The following is a reflection of my own experience based on notes that I took during my recent hospitalization. Every hospital is different and every person’s experience in the hospital will vary based on many factors. Despite some of the negative aspects of my experience that I show here I am ultimately very glad that I received intensive treatment.
CONTENT WARNING: Mental Health, Suicide
Your weird dreams are interrupted by a loud sound and a deep voice, and you slowly fade into reality. This is a strange place to wake up. The sun isn’t out yet, so you can’t determine the origin of the unfamiliar voice. “Vitals and meds”, it repeats. That’s when it hits you: you’re really in a “psych ward”. These directions don’t agree with your college sleep schedule, but you don’t really have a choice. You stumble out of bed in your T-shirt and pajama pants, and drag your body down the stairs. You sit in front of a nurse who looks just as exhausted as you. The blood pressure cuff is cold, and you realize that you are no longer human, but part of an experiment which they must constantly monitor.
They say you can go back to bed, if you want. But thanks to the bright lights of the nurses’ station, sleep is no longer an option. There are perks to being up this early: you have control over the TV. Maybe you could watch Scrubs reruns or sports recaps, or you could watch the news to have some connection to the now distant outside world. Does that world even exist anymore? Outside of here, are people going to parties, browsing the internet, and doing other “normal people” things? When you get out of here, will you still have friends? These questions are agonizing, so you turn to the distraction of yet another jigsaw puzzle.
Breakfast is being served, but your depression has torn away your appetite. At this point that’s not much of a problem. How much food does it really take to sustain sitting in the same building all day? Not enough to warrant abandoning your jigsaw puzzle – at least you’re making progress with that, even if you’re going backwards in life.
You are sitting in a fairly comfortable room with several other patients. One by one, in front of everybody else, you are asked a predictable set of questions about your current state. You wonder if admitting your horrendous midnight anxiety will push back your discharge date. But you’re here already, so you might as well let them help you. Maybe it’ll make the coming days a little less awful. At this point, what do you really have to lose?
You’ve been sitting in the same room doing therapy groups for the past two hours. You decide that it’s time for a change of scenery, so you go back to the jigsaw puzzle – all the way over in the next room. A few minutes after you sit down two women holding folders approach you. Even though there are several other people in the room, the doctor starts asking you questions about your symptoms and your safety. A few days ago this lack of privacy would have bothered you, but now you’re not even fazed. At this point, you’re used to spilling your deepest secrets out to a room of strangers.
You’ve never heard somebody rap Bible verses before. It brings some novelty to your increasingly monotonous lifestyle.
Once again you are back in that same room for another therapy group. There are noticeably fewer patients in the room than there were during the morning groups. It seems several people have decided to take a nap instead. Nobody really gets enough sleep because the nurses check in on you every 15 minutes, and the building’s temperature control is poor. Though the groups can get tiring and occasionally repetitive, there’s something really nice about having time solely for you to heal. You can’t respond to your emails, your boss can’t bother you, and right now academics aren’t your issue. This time is for you to get better.
The therapy groups have concluded, and now there’s a little patch of free time. Though you had a few hours of respite, the feeling of isolation is catching up to you. You turn to your one link to the outside world: three landline telephones. You barely have any phone numbers memorized, since everything is stored on your phone, which was taken away when you were admitted. You try calling a couple people every call goes to voicemail, and there’s no reliable way of calling you back. You can try again later – that is, if the phone is free. For now you’re on your own.
Despite having a minimal appetite, you decide to try eating dinner. Even in the hospital meals are a social event. It feels just like high school but instead of casually talking about gossip or the SATs, you casually talk about your thoughts of suicide or your anxiety-induced vomiting. It’s refreshing to be able to talk about these things without the fear of judgment. In this building you are normal.
This game of Scattergories is the most exciting thing that’s happened all day.
A nurse tracks you down to check in and interview you about your day. By now all the days are blurred together. That debilitating bout of crying could have been today or three days ago, it’s anybody’s guess. The nurse asks you to rank various emotions using quantitative scales. How do you take the complex mess of thoughts in your head and turn it into a few numbers?
You are called over to the nurses’ station for nighttime meds. Apparently you’ve been prescribed a sleep aid, as if you weren’t already taking enough pills each day. You accept the medication – even if you can’t have your freedom or your privacy, at least you can try to have a good night’s sleep.
You get into bed, which is a plastic box bolted to the ground with a mattress on top. Without the sounds of the TV or the distraction of card games and jigsaw puzzles you are truly left alone with your thoughts. In these moments the reality of your situation is overwhelming. You are in the psych hospital, where the broken humans go. You’re stuck in this building without most of your belongings, away from most of the people you love, and without much control over what happens to you. In your head you hear the voices of people who have told you that you’re a burden or that you weren’t strong enough. Maybe being stuck in here is your punishment for those crimes. Maybe it’s just so that you won’t interfere with the lives of the unbroken humans. After being berated so much for what you always believed to be an illness, you’re no longer sure.
Nothingness slowly takes over your bothersome thoughts. It’s a welcome relief. You’re not particularly excited for tomorrow but you know that it is one day closer to your discharge.
(Really – your insurance company will eventually find an excuse to get you out of there.) Maybe you’re even a day closer to feeling better and getting your life back. As you shift into a more comfortable sleeping position, you just hope that in the end, it’s somehow all worth it.BP