Daily Routine

The biggest topic of discussion on the ward among patients was always some aspect of the illness.  One girl I’ll call Shaquita asked everyone about side effects of Effexor, the newest medication she was taking.  Almost everyone there was new to psychiatry except for one girl I’ll call Tricia and on older lady in her sixties I’ll call Myra.  Tricia had been in Whitfield—the state hospital for the mentally ill–at least once that I heard her brag about.  She was at St Dominic’s this time for issues related to her father’s recent death, and she was drawing Social Security Disability for depression.  Myra was in her early sixties having been treated for bipolar disorder for most of her life.  She was loud, laughing, and talking constantly about sex and her five ex-husbands.  I prayed that wasn’t seeing my future in her as I listened at a distance.

Craft therapy was intended for us to find new ways to spend our time.  We could paint, do bead jewelry, draw, or color t-shirts.  The crafts lady remembered me from previous visits, even remembered my name, almost.

This visit, as usual, I made bead bracelets from elastic string and small plastic beads.  Sorting through the beads to find the right colors took up all my concentration, allowing me to finally relax from the anxiety about my children, my husband, and what I was doing with my life.  I made a pink bead bracelet, alternating a series of round beads with square ones.  I made one for my oldest daughter, Terrie, because she had come home from college on her day off to take care of tasks around the house and catch Rachel coming off the bus after school so Bob wouldn’t have to take off.   I started another one but didn’t have time to finish it.

We also had the privilege of visitation on Saturday afternoons.  Bob came to see me this time right on time, wearing blue jeans and a nice shirt. We talked about the kids, keeping the visit light and cheerful for both our sakes.  I made sure I sent my purse and its contents home with him instead of keeping it in the safe at the hospital.

Bob and I were also able to talk to each other every night on the phone for outgoing calls on the ward.  Calls were limited to ten minutes, so we couldn’t talk long.  But I looked forward to those calls as a lifeline back to my family and to my normal life. I would call him around 6 p.m. and we would talk about the kids, and I would brief him on my progress and how soon I might get to come home.

Mealtime and snack time are a big part of the day, too—smoke breaks used to be until so many hospitals went smoke-free.  We used to go to the ward cafeteria for meals; now meals as well as snacks such as ice cream, cake, or pudding were brought to us on the ward.  Jackie, who ate more than everyone else because he was six-six, would hide snacks in the pocket of his jean jacket to eat later in his room.  Shaquita hoarded sugar packets like they were cocaine.   Smokers who used to have the option of smoke breaks at St. Dominic’s now get nicotine patches once admitted to the ward—which didn’t stop Johnny from chewing smuggled nicotine gum as well.



The tech liked to smile a lot and would sit and listen to anyone talk for as long as it took for them to have their say.  He was also the one who took vital signs at night–blood pressure readings, temperature, etc.—and did the suicide watch checks.

So when he knocked on my door one evening, I wasn’t too surprised to see him standing in the hall when I opened the door.  He was smiling as usual.  “Come on out here,” he said.

I stepped out of the room and waited for him to state his business.   He said, “Come on out here with me and help me load the truck.”

“What?” I said.

“Go get you some good shoes on and come out here and help me load this truck.”

I looked down at my navy sandals.  “These the only shoes I got,” I said, dropping into his vernacular.  “I don’t think I’m supposed to do that.”

“Come on,” he said.

I stared at him.  “I don’t think I’m supposed to leave the hospital,” I said.

“It’s okay.  You’ll be with me.  That makes it okay,” he said, still grinning.

“I don’t think that’s my job,” I said.  I was trying to say no every way I could think of without using the word.  “I’m sure you can find someone else to help you better than me.”

“I’ve got a dolly—you’ll be okay.  Come on and help me load this truck,” he said.

Then I had a thought.  “Okay.  You’re testing me, right?   This is a test to see if I’m really crazy enough to leave the hospital with you.  This is some kind of test, right?”

That response startled him.  He rolled his eyes up toward the top of his bald head.  “No, I don’t think so. Are you going to help me load the truck or not?”

I just stared at him for a long minute. I could not figure out why he was asking me to go do something one of the other techs could help him do.  I had never had a conversation like this one in all my times on the ward.  “No!” I finally said.  “I’m not!”

“IT’s okay.  I’ll just get somebody else.  I just wanted to know if you’d help me.”

I stared at him, then turned and went back into my room.

A few seconds later, I heard another knock.  “Hello?’ I said,

He opened the door.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “I was just messin’ with you.”

I stared at him again until he shut the door.  I spent a few minutes pacing the room trying to figure out what that had all been about.  Then I decided I would need to warn people he was up to something in case they weren’t as laid-back as I was and took him at his word, so I went out and related the story to Carson and had a good laugh out of it.

The Ward

In the mental ward, you find an assortment of people like you might find anywhere else—what we had in common was how unmanageable our lives had become.  This last hospitalization was no different.  I remember one I’ll call Katy, with the dreamy look in her eyes and short blond hair, had substance abuse issues.  Some were suffering from schizophrenia, borderline personality, or unipolar depression like Jackie, who was grieving the loss of his fiancee to suicide.   And there was Carson, an older, tall, dirtyblond-haired lady in the grip of paranoid delusions about her children, her ex-husband, and the co-workers she had over the years.

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. 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.

The first day is always suicide watch if you come in with suicidal thoughts as your complaint.  That involves checks every 15 minutes for 24 hours.  If you stay out in the patient areas where the nurses can see you, it’s not too intrusive.  But I wanted to sleep.  That was one of my most aggravating symptoms—the sleepiness that no amount of sleep could fix.  But I kept trying.  So I would walk down the hall to my room to sleep, only to be checked on within five minutes or so.  Usually it was just a tap on the door and my responding “I’m okay,” would do.  But at night, they’d open the door and let the hallway light into the room, at times waking me up.  And I’d just get back to sleep when the inevitable tap came again.

We interacted with each other, the nurses, the psychiatric techs, and social workers during my stay.  During one session of expressive therapy, the jovial heavyset crafts lady asked us to draw our problems as mountains and draw our schemes for overcoming them.  I drew angry black, brown, and red mountains topped with jagged snowcaps.  I labeled them “depression”, “anger” and “anxiety”.  “Anger” was the largest as it was my anger at myself that had driven me to the hospital this time. I colored in green grass at the bottom of the mountains and myself on the right side of the paper, having climbed my way there, in my favorite red dress and red high heels.  Other people drew butterflies and flowers at the tops of their mountains.  Katy drew herself in full camping gear halfway across her mountains.    We then showed our pictures to the class and explained what the images symbolized.

I remember finally being able to go outside into the restricted park area after two days because the rain had finally stopped and the air had warmed up just a little.  I heard Katy breathe, ”This is heaven.  Thank you, Jesus,” as we walked outside to the fresh air.

This visit I wound up in several domino games, both with experts and novices.  A young guy I’ll call Johnny schooled me on “jailhouse rules” while we played the regular way, with him scoring fifteen points for every ten I scored before him.  I learned how to tell a novice from an expert—a novice stacked up their dominoes on the table with the dots facing inward, while an expert held four in one hand and three in the other against their knuckles facing outward.


So Bob and I headed out to St. Dominic’s.  This time, I saw what people on the front lines of mental illness have to do to protect the mentally ill and the other patients in the hospital. As soon as the triage nurse entered in the computer that I was there for suicidal thinking, I jumped the line of all the patients there before me.  A nurse came out of the back and motioned to me.   “Julie Whitehead?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Come on back here to holding,” she said.

I wondered at that term.  I told Bob to stay where he was at the desk, that they were already calling me back, and she led me back to a windowless gray-walled room with a box bed anchored in the middle of the area with a thin grey mattress covering it.  She asked me to change into a blue uniform made of some indestructible plastic-fabric material and put all my clothes and my purse into a “personal belongings” bag and left me in the room by myself to wait on the doctor.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Finally I was seen by the doctor on call.  He asked me a few questions (I don’t remember what exactly) and left me alone again to wait, this time on an intake counselor from the mental ward.

I thought, “You know, if I weren’t really suicidal when I got here, I might be once I got out.  This is nerve-wracking.”  But intellectually I knew the reasons behind a separate waiting area—to get mentally ill people out of the waiting room into somewhere safe.  I remember being given a blanket to wrap up in because the temperature was dropping outside, and I was barefoot and bare under my uniform, which offered very little protection from the cold room.

After I talked to the intake counselor, I heard her talking to the psychiatrist on call on the phone on the other side of the open door.  “White female, carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.  Says she’s having suicidal thoughts with no real plan. Multiple admissions but none in the past five years,” I heard her say.

After a while, I was told I would be admitted but they had to wait until they had a person available to come pick me up and take me across the street to where the mental ward was.  I was relieved to finally be admitted around 9 p.m. that night.  I ate cold roast beef and potatoes from a tray in the ward dining room and surveyed the room out of the corner of my eye. A group of patients was talking about Elvis Presley’s heyday when he was alive in Memphis in the late sixties.

“Elvis was bigger than Micheal Jackson ever was,” one tall guy was saying.  I’ll call him Jackie.  “He would rent out the movie theater and let people see his movies for free.  He gave away Cadillacs to poor people who came up to him on the street.  He was BIG.”



Several days before I made the call, I was suddenly overwhelmed and struggling with irrational anger at myself and at Bob for us going ahead eleven years ago and having another child. It was a decision mutually agreed upon, but I knew in his heart he wanted to try again to get a boy baby—and that hadn’t happened.  I was realizing that I was going to be a full-time parent for at least seven more years—eleven if I counted college.  I was angry that I had not foreseen how deeply into our fifties having Rachel so late would put us when she finished school.  I felt I had given up my freedom that would only be a year away with Amber graduating in 2017 if we had not had Rachel.

Having these feelings hurt me on the inside.  I was angry at myself for being angry at myself and at Bob.  I knew the anger was irrational—I loved Rachel and was glad we had her in our lives.  The anger at myself morphed into self-loathing over several days and made me despair for my relationship with my youngest daughter—I didn’t want her to feel unwanted and unloved because of my own selfishness.

I finally decided to call my husband and tell him what was going on. I didn’t feel afraid, just resigned.  Here we go again, I thought.  Rachel was watching cartoons on TV, and Amber was upstairs taking a quick shower—unaware of the drama going on inside my head.  I was about to upset their worlds all over again for the first time in five years.  My youngest had been in kindergarten the last time I went on the ward.

(From here on out, the details get a little blurry).

Bob could tell something was up as soon as we started talking—I was near tears.  After a couple of general questions about how I was doing, he asked me, “Are you having self-destructive thoughts?”

I said, “Yes.  And I can’t make them stop.”

“Then I need to come home.”  Not a question but a statement.

“Yes,” I said.

After we hung up I tried calling my psychiatrist to see if he would admit me or not.  Try getting ahold of any doctor close to five o’clock on a Friday. His office said he was out of town until Tuesday.  His receptionist recommended I go to the emergency room.  I called my counselor’s emergency number and left a message for her, only for her answering service to call me back and give me the same advice after failing to reach her.

By that time, I was starting to feel desperate.  Before I had always been admitted directly to the ward by my doctor after speaking to him.  But going to the emergency room with such a complaint made me nervous.

Finally my husband was home.  I packed a bag with necessities while he called his mother to come sit with the kids until he could get back home—with Amber on heavy cold medication, she couldn’t be left alone with her sister like we might have done otherwise.

I tried to remember what to pack and what not to pack from the last time I had been at St. Dominic’s in 2011. Could I bring jewelry?  I decided to leave my rings and watch at home.  Could I bring deodorant?  I couldn’t remember.  In my confused state, I couldn’t remember any of it.  Finally I decided to just pack my makeup bag, contact lenses, and clothes.

I did pick out nice clothes to wear, two palazzo pants outfits—one with a navy sleeveless top and striped navy and black pants, another with a terra-cotta orange top and wildly patterned pants.  On the mental ward at St. Dominic’s Hospital you are allowed to wear your own clothes and wash them as needed.  I didn’t see me staying past Monday, so I stuck with two day outfits, two pajama sets, and enough sets of underwear to last me that long. I knew from past experience that I would feel better in nice clothes instead of dressing in sweats and pajama tops or some such casual clothes.

By the time I finished, Bob’s mom was at the house.  She hugged me, and I hugged her back.   Bob had already explained to Rachel that Mommy was going to the doctor, but Amber came downstairs to the sight of my mother-in-law in the kitchen and me standing in the den.  I don’t know what kind of look I had on my face, but she stared at me wide-eyed.

I simply said, “I’m going to the hospital again.”

Her eyes got bigger.  She knew exactly what that meant—that suicide was on my mind again.  She reached out to me and hugged me wordlessly.  I said,” Bye,” and she didn’t answer.

The Hospital This Last Time

Before my most recent hospitalization, I was asked to write a piece for a mental health blog on “11 Small Victories Over Depression.”  I accepted the assignment, despite being depressed and feeling like crap at the time.

I waited until the last minute to do the assignment in January and wrote all the usual things—how getting up to face the day was a victory in and of itself and worthy of celebration.  How listening to uplifting music and reading uplifting books could help your spirits. How prayer and gratitude could help you get through the day when depressed.  I wrote a good article.  Trouble was, I didn’t believe a word of it at the time.

So in February I sat on my unmade bed at home on a Friday afternoon  and weighed several factors–were the thoughts constant? Yes. Did I have a plan? No, not really, not beyond a vague idea of stuffing my head inside a plastic garbage bag.  Did I think I could survive one more day thinking this way without breaking down where the kids could see me? No.   Did I have a reason to be suicidal? No, not really.  My life was fine.  What kind of disruptions would I cause in our family life if I left the house to go to the hospital? Not sure. How long would I be there? Not sure.

I had already had to cancel Rachel’s eleventh birthday family party because her sister Amber was sick with an upper respiratory infection.   Rachel herself was still coughing after going to the doctor on Tuesday.  The family faced minimal disruption because it was only a couple of weeks until spring break.

Waiting on going in until after spring break was impossible—I needed to be well for the dance trip to Mobile and the family trip to Natchez we had planned for the vacation time.  I wondered idly if I got admitted today if I would be in long enough to miss the local dance competition on the next Saturday and decided probably not.


Very, very quiet around here today,  ALl the kids are gone and I’m waiting for BOb to come home for lunch.  I slept in until my PT appointment and got that done. Called in to refill my meds and have to go pick them up soon. I should be doing something useful in the house but I’m not.  All I want to do is go back to bed.

We had a really good weekend–we watched Captain America: Civil War at the theater and saw Red and Red 2 at home.   We played a lot.  WE ate out because BOb didn’t feel like grilling or homecooking  But it was all good fun.

Guess I’ll go check email again.  Or do laundry.  We will see.  Hope everyone has a great week,


Dance Recital

So today is the dance recital.  I used to look forward to it because it meant the end of dance for the summer.  But not with the competition team.  So now it’s just another event to check off the list. WE practice all summer for Disney and the final competition for Company.  WE get the last two weeks of JUly and the month of August off then start back up again.  Sigh,

So my mood is not as good as it should be. I took a Xanax to see if it would improve it and all it has done is make me sleepier.  But we will make it

THe girls will  be gone next week–the middle one is going to Disney World with a friend and  the youngest is going to see her grandparents.  I’m not sure what I will do next week but I do know I don’t want to sleep it away.  We have some plans–we’ll go out to eat some and will go see Captain America Civil War at some point.   We will see how it goes.

Pray for us to make it through the day and night.  Keep reading!


Friends III

Ate out with Holly today and had a good talk. Her new marriage is going well and I am so thankful to hear that.  We also decided we’re going to start moving my hair color to a reddish brown instead of the heavy dark brown it is right now.  I saw a girl in the shop with the exact hair color I have been thinking about for years, and pointed her out to Holly and asked if my hair would do that.  SHe said she would change the formulation of  my color and we’d work up to it gradually.  SO I will be having a change and see how I like it.

Getting ready for the dance recital tomorrow night.  Tonight is the rehearsal so we will be going to that.  The girls both rehearse at about the same time this year, so we will all go out to eat tonight and go to the rehearsal.  Hopefully it will be a little more bearable for me to have Bob there; I’ll have him to talk to and hang out with.

I’m so glad for both my old and new friends.  We have good times when we get together and just talk and eat.   Going to hold off on it during the summer since I’ll be running around with the kids so much.  But we will see how it goes.  I start class June 1 and am looking forward to that.  I just feel so hopeful about life in general this summer.  I’m glad of that.



Friends II

Saw my MFA friend Katrina today for lunch.  We talked about the past semester and what all we had taken in class and what all we did.  It was fun. She said it just about killed her to take four classes with the workload. So I know I’m doing the right thing by going slowly. But we had a good time comparing notes and talking about different projects we had worked on throughout the semester.

Tomorrow is my last day to lunch with somebody for a while–I’ll get my hair done then eat out with my friend Holly. Then summer starts and I’ll need to be at home more.  We will see how that all goes. I am looking forward to this summer–I think we have a lot of good activities planned and will enjoy ourselves.

I’ ve been in a good mood state lately–I think it’s getting good sleep and less stress now that my school is out.  I’m enjoying school but am enjoying the short break I have as well.  I have all the books for 20th Century Drama so I am looking forward to digging into them during the next semester.  There are five of us in class so I think it will go well–everyone I’ve been in class with before so it will be nice to see them again.

 Hope everyone has a good ending to their week!