Last week I spent four days and three nights in an inpatient mental hospital for suicidal people. I could not leave, even though I checked in voluntarily. I was told I could leave without doctor’s approval, but there was a chance that they could sway a judge to commit me involuntarily, and who knows how long they would’ve kept me then.
My psychiatrist referred me to this facility on the morning I was due to see her for my appointment, but called to say I was so distraught and such a mess, that I couldn’t even drive myself to her office. She asked me, “Do you need to go to the hospital?” I said, “I do not want to kill myself, but I do have feelings of hurting myself. I feel as if I am never going to get better, and maybe if I do this I will get better.”
She gives my husband the phone number to call, and he sets up a time the next morning for an evaluation. They didn’t have any available beds that night, and since he was staying home from work to be with me, I felt I could wait until the next morning. I packed a bag, and nervously waited for the next morning’s events.
Lesson number one: Inpatient treatment for suicidal people is not an “escape from the pressures of daily life.” It is not intense therapy sessions with qualified therapists or doctors. You don’t get to nap or wallow in your sadness and then get to discuss your sorrows with a caring, sympathetic counselor.
Lesson number two: If you say to someone in a psychiatric evaluation that you have had “fleeting thoughts” of suicide or harming yourself, you will go to inpatient treatment. You will not pass Go or collect $200.
Lesson number three: You should investigate all available treatment plans available to decide which is the most appropriate for your particular situation, if you are not actively suicidal. An outpatient program might be a better fit for you.
These lessons seem simple and ridiculously obvious to the average person, I would imagine. But oh no…not to everyone. Not to me.
Lesson number four: After you admit yourself to said facility, and realize that you have chosen the wrong program, you will not be able to check out because you “made a mistake.” You said the word “suicide” and “hurt yourself” in a sentence, so guess what? You’re a liability and you’re not going anywhere. Tough shit, dumbass. Call your husband, cry and be scared all you want, but you’re there, so deal with it.
I was stripped and respectfully checked for hidden drugs, cigarettes, and God knows what else. I had a bed, a shelf, and a bathroom with a curtain. I got a bucket to put my toiletries in (they confiscated half of them), that I had to turn in after use and got back at the end of the day to use and then return again. I had to get in line with other patients and be escorted to meals three times a day. I couldn’t take the cordless phone into my room when I got to make a phone call, because I might try to choke myself on the battery. That’s also why they wouldn’t let me keep my electric toothbrush. I only went outside three times, for less than ten minutes each time.
My bedroom door was locked during the day, and we were made to stay in the “common room” while group therapy wasn’t in session. We were supposed to reflect. The waiting room chairs and blank walls and utter boredom didn’t make for a great environment for reflecting. That explained why people were laying in the floor in the hallways (which freaked me out when I first arrived. What the hell are they doing laying in the floor?) Group therapy consisted mostly of playing Bingo and unenthusiastic karaoke.
Basically, I felt like I was in jail for four days. It seemed pointless, stupid, and I definitely didn’t belong there, which was maddening. I played the game, though, because I figured if I freaked out about it, they would just keep me there longer.
My time there did benefit me, however…just not in the way I thought it would.
Lesson number five: I only thought I had problems. The girl who was chained to the wall and beaten by her parents as a child had PTSD unlike anything I had ever dreamed of. One woman was detoxing from heroin before she had to go back to court and face her numerous charges, while her two children waited at home. A bipolar 20 year old pregnant girl was hoping to regain custody soon of her two children, ages two and one. Homeless people were there. One guy had six personalities he was dealing with, along with his drug addiction and homelessness.
Lesson number six: I am not crazy. There was a girl walking up and down the halls talking to herself every day. One young girl ate as many sweets in one day as she could: seven pieces of pie, three scones, four cookies (that was just lunch). A young girl that had been there for over 30 days had hardly spoken a word.
Lesson number seven: Some people have no support system at all. I have a husband so distraught over our mistake, he was contemplating with my best friend over breaking me out. Many patients didn’t want to leave the hospital because it was better than their home, if they even had one.
I guess you could say I learned some perspective. I was furious with my doctor for sending me to that place, but in hindsight, I really didn’t give her much choice. Furthermore, it was our mistake to blindly sign up for something without even investigating it first. I’m fortunate to have a therapist I put that much trust in, but geez, that’s just dumb.
I start outpatient therapy Monday. That’ll be another post.