After I was released, my life didn’t change a bit. I went right back into the stress and strain I had always been under, although now I was medicated for the depression. After my psychotic break, I was put in a psychiatric hospital in northwestern Louisiana. This ward operated very differently from St. Dominic’s—after the morning rounds, our rooms were locked, forcing us out into the common rooms to interact with each other. I was on an acute intermediate ward, which meant I was around patients much sicker than I had been around in my last hospitalization. My roommate talked back to the voices in her head all night each night I was there. One older man suffering from dementia was there until a place came open on a dedicated Alzheimer’s ward for him; he once mistook me for a social worker and talked to me about how much he wanted to go home and would I please let him?
Again I was very hesitant about interacting with the professional staff, thinking that I needed to be that perfect patient again so they would let me go home. I did leave there after three days, but I was readmitted to St. Dominic’s immediately once my husband brought me back to Mississippi. This time at St. D’s, I was very open with the staff, looking for some magic formula from them that would help me out of the hell I had created for myself. I was there another week before my doctor felt I had stabilized enough to go home.
It was then that I was first tried on lithium, which worked like a charm but kept me constantly thirsty. I stayed stable on lithium until we had evidence that it was harming my kidneys—I was then but on a high dose of Abilify in conjunction with an antidepressant, Welbutrin, and the anti-convulsant Depakote. That worked well for me, too—until the next spring rolled around. That began a pattern that I followed until 2010—at some point between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, I was hospitalized for depressive symptoms including suicidal thoughts.
And that’s exactly what I did. I think that initial stay was about five days. I spent 24 hours on suicide watch then went to regular inpatient status where I was allowed to attend group counseling, individual counseling, and other ward activities with the rest of the patients.
After a while, I did enjoy the restfulness of the place. Enough activity went on that we were kept occupied, but it was a big change from normal life with three kids under the age of ten, a husband, a job, and a house and all the responsibility that came with that life. But I kept most of my turmoil inside, again in an effort to be sent home as soon as possible. I talked to Bob every night around 6 p.m.—we had a pay phone on the ward since cell phones were prohibited. He assured me that the kids were fine and everything was going okay. I don’t know how much of the truth he was telling. I know he continued to work, and his mom stepped in to take care of our kids as much as she could help. I felt guilty about that but knew that he didn’t have any other options.
Other people on the ward were very polite and nice to me, particularly those first few hours. We had an assortment of people that you might find anywhere—what we had in common was how unmanageable our lives had become. One was a nurse at St. Dominic’s who had been admitted through the same emergency room she worked in after being picked up by the police for tearing up her husband’s truck with a baseball bat. One older lady who was suffering from depression was very brave to talk to me as I sat crying at dinner the first night I was there. One was a young man who was on leave for psychiatric reasons from university—he was very articulate, well-spoken, and completely unaware of how dangerous to himself and others he was. Shortly after I was released, I heard he had died in a single-car crash after his parents signed him out of the ward. It was ruled an accident, but I will always wonder.
I started to tell her just how complicated my life was and what all going into the hospital would mean. She listened, and then she said she understood that, but that I needed a level of care that only an inpatient stay could give me. I told her I wanted to talk to Bob first to work out what we were going to do. She said that was fine and left us alone to talk.
I started crying. I had no idea what was going to happen. I had hardly ever been treated at a hospital except for having my children. Bob consoled me as best he could, saying that he would get his mom to help with the kids and that everything would be fine. He had me write a list of what I wanted him to pack, and I wrote another list of people he needed to call and let know I was going to be out of pocket for a few days—my editors, my parents, etc. After a while, the counselor came back and brought with her a handout explaining the rules of the ward and releases for me to sign so I could be treated.
After filling out all the paperwork, Bob and I followed the counselor to the door separating the ward from the rest of the hospital. I had my picture taken for identification purposes, and Bob and I were given a minute to say goodbye. He hugged me and told me he loved me. I started crying again. Then he left me to get packed, and I went on the other side of the door to be locked away for protection from myself, still crying.
I cried as I walked down the hall, and I didn’t stop for hours. I was shown to a room and had my blood pressure and vital signs taken. The intake nurse just let me cry through it without comment except she asked me if I had high blood pressure. I told her no. (I found out later that my blood pressure reading was 160/133, largely from the stress of the situation.) I sat in the room and cried alone after she left. I thought to myself that I had gotten into something I can’t easily get out of at this point. I resolved to be the perfect patient so I could get out as soon as possible to get back to my life. I would do everything I was told and let them know I was no longer a danger of any kind.
I went to the appointment Monday like I would any other appointment. Bob went with me per Amy’s recommendation so that he could report what symptoms he had seen. We filled out paperwork and then went to see a counselor. After talking with the counselor, we were sent back to the waiting room.
After a while, the counselor called us back again. She told me that she had conferred with the doctor, and they felt that it was best that I be admitted to the hospital immediately. I was caught completely off-guard. I said, “I thought I was talking to you to see if I needed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist.”
She said that the treatment team had agreed that I needed to see a psychiatrist, but that they felt it would be best for me to see him in an inpatient setting. I looked at Bob, who seemed as shocked as I was. She asked me if I was ready to go to the hospital. I said no, I didn’t have anything packed or have any idea what to do to get ready for it. I reiterated that I did not know I was being evaluated for hospitalization. She told me what I would need for the stay and gave Bob a list of items that he could use to pack for me. She impressed on me that I needed to go into the hospital right now, and that Bob could bring me whatever I needed later on that day.
So I’ve been blogging right at a month and have had 313 hits! I’m glad for those of you who have come to read my story and comment about your own stories. Please feel free to continue to visit and roam through the archives while I’m on hiatus. Pray that I’ll be able to begin blogging again shortly. Thanks!
Have to take a short break for a while. I’ll be back, God willing.
Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, I’ve spent my share of time in mental wards, with six total stays spanning six years. These visits have opened my eyes to the humanity of today’s mental health treatment methods, as compared to the stereotypes perpetrated in the popular media. Yes, you lose your freedom for a period of time. Yes, you miss your family and the comforts of home. Yes, you are deprived of many of your personal coping mechanisms. But it’s not as scary a process as it could be, thanks to modern pharmacological treatment methods designed to take you down from your psychosis and give you clarity of mind, enough that you can often avoid some of the pitfalls of being in a treatment facility.
A few caveats. I have never been in facilities that housed violent individuals. I have never undergone shock treatment. I have never been through drug and alcohol rehab, that not being among my problems. I have never actually attempted suicide. And I have been committed against my will only once. So I can’t speak to some things that others may have experienced in those situations. But I do know my own experience, including the learning I did that has enabled me to now stay out of the hospital for over three years.
The first time I went to the ward was very upsetting for me. By March 2006, I had been going through a depressive episode and had almost run away from home on a Thursday night. I instead came back home, gave Bob the pistol I had carried out of the house with me, and told him I was at the end of my rope. The next day we called my counselor, Amy, and Bob told her what had happened. She said, “We’ve got to make sure you’re safe this weekend and have you evaluated by a doctor.”
She told us she would start working on getting the evaluation set up but that it would likely be Monday before I saw a doctor. She had me give her a verbal agreement that I would not hurt myself over the weekend and gave my husband her cell number to call if there was any trouble before Monday. I behaved myself and by that afternoon, she had me a Monday appointment at St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson.