This is the first post in a three part series about hospitalization. I wrote this series because my impression of hospitalization was so different from the reality and I wanted to share my new perception to, perhaps, help you not be afraid of hospitalization.
I’d spent the last several months spiraling into a deep depression where I literally slept all day and cried when I was awake. That low down and dirty kind of depression. I lost my ability to function. My psychiatrist thought it was time for me to check myself into the Marion Center, the local mental health facility.
I was terrified. I had never been hospitalized before. My only experience with the Marion Center was 15 years ago when we delivered one of my good friends to its doors because she was suicidal. I remembered a very barren place and being scared to leave my friend there.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more anxious, but the fact that I was checking in to the Marion Center caused my anxiety to sky-rocket to new heights. I thought about taking another Klonopin, but I had already taken 2mg (five .5 mg pills) and it hadn’t touched my anxiety.
I slowly packed clothes while I cried. I kept asking my husband, “Am I doing the right thing?” “What if they lock me up and I’m scared and want to leave?” “What if it makes things even worse?” He held me close and told me everything would be ok. He reminded me that my psychiatrist is a great doc and she wouldn’t send me someplace she didn’t feel good about.
My husband and my MIL, drove me to the Marion Center. We entered a completely quiet and seemingly empty building. We waited for someone to come to the Reception window. This did not bode well in my mind. Where the hell was everybody? Someone eventually arrived at the window, I explained that my psychiatrist had instructed me to come to the Marion Center. Luckily, my pdoc had already called and gotten the ball rolling. The receptionist buzzed us in and led us to a small gray and green room. She gave me paperwork to fill out. The paperwork required me to detail my inner workings. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain myself in psychiatric terms.
I was so glad to have my husband and MIL with me. We giggled nervously and talked about familiar subjects, pretending we weren’t sitting in the admitting area of a mental hospital.
As luck would have it, there was a room open and it would only take about an hour to be ready. I smiled nervously at my loved ones and I could see the fear in their eyes too.
When my room was ready, I hugged and kissed my husband and MIL and followed the nurse back into the hospital. I was shaking…this was so fucking surreal.
First up, strip down to your underwear search. They don’t kid around at the Marion Center. I was so miserable that I didn’t give a shit who was looking at what. I raised my breasts when instructed and turned slowly. Satisfied that I wasn’t carrying contraband, the nurse told me I could put my clothes back on and she would take me to my room. She was really kind. Tears pulled at my eyes.
While I waited for the nurse, there was a loud woman complaining about various things. She said, “Hi” to me and explained why she was there. My mouth was barely working. She didn’t mind, she just talked some more ?
The nurse searched my bag and removed all drawstrings from clothing and shoes with laces and anything else that was considered contraband in this particular environment (IE: anything that could be used to hurt yourself). We went to the room that I had been assigned. I was lucky enough to have my own room because I use a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) to sleep.
Once the check-in procedures were done, I sat on my hospital bed and tried to get my head together. I listened to the foreign noises and requests over the intercom. The nurse had said it would be all right for me to stay in my room for a bit to get adjusted but I would have to eat meals in the common area with the other patients.
I felt completely stripped—like my emotions were being broadcast to everyone in the hospital. I definitely wasn’t ready to go poking around. I had brought books with me and reading was just what I needed.
I read for a couple of hours and it was dinner time, as announced over the intercom. I peered outside my door into the hallway, afraid to take the first step out. I took a deep breath and walked into the hallway toward the common room.
I sat at one of the tables and people started populating the other seats at my table as well as the seats at other tables. The other patients were incredibly welcoming and warm—making sure that I was comfortable. I felt a sense of relief upon discovering how kind everyone was.
After dinner was visiting hour. My husband and son came to see me and I was so glad and sad to see them. I didn’t relish the idea of my son creating a memory of visiting mommy in the mental hospital, but shit happens and I knew my son would be ok.
After visiting hours, we all sat in the common room and watched tv. I don’t even remember what we watched. But the conversation flowed naturally and I began to relax a little.
Around 9:30 it was time for night meds to be distributed. The nurses called us up one at a time to get our pills. And then it was bedtime. I slid beneath the blankets and, a few minutes later, the nurses started making their rounds doing bed checks. They would continue to check every 15-30 minutes all night. The night passed uneventfully and I slept well.
My days consisted of a lot of reading, craft time, meals and attending group counseling sessions.
Each day, the psychiatrist assigned to me would visit to find out how I was doing on the meds they had added to my regimen (Vistaril and Provigil–which I had taken before. And, it turns out Vistaril is pretty weak stuff).
Although it was good to be in an environment where help was always available and the stress of the “real world” was far away, I wasn’t sure how much long-term good this stay in the hospital was doing me.
My husband and son came to visit every night and I know that my husband was relieved that I was someplace safe. My mental illness is very stressful for him. He knows that suicide is a very real danger. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_bipolar_disorder), having Bipolar Disorder results in a 9.2 year reduction in life span and as many as 1 in 5 patients completes suicide. my husband and I have a very open conversation about suicide and when the thoughts become intrusive/impulsive.
Once you are safe and fairly stable on your medications OR you’ve been there a week, you go home. Home can actually be a frightening prospect because you are thrown back into the same life that so recently spit you out. My time at the Marion Center was really just a precursor to my subsequent hospitalizations and how far my husband and I would go to get a solution.
Be sure to read parts II (Staying at Chez Mental: First Time at Mayo, Part II) and III (Staying at Chez Mental, Back to Mayo, Part III).
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