If you’ve visited my about page, you know that I was once admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care. I thought I would share that experience in more depth for the benefit of those that might find themselves in a similar situation.
(Disclaimer: I am from Canada, so obviously there may be differences depending on where you’re from.)
If you feel like you are not safe by yourself, please please PLEASE reach out to get help. I know – it’s way easier said than done. I know that it’s scary. I’ve been there too, but I promise that the prospect of losing you is even scarier.
You’re incredible, amazing, special – every single one of your reading this. Yes, even you reading this right now thinking that this somehow doesn’t apply to you for whatever reason that the darkness is whispering to you. I know it’s cliché to say, but you’re you and you’re the only you that the world will ever have. You’re rare and irreplaceable, and that is worth fighting for.
Okay, let’s get to the story now.
It started with seeing a psychiatrist for an emergency appointment. It started by giving her a quick summary of my life (I feel like I’m a pro at this now, btw). She then talked to me about various anti-depressants. Once she was done, she asked me if I still felt I was a danger to myself. Luckily, I was honest and said yes.
So she informed me how Form 1 works. Form 1 is a document that legally allows the hospital to take you back against your will, if you change your mind and try to leave and potentially harm yourself. Once I said I was okay with her filling out this form for me, she phoned security to escort me to emergency.
Then I was triaged and given a bed in emergency.
I got to emergency probably around 1PM and was in there for 9 hours. A nurse gave me a gown and little booties, and they put my stuff in a locker. They told me I would be in emergency until there was a bed available. At the time I had assumed that meant I would be staying at that hospital.
Honestly, for most of it I just lay there, listening to everything that was going on around me. As I tried to forget my own pain for at least a moment, I heard other patients dealing with different mental health problems – feeling compassion for everyone except myself.
Several doctors and nurses came to talk to me during this time. Once again, I had to rehash my life story and describe my stressors and how I felt. This happened a looooot through the course of this whole process
I had to tell them I had a plan to kill myself and what that consisted of. Every time I said it though, I felt like I sounded… well, stupid, to put it bluntly. It’s like the depression was so strong that it was saying, “lmao omg no one’s going to take you seriously.” Then with tearstains on my cheeks and red eyes, it would say, “You don’t even look that depressed.” Regardless of all that though, I was still in so much pain that it didn’t make the plan any less alluring.
Anyway, later that night I was given a blanket and two paramedics whisked me away to some mystery location. I’m still grateful to those two men – they made me genuinely smile and laugh when I absolutely did not want to. I know, I know – depressed people still laugh and smile, but during that time I couldn’t even manage to do that. I was way past the point of being able to fake it anymore.
The ride seemed to take a long time and slowly the city began to disappear. I saw nothing but darkness out the windows. My memory of this time is a little fuzzy now, but I think I asked them where we were going and they said Alberta Hospital.
Eventually the ambulance pulled to a stop and I had arrived at my ‘home’ for the next month.
The paramedics took me to the second floor of one of the buildings. The door to the unit I was admitted to stayed locked at all times, unless someone with a key card opened it. On the other side of that door was another locked door that opened up to the unit.
They took my backpack to inspect it, making sure I didn’t have anything dangerous in there. It was mostly textbooks in there because I somehow thought I would just go to class after my appointment. Looking back now, it seems ridiculous to me that I thought I would just go about my day after that appointment given my mental state at the time. But it was that mental state that gave me questionable judgement and a disbelief that recovery was possible.
I was given some food (I hadn’t really eaten much in emergency) and then given a quick tour of the unit, which was dark for lights out. It was intimidating to say the least. I spoke with a psychiatrist there and, yup you guessed it, spilled my life story to him too.
After the brief talk, I was taken to a room with two beds and told that I would be on constant watch for 24 hours, which meant someone literally watched me as I slept. Luckily for me, my watch ended the afternoon of the following day.
Beyond the hopelessness and despair, the main thing I felt was confusion and uncertainty. In my experience, I wasn’t really told what was going to happen to me. I had no idea how long I’d be there or what my stay would be like while I was there.
That first night I went to sleep frightened while depression continued to nuzzle cozily in my mind. I felt a sense of regret for allowing myself to be admitted, that I should have just let myself die. All the same, I tried to steel myself for what lay ahead.
The first few days were the hardest. Everyone values having a sense of freedom, but I did not have much of it during my stay.
It felt bizarre to me that I had to ask the nurses for pretty much everything. My least favourite thing was asking to have my locker opened. It felt like I had to do it so often. At that point I still felt like my existence was a burden to those around me. I constantly felt guilty for having to ask for help – even though that’s why they were there.
On top of that, during the first few days I was not allowed to leave the unit, except for seeing doctors, and even then I had someone escort me there and back. Admittedly, during that time it’s not like I had much motivation to do anything anyway.
Looking back now, learning how to accept help from other people was a lesson I needed to learn. Previously, I was always determined to do everything on my own, which is why it took so long for me to finally get help. I mean, I can still be stubbornly independent. However, I’m much better at asking for help than I used to be.
This experience also taught me to cherish my freedom.
I also learned just how much the people in my life love and care about me. Depression likes to lie and tell you how nobody wants you around, people would be better off without you, blah, blah, blah. This illness has told me those things over and over, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
That first morning when I finally called everyone and explained what had happened was overwhelming, to say the least. It was so hard to explain to everyone where I was and what had happened. I had to tell my parents (at the time I didn’t feel strong enough to call all my siblings as well), my friends, my work, and my professors. It sucked. I felt weak and stupid and ashamed.
The strongest feeling was guilt. I felt so guilty for causing people to panic and for needing everyone’s help, especially since the hospital is in the middle of nowhere and I needed them to bring me things. As you probably know, guilt is one of the Sadness Monster’s favourite weapons to beat you with until you surrender.
But as I slowly got better, I imagined if it were someone who I cared about who was in the hospital. As soon as I did that, I understood the motivations of my friends and family, and that I had no reason to feel guilty. The love and concern that came my way was more than I could have ever expected.
Full disclosure: the guilt was still there, but it had lessened. Every day I get better at not seeing myself as a burden to everyone else.
Of course, the most important part of my stay in the hospital was my recovery.
After the first week I felt the best I had ever felt in my life. They put me on new medication and I was talking to my psychiatrist, everything seemed peachy. I felt normal. Well, technically, better than normal. I’d never felt that upbeat before in my life. Thanks, drugs!
But then I was set loose in the real world for the weekend. All that hard work was gone so quickly and I ended back at square one: hellishly depressed and suicidal.
Once I got back to the hospital, I was slowly able to rebuild that stable mood I had achieved before. This time, I had more realistic expectations of my recovery. It would be a slow process and I wouldn’t always be perfect at it.
The remainder of the month consisted of talking to my psychiatrist or the med student in the morning, and weekly appointments with a psychologist. I took walks, coloured pictures, read a lot, and did so many puzzles. Seriously you don’t even know – puzzle pro right here.
It sounds like a vacation, right? This was another thing I felt guilty about until I realized that that’s probably the point. I needed to let my brain rest from the worries of my life.
Despite my disastrous first weekend pass, I was allowed out the following weekends. I started to figure out how to exist in this complicated world of ours all over again. And a month after my admission, I was set free.
When I had my first experience with a stable mood, the only way I could describe it is that my soul turned into spring, like I was made of flowers and sunshine.
There was a lightness in my body, I didn’t feel so weighed down. It seemed that everything was alive and wonderful and good.
I got a glimpse of the person I’ve always dreamed of being, but couldn’t because self-doubt and self-loathing hijacked my brain. I still have to work to be that person, but the first glimpse was important. Like a cryptid, a first-hand glimpse was all I needed to be convinced that girl existed.
I want everyone who has struggled with depression to experience that feeling. Everyone deserves to have the belief that life is worth living. I’ll do whatever I can to help you get there.
For me, going to the hospital was 100% necessary. A) I wouldn’t still be alive if I hadn’t gone and B) even if I had lived, I would not be where I am right now. Now, I have a better idea of who I am, how to love myself, and I have a definite direction I want to go with my life. It helped me to take control of my life and go after what I want; now, the unknown and that nebulous thing called ‘the future’ doesn’t scare me so much anymore.
If you’ve ever been an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, what was your experience like? I know that everyone has wildly different experiences of staying in these places. That’s why I think that it’s important to share your story if you can. Putting information out there is part of the whole de-stigmatization process. The more people that talk about it, the more people are informed and they won’t be so afraid to reach out and get help.
I won’t lie, I still get a bit embarrassed and reticent to share my stay at a psychiatric hospital when it comes up in conversation with people who don’t know. But I push past my discomfort and own it. I know that the more confident I am with sharing my experience, the more I can help normalize treating mental illness. I think bravery is contagious. If I choose to be brave, then hopefully others will be brave in getting the help they need.
So yeah. Share your story, thoughts, perceptions, etc. about psychiatric hospitals in the comments. And please feel free to share this on social media – you never know when a story will help someone.