I went to inpatient last week. It was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made. Two weeks ago if you had asked me why I wouldn't go I would have said I was scared and the stigma was too great. I would be risking my career and family. Last week I went to inpatient because I was scared of myself. And the stigma? According to the NIH there are 43.7 million adult Americans who were affected by mental illness in 2012. That's almost 1 in 5 Americans. That's a lot of people. So I say this with no shame: I went to inpatient last week.
I cannot deny what led me to voluntarily committing myself. I attempted suicide. It wasn't a particularly whole-hearted attempt and I don't care to get into the specifics of what led to me locking myself in the bathroom with many bottles of pills. The fact is I took an overdose of some antianxiety medication I was prescribed. Luckily I caught my eye as I was lifting the pills to my mouth and thought WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING?! I stopped after just a few pills so I spent the evening feeling numb and out of it. Honestly it was what I needed.
Being the planning type of person I am I went on with my life as normal for three days. Well as close to normal as I could manage. I eventually came to the decision that I needed to do something. I decided Monday I would do it. I probably should have called the crisis hotline the night of the overdose and checked myself in that night. Instead I struggled thru work Friday then spent the weekend asking myself if I was really going to go through with it. Monday afternoon after paying upcoming bills, painting my nails (both toes and fingers) and cleaning out my car I called my psychiatrist who had recommended inpatient a few weeks earlier. After a two hour wait I got the call. 3:30 report for intake. I packed a bag with three or four changes of clothing, toiletries and pictures of my daughter. I said goodbye to you guys. I couldn't bring myself to call my parents. My husband offered to do that for me. I let him. He drove me there and sat with me through the process until we realized it was close to 5pm and he had to leave to pick up our daughter from daycare. He was so brave and supportive of me during this time. I don't think I would have gone through with this if he wasn't so willing to take on extra responsibility while I was gone. I hope to be able to fully thank him for this gift someday.
Intake was intense. I sat in a small, generic room across from a woman with a computer at a desk. She asked me what felt like thousands of questions, wanting to know everything from past abuse to job history to family medical history. Especially comical were the questions they were required to ask regarding Ebola. It was intimidating sitting there while her long nails tapped out notes on me. I always get a little uncomfortable when a doctor or therapist spends a lot of time typing after I say something. I tried to ignore the feeling and be as honest as possible, something that has been extremely difficult before. After hearing about the attempt she agreed to admit me. Then I waited in the generic room for what felt like hours. It was probably 20 minutes. I was walked back to the unit. They had dinner waiting for me since it was past dining room hours so I ate while they when through all my belongings taking out things I wasn't allowed. No glass, no metal, no cell phones, no nooks. I was allowed my cross stitching but it had to be kept behind the nurses' station and I could only use it in the common room.
The facility I went to focuses on stabilization of acute issues. This means the stay is relatively short. I was there for a little less than 48 hours but the average stay is four days. The rooms were double occupant but since the unit wasn't even close to full everyone got private rooms. It looked like a typical dorm room but with hospital beds and a private bathroom. I was happy enough with the accommodations. In addition to the common room with two tables, two community phones, a TV with cable and various couches and chairs, there was a group therapy room and a game room. The game room had a variety of board games and puzzles. They seemed to really make an effort to keep us busy. There was also a small courtyard with a few picnic tables and a basketball hoop. It was too cold for me to go outside during my short stay but I appreciated the option.
I don't want to say too much about the people I was in inpatient with to protect their privacy but I will say everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. As a newbie I had no idea what to expect. People were more than willing to show me the ropes and I will be forever grateful to them for making my stay enjoyable and comfortable. I even think I made a friend I will hopefully be able to see when she is done with her treatment. Everyone shared their stories with no embarrassment or shame. It really helped normalize mental illness to me. Obviously I can only speak for the hospital I stayed at but the staff was absolutely wonderful. Every shift we were assigned an RN, and a CNA helped on the floor. Not only did they answer questions in a friendly way, they truly wanted to get to know us and what our struggles were. They made me feel comfortable and I never once felt judged by them. Especially the nurse who sat with me and told me I was such a great mom for taking care of myself like this, that I was amazingly strong for doing this for my daughter. She made me feel really good about myself. I hadn't felt good about myself in years.
Our days were structured. We met with a case worker who coordinated everything between the various counselors, nurses, psychiatrists, and insurance company. A social worker to discuss what kind of home situation you would be released into culminating in a session with my husband to make sure he was on board (he was). I saw my psychiatrist every morning. She wanted to know if I was thinking suicidal thoughts, how I was sleeping and made changes to medications as needed. Ultimately we decided my meds were fine and left them alone. She also set up a screening with an AODA (alcohol and other drug addiction) counselor. In between meetings with "my team" we had classes like expressive therapy, occupational therapy, and spiritual therapy. I was disappointed opportunities to use the gym weren't daily as exercise is really good for depression and anxiety. There was still a lot of free time. Too much it felt like at times. I spent it chatting with the patients and nurses, reading and journaling. I went to bed early. I didn't watch any TV. It was nice to focus on myself. We also had group therapy every day. I only ended up going to one session but I found it oddly comforting to hear from people who are going through similar things as me.
As I was no longer suicidal my psychiatrist was concerned my insurance wouldn't find my stay medically necessary and would therefore not cover the costs. Luckily I was given up to three days but the psychiatrist said I could leave after the second. I missed my daughter and husband so much. I felt ready to face the world again and continue fighting, refreshed. At the end of the program the RN, my husband and I went through my goals and whether they were completed. They included things like coping skills learned and healthy self-care activities I can engage in. We talked about suggestions for aftercare and recommendations from the staff. I was then given all my contraband items and walked out front to the safe to get my valuables. Then I was free.
Walking through those double doors and feeling the crisp autumn air on my face for the first time in 48 hours I felt like a shiny, new person. I was ready to conquer the world; I was me again. The depression fog lifted. Of course as any chronically depressed person will tell you this feeling isn't sustainable by yourself. After two days the shiny feeling began to wear off. I will need to continue working with my team of mental health experts for an undetermined amount of time but I feel hopeful. And I choose to celebrate that. I am hoping this piece will encourage anyone who was contemplating getting help but has put it off for any reason to get help. Do it for yourself. You are worth it. You are loved. You deserve to love yourself. I've heard these words time and time again, maybe from you. They are true.
Photo credit: Annaliese Vogel