The first thought that entered my mind when I entered the psych ward on a Monday was – I’m not like them. Get me my clothes, I’m going home. And really, seriously! I have a roommate? At the worst time of my life, I have to share it?
Of course it all makes sense now, but since I had never been on a psych ward before, I had a different idea of things for sure. Something more “normal”. Pretty blue walls and a TV in the corner.
I’ve always been a doer. Just do it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. When I had an opportunity to earn a decent amount of money from a contract job, I decided to use the money to open a tea shop. After a few years, and the money was gone, the tea shop was struggling. At the same time, my vehicle absolutely died. I was single and saw a serious financial crisis. I felt alone and cornered. The depression led to suicidal thoughts. I would sit for weeks, crying, and go through different scenarios regarding how to end my suffering; What to do with my things; How would they find my body; How would I actually do it? I also knew the impact such an act would have on my family if I did not reach out to them and seek help. There are no words to describe what goes through ones mind when contemplating suicide. But three years later, I can still feel it in a very abstract, out of body way. I always will. One morning, I knew I could not go into work and instead, went to the emergency room of the local hospital.
It was several hours from the time I walked into the emergency room until I was escorted to my room. I sat in an area where hospital staff could watch me and I cried the entire time. First there was an interview in a private room.
In my room, which was shared with another, three people entered and began to explain procedures. I had walked into the hospital emergency room on my own. Since I wasn’t committed by another, I still was required to stay there for 12 hours. I could sign a paper that gave them authority over me for 12 hours, and a psychiatrist had to see me within that time and he/she would determine my fate. Go home, a 72 hour hold or longer. I did not sign anything.
Nearing dinnertime, I ventured out into the halls to see how, where and when I would get to eat. That gave me the opportunity to see the other people in the ward. For me, at that time, I was not encouraged and felt I had made a mistake. All patients were wearing the same tan scrubs. A man was walking the halls talking to himself. Another younger man was walking the halls with a blank look on his face, never speaking. Some people never came out of their room. I believe the next day, someone was taken for electric shock therapy.
My experiences of overnight hospital stays were the births of my children. This time my meals were not brought to me on a tray like a regular hospital stay. We all ate communal style. Very uncomfortable the first time. I owned a small business in town and I was concerned that a nurse or two would recognize me and I felt the embarrassment.
Crying for most of a day was exhausting and I went to bed early.
I’m an early riser, so I was concerned I’d awaken at 5 am on Tuesday and have to lay in bed with my thoughts for a few hours. But I slept until 7ish and only had about a half hour for the painful thoughts and some tears. I then got out of bed and had my breakfast. As I looked at the board on the wall with the daily schedule I saw some things that I wasn’t too happy about. The television was tuned to Dog the Bounty Hunter and a few of us were watching as there wasn’t much else to do. The psychiatrist on duty came onto the floor. He approached a patient and began talking to her. He started speaking to her loudly and slowly like you would speak to a child. Then on to another patient and he talked in the same manner. I can be a very defensive person and I thought – No one’s going to talk to me like that! There was a group meeting that morning and I chose to stay away because I didn’t want to be treated like a child.
I’m also not a fan of ANY meeting as I am a get-to-the-point kind of person. And I think i was still in my “I’m not like them” frame of mind. A chip on my shoulder might be something I still need to work on.
Later that morning, I was in the hall and I noticed that my roommate was distraught. My overwhelming feeling was that I wanted to comfort her. I don’t remember if we had even spoken to each other yet. I walked in and asked her if she lived in St. Cloud. She said no and told me where her home was – a town about 30 miles away. And then her story came out. After she was done, I felt I owed her mine.
A woman in the next room had her front teeth missing and some small tattoos on her forehead. My first thought on seeing her the previous day was – I’m not like these people. Stay away from her. I can’t recall if she talked to me first, or I to her. But over the course of 1 ½ days, we talked a lot! She showed me a picture of herself with her son that had been taken about 14 years earlier. She was gorgeous. She had been in that ward for 5 months!
I went into the dining room in the afternoon and picked up a deck of cards and started to play solitaire. A man about 5 years older than me walked in and asked if I wanted to play cards. My first thought was – no way. But I didn’t know how to get out of it. So he sat down. I beat him in 500 rummy the first game and he beat me the second. We went on to cribbage and I beat him 2 games to 1. During the time we played, he said that he was only there to get his meds adjusted. He told me that several times. I sensed that he wanted to tell me more, but I didn’t know how to lead into it, so it was just left at that. Telling your story is a personal choice.
The young man I mentioned in the beginning, who was walking the halls with a blank look on his face, never meeting anyone’s eyes, came up behind me and stood to watch the TV. He reminded me of my son because of his age, body shape, hairstyle, the glasses. I turned around and looked up at him and told him he reminded me of my son. He gave the briefest smile and then walked away. Every time I walked toward him in the hall he turned and walked the other way. If I entered a room he was in, he got up and walked out. I didn’t take it personally. I saw him as a young man who was terrified of human contact.
When I awoke on Wednesday the sad thoughts were not there. I had spoken to some of my kids and one of my brothers. In fact I was overwhelmed with an intense love and compassion for everyone in the ward. While I had entered with a clear standoffish I’m-not-like-them attitude, I had quickly transformed into a we-are-all-alike understanding. Some of us clearly had a brain disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Some of us had addiction problems that escalated to harming ourselves. Some of us, like me, had a situational issue that claimed our heart and soul. I was diagnosed with adjustment disorder due to many losses (this was not my only serious loss) – something I can overcome, but not without the love and support of my family.
Before I went to the hospital, I emailed my children and my brothers about what I was going to do. My children all responded with love. Not so with all my brothers. I learned something with that. I will say that two of my brothers were fabulous and one actually went above and beyond. I will be eternally grateful to him.
If someone ever tells you they are suicidal, be there for them; Talk to them; Sit with them.