“I (Don’t) Want to Die”: My Visit to the Psych Ward

Last week I was faced with a huge decision. One that I’d say was among the top ten most important in my life, and certainly one of the hardest.

It started Monday morning. I had just posted a brief video on Facebook and had begun working on a poem when I felt a drastic drop in my mood. Tears started to gush from my sockets without cause as I slipped into sadness. Soon after, I began to experience irritation on levels I had not previously experienced when engaging with customers at work. I felt the urge to utter rude, destructive statements of disdain for their existence. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I became frustrated with how I felt towards others and, per usual, my anger turned inward. I began hating myself severely. My thoughts went to dark places. The thought of cutting also began to seep up into my contemplative mind and the words “I want to die” began skipping around my brain…but I fought on!

I verbally processed with friends, I sought public environments, and I performed a number of stress-relieving and happiness-inducing behaviors. “Coping skills” as they call them. But my emotions kept jumping on the trampoline of my neurochemical condition.

Tuesday, it continued. Worsened! At various points, I felt sensations of joy like water running through my soul, but then deep sorrow and severe irritation. The same thoughts from the day before were popping around faster and thin lines of ink began to appear as my hatred guided the pen across my wrist.

Mid-shift I texted my therapist and made him aware that something was wrong.

 

Context

Back in January, I managed to acquire insurance through the online government marketplace. Having recently moved to the area and previously lacking said insurance, I had not established a primary care physician yet, and my meds were quickly running out. I called a number of places but the response was the same. They weren’t taking any more government-subsidized insurance.

My meds ran out and I stopped trying in response to the feeling of defeat. I decided that I would just face the consequences and soldiered on like I had done for so many years before getting on medication. A month and a half later, the effect of abruptly ending the supply of the little helpers took full effect and combined with the many stressors already weighing on me.

Over time I was slowly derailing, and it culminated up to this moment.

 

The Moment of Decision

My therapist dropped the hard question: “Can you tell me right now that you are safe and that you don’t need a hospital?”

I wanted to brush it all off; to minimalize it. I tried telling myself that I was merely overreacting to people. But logic (thank God some remained) dictated that there was something taking place internally that couldn’t be explained as dramaticism.

I played it all out in my mind what might happen if I went: how much it would cost, what effect it might have on my life, etc. I desperately wanted to say “yes,” but the beastly reality of my situation stared me in the face with a jagged grin. My demons were back seven-fold.

I was no longer safe.

I knew what I needed to do. I confessed my need to be evaluated and called my friend Kale as I turned my confession into action. Thirty minutes later I pulled my Jeep into the parking lot of the emergency room and finalized my commitment with the signing of my name; performing the body checks and bag searches that I was all too familiar with from my old job. I fought my embarrassment and shame all the way through the admission process and awaited my fate.

 

6 Days of Crisis Managment

That night I was admitted to the psych ward on campus. I felt like I was about to disappear from the world. “How could this have happened to me?” I thought as I sat in the irony of a former caregiver and current Master’s student of psychology being committed to a psych ward.

The staff comforted me when they saw that I beginning to spin into denial with the fear of potentially spending a week locked up in psychiatric care, unable to work, unable to complete school assignments, etc. I took it all in and dived into acceptance. I started off rather reserved, but I soon began to acclimate to my surroundings and started engaging. I remained in treatment until Sunday evening.

The only possessions I was allowed to keep were a shirt, a pair of pants, undies, and a list of number that I was able to write down before handing over my phone. They surprisingly let me keep my necklace after I explained that It had sentimental significance to me and they concluded it wasn’t a risk.

I restarted my medication and, after talking to the doc, discovered that I needed a med adjustment even before I ran out. Then nurses informed of some irregularities in my blood work that suggested an infection in my internal organs. So began my week of monitoring, mood stabilizing, and multiple blood donations to determine the nature of my infection (which slowly went away over time and vanished before the doctors could even pinpoint its cause).

There were a lot of groups sessions, but the most important element of my experience was the community building. Much to the surprise of the nursing staff, those of us in the unit began to band together into a makeshift family! We all shared our stories without prompting and stayed committed to each other’s progress. We encouraged each other, challenged each other, shared our experiences, and even prayed together.

We were a helter-skelter gathering of individuals with addictions, uncontrollable mood changes, and several in the same situation I was in where circumstances led to not getting meds refilled, thus finding our worlds caving in on themselves.

Every new person that showed up got assimilated into our family as soon possible, and we even began to have our own group sessions without prompt or requirement. We were our own care. We individually-together were our own treatment.

Over time, my emotions became submissive to my thoughts again and I had control. Equally as important, I was humbled by my experience and my perspective was radically altered. For a week, I had the privilege of walking through hardship with some of the strongest humans I’ve ever met. Men and women who were fighting to take control of their lives. To be better parents and better lovers. I watched as a man found renewed vigor for life as his girlfriend surprised him with knowledge of her pregnancy. I listened to the joy of a woman’s experiences playing with her children. I watched as some came to terms with their current state and made the decision to fight for something better than the life they had settled for!

I saw beauty. I saw strength. I saw life.

 

Take Aways

I learned a lot from my experience. I’ll be writing posts about the various lessons I absorbed, but here are just a few key points

  • There is NO shame in needing help or needing medication! It’s just a part of life.
  • True courage is fighting even when everything seems hopeless.
  • No one can help you be healthy if you aren’t willing to fight for it yourself.
  • Strangers are among the easiest people to talk to when you’re all locked up together! And transparency is essential to community and mental health!
  • Life is beautiful and you can’t put a price on it, so spend the money you need to make sure you don’t lose yours.

I hope that my story will inspire you to seek help if you need it or to lend a hand to someone who does. May God grant you peace and the tenacity to fight against all odds. May He enlighten your days with the truth that you are loved, valued, and worth fighting for!

 

Mercies,

Stephen

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