Yes, I went to a mental hospital. Yes, it has many similarities to how it is portrayed in the movies. Yes, it was a very difficult and somewhat traumatizing experience. Yes, I survived. Yes, I am going to write about it.
I need to write this, but certainly not because I need to relive it. In fact, I wish I could erase the memory of those few days of my life from my mind forever, but I don't think God will ever allow that to happen, because of my potential to help others through my terrifying experience.
It all started this last Monday. I was in my depression phase, but it hadn't been too bad so far. I met a friend at my "psychiatrist's" office for an appointment. I was excited for this appointment, because I had gone to my family doctor the week before to have my physical exam done, and everything came back fine. I thought this appointment would include making an official diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar and then prescribing a medication. I was so hopeful, so ready for my last 6 weeks of hell to be over, or at least on the mend.
But I was wrong. I found out that my "psychiatrist" wasn't a psychiatrist at all, even though the receptionist told me she was when we called to make the appointment. She was a psychologist, so she could diagnose, but she couldn't prescribe. She refused to diagnose until I met with the nurse practitioner, so we had a counseling sort of appointment, and she put in a referral for me to meet with the nurse practitioner to do gene testing. She warned me that it probably wouldn't be until the first part of January before I could get in, but I didn't feel discouraged about that. It didn't seem like a very long wait at the time. That is, until the nurse's secretary called and said they couldn't get me in until January 18th.
That was 6 weeks away. That meant 6 more cycles of mania and depression before even getting in to have that testing done. Then 1 more week waiting to get the results back (AKA 1 more cycle) and then even longer to start medication. At first, I thought I could do it. I tried to stay positive. I tried to tell myself that I had learned so much already, and that 6 more weeks would only bring even more learning and growth. And then that night came.
It hit me that I had so much more to endure before getting help. I realized that it had only been 6 weeks so far since all of this had started, so 6 more weeks was like starting over and reliving all the pain again. It was longer than I could even comprehend at that moment. I remembered back to the week before when the mania was the very worst it had ever been and when it had completely overpowered my whole body! I was so afraid of that happening again, so afraid of feeling something as intense and uncontrollable as I had the week before. Suddenly, I felt all of my hope and positivity leave, and it was replaced with fear, discouragement, and hopelessness.
I started to cry. How would I ever do this? How would I endure so long with so much inexpressible anguish? The more I thought about it, the more I felt completely discouraged. I started telling my husband what I was feeling and ended up saying that I would rather die than go through 6 more weeks of this. Hearing those words come out of my mouth scared me. It had been since March that I had thought about wanting to die, and I didn't want to go through that difficult time again. I knew there had to be another option, but I didn't know what.
The next day, I switched from depression to mania. I started to get tight in my chest, and my muscles started to tighten. Then, I panicked. I just couldn't do it again. I couldn't go through any more of this pain and fear, especially not 6 more times before getting help. I texted a friend, and she suggested that I go to the hospital and be admitted. She reassured me that I would be able to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, get a medication, and leave with a follow-up appointment. She even offered to take me the next morning. Filled with fear of the unknown, I agreed that I needed to go and started making the preparations necessary for the next day.
Before agreeing to go to the hospital, I had been shaking in panic and fear, but once I agreed that I would go, I was able to stop shaking. I had hope and knew that this "last resort," as it felt, would be able to help me.
The next morning, my friend came and picked me up, and we went to the hospital. I was a little bit anxious, but I also felt peace. We got checked in at the ER, met with the nurse, then the doctor, and then we waited. We played games, laughed, and had a good heart-to-heart conversation. It's amazing to me how you can connect with someone's soul through those kinds of conversations, and how after, you're never the same again.
After hours of waiting, the psychiatric nurse finally came in and did an evaluation. I told her all of my symptoms, and she asked if I wanted to be admitted to the hospital. I asked for the details of what it meant to be admitted and could hardly make it through our conversation without bursting into tears. She told me that I would have to be in the hospital for at least 2-3 days, I wouldn't get to see my precious daughter for that time (my heart literally shattered when she told me that), I could only see my husband from 6-8 each evening, I couldn't have my phone, and if I decided to go home early, I wouldn't be able to be admitted again.
I consulted with my friend and with my husband before making the very difficult and painful decision to be admitted. I was so afraid in that moment. I didn't know what it was going to be like or what I was going to experience. I felt so alone and knew the loneliness would only get worse. Then, I remembered something I had read a few days before:
I felt comforted and knew that God would help me as I did this brave, scary thing. The psychiatric nurse came back in and had me sit in a wheelchair (not sure why since it was my brain that was broken, not my legs) and wheeled me up to the psychiatric unit. My friend was walking with us, but at one point, the nurse told my friend to wait and just kept pushing me without pausing to let me say "goodbye." I mouthed "bye" as I held back the tears that threatened to take over. I felt like I was saying "goodbye" forever, like I would never make it through whatever I was about to experience.
I was wheeled down a long hallway past all the people pacing around me. Some of them were saying incoherent things and others were saying very inappropriate things. Most of them were covered in tattoos and piercings from head to toe. One lady came up to me, said "hello," and asked the nurse who I was. The nurse told her that I was 2610. I didn't know what that meant until I was taken to my room, Room 2610. The nurse took all of my belongings and left me there alone, promising that someone would be back in a few minutes with my clothes and to see how I was doing. I sat in the cold, dark room on the uncomfortable bed wearing a hospital gown and wondering if I had made the wrong decision. I wanted a hug. No, I needed a hug. I needed someone to sit down next to me, put their loving arm around me, and tell me that I was going to make it, that I was not completely alone and to comfort me, but no one was there.
I got up and looked in the mirror. It skewed my reflection with how weirdly it was bent. I didn't feel like I recognized who was staring back at me. I was the girl who was feeling good all summer, the girl who loved being a wife and a mom, not the girl who belonged in a mental hospital. I started to cry. I couldn't hold in the painful tears any longer.
I sat down on my bed and prayed. I asked God to give me the strength to endure this very difficult time, to consecrate my time there for good, and to allow me to do good with my experiences. I was still cold, it was still dark, I still felt alone, but I also felt a little bit of comfort. My mind turned to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, cold, dark, and alone. And the Spirit whispered to me what it whispered to Joseph Smith in his moment of need:
I knew in that moment that this experience would be but a small moment, even though it would seem so long and difficult while I was going through it. The rest of my stay, I was able to find peace and comfort in knowing that this was really just a small moment, and that I had the power to endure it well. It changed my whole perspective and allowed me to feel hope amidst my darkness.
A few minutes after praying, a nurse came into my room to check my vital signs. She asked if I was cold, and I said that I was. She left and came back a few minutes later with a warm blanket right out of the heater. She put it on my shoulders and around my arms. It felt like a big, warm hug from God, which was just what I needed.
When she was done with what she was doing, I laid my head on the plastic pillow and snuggled the blanket. I stared straight out my door and watched as people walked laps around the hallways. I was too scared to get up, so I stayed right where I was for a long time. At one point, a nurse came by and asked if I needed anything. I asked if I could have my clothes back. She said that she was too busy and that the next shift would do it.
I felt stripped of everything in that moment, my clothes, my name, my belongings, my family, and my dignity. All because I needed help and couldn't get it from anyone else.
After a long time of laying on my bed trying to wrap my mind around everything, I got up and started walking around. I found a lounge area and sat down on a comfortable chair. My mania was getting more intense, and I wondered how I would endure the awful peak of it in the hospital all alone. I started talking to a lady, and we ended up playing Scattergories with a whole group. It was sort of fun. Then, it was dinner time. As we sat around the dining room table eating our cold, plastic hospital food, one man in his twenties starting asking everyone what they did to get themselves in there. Every person around the table laughed as they told about the drugs they had overdosed on.
Then, he got to me. He said, "What did you do shy girl?" I tried to explain that I was having the symptoms of bipolar and tried to go to doctors to get help, but no one would help, so I came there. He didn't believe me. He followed up, "No, what did you really do?" I said that I had told the truth, but he still wouldn't believe me. Feeling completely upset and humiliated, I finished my food and started walking around in the hall. Suddenly, I was one of them, someone pacing the halls to pass the time that seemed to stand completely still in that moment. I walked past the lounge two times. The first time, the same guy yelled, "Come here" and I said, "No." The second time, I walked past trying to ignore him, and he said, "Look, there's that crazy girl, pacing the halls like she has lost her mind."
I couldn't take it. I walked back to my room, closed the door, and sobbed. It felt completely unfair. I didn't do anything wrong to belong there. I wasn't my fault at all, but I was there all the same. As I continued sobbing, feeling completely scared and alone, I found comfort in two thoughts: 1) Christ knew exactly how I felt. He didn't do anything wrong either, and yet He was crucified between two criminals. 2) I was there getting help because of my great love for my husband and daughter. I was allowing myself to go through something horrifying and traumatizing, because I wanted to get better for them. Somehow those two thoughts helped me endure until my husband was able to come visit at 6:00.
He came into my room and sat down on my uncomfortable bed with me as I sobbed in his arms. I told him everything I was thinking and feeling. I looked up to see his eyes filled with tears as he looked at my scared face. I didn't want him to leave ever. I didn't think I could make it through the night without him. He asked if this was going to make it all worse going through this awful experience. I didn't know.
Then, an angel nurse came in and offered hope. She said that there was another wing in the hospital for mental illness that was more calm and relaxing and it seemed like that was where I belonged. She asked if I was interested in switching over. I absolutely was, so she got to working everything out for me to switch, and then we moved to the other side. Immediately when we walked through the double doors into the other wing, I felt a reassuring feeling of peace wash over me.
No one was blaring loud music and dancing around like it was a party. No one was saying inappropriate things. In fact, no one was saying anything at all. Everyone was either in their rooms or in the lounge doing appropriate, quiet things. Although I still didn't know if I belonged in a mental hospital, I knew that I belonged in this wing much more than I belonged in the other.
I stopped crying. I was able to feel that everything would be ok. And I was able to visit with Kyle without being completely frantic and panicked. When it was time for him to go, I was somewhat sad, but I didn't cry. I watched him walk away knowing that it would only be a couple more days before I would get to walk out the door with him. I could endure a few hard days and then leave with the help I had been desperately seeking!
That evening, I met a girl in the lounge who was really awesome. We had a good conversation about mental illness and how it's not something to be ashamed of and it's not our fault. My heart was filled with peace and gratitude as we talked. I didn't know what the #LIGHTtheWORLD challenge was for the day, but I knew that I could still find ways to light other people's lives, even while being admitted in the hospital.
The next morning, I woke up early and felt the intensity of my mania building. I was really scared. I read a conference talk and wrote a letter to Brooklyn. I wanted to call her, but I thought that would only make me feel worse, so I wrote to her.
Because I was the first one awake and ready for the day, I got to meet with the social worker and the two psychiatrists first. Unfortunately for me, they all met with me separately and then consulted with each other, so I had to tell my story 3 times in an hour. It was exhausting! I wondered what they would say and if they would be able to help. I was pretty nervous waiting for them to tell me what they had decided.
After what seemed like hours, they met with me again and told me that I had rapid cycling bipolar 2. The bipolar 2 means that I don't have full blown mania, but I have hypomania. They decided to put me back on the same anti-depressant I was on before, along with a mood stabilizer. If they just gave me an anti-depressant, then it would send me into mania all the time, so they have to give a mood stabilizer to even out the mania as well.
I was able to take my first dose of these medications in the morning, which made me really excited to know that I could be leaving soon! I called Kyle several times during the day to give him updates about how it was going. I recognized a huge tender mercy that we changed our phones recently to have local numbers. This was good, because I wouldn't have been able to call him if he was long distance. That tender mercy really buoyed me up and helped me feel God's love for me personally with how He is involved in the very details of our lives.
At some point, we had a group therapy and made self-flowers where we wrote different things on each of the pedals about us and then shared them with everyone else. I felt it reaffirmed in my heart in doing that exercise that this blog is a very good thing. People need honesty, openness, and understanding. So I will keep offering what I can offer, as far as that goes, with the world.
I was also able to feel that same confirmation as I read a good portion of the book "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown that a friend gave me. It talks all about owning our story and not being ashamed. I'm not done with it yet, but it really lifted me up as I read it, especially since I was in the hospital owning my imperfect brain and admitting that I needed help.
Before lunch, we had occupational therapy time. All of these therapies and groups felt silly to me since I didn't feel like I needed them. I was just there for the psychiatrist and the medication, but I participated anyway, because it helped the time pass. I worked on painting a wooden birdhouse and felt the intensity of my mania increase to where the peak was coming soon. I wanted to go back to my room and curl up in a ball, but I didn't want to get up or get any attention, so I prayed. I didn't know what else to do. I prayed earnestly that God would help this mania hold off until after we got done with this group time. God answered my prayer above and beyond anything I imagined and took all the mania away until night time. It was like a flood of calmness washed over my body. Although the mania came back that evening and some the next day, I never hit the peak that I usually hit! It was amazing!
The lunch that day was really good. It was pretty much the first thing I had eaten in two days. I ate all of the crispy chicken strips and even enjoyed them :) About an hour later, my stomach started to hurt. Then, I got super nauseous. It was just a side-effect of taking the new mood stabilizer medicine, but it sure made me wish I hadn't eaten so much for lunch! I laid in my bed until Kyle came, holding my stomach and trying to sleep away the time.
When Kyle came, I was so excited to tell him everything about the progress I had made that day in getting help! He was so happy for me.
When he left, I got in the shower. I don't know if I mentioned this very much before, but my room was freezing! I found out later that the heater had broken, and they hadn't fixed it yet, so I was hoping that taking a hot shower would help my frozen body thaw. Unfortunately, the shower never got hot and was only barely warm. I will never forget how it felt like I was never going to get warm again. The whole hospital stay was cold. I can't imagine being there any longer than I was!
Before going to sleep, I called Kyle. Brooklyn was still up, so I got to talk to her for a second. It hurt my heart a little bit, but my sadness was swallowed up in knowing that she was being taken care of by wonderful friends and that I would get to hold her in my arms again soon.
The next morning, I met with the psychiatrist again. She was happy with how I was reacting to the medicines and decided that I would be able to go home soon. She asked if I had any questions. I asked her about getting pregnant on the medications and she said that I cannot take them while pregnant. I'm still not sure what that means about the future of our family, but I do know that God will help us in the future when we try to grow our family.
I was able to go home around noon. Kyle came to pick me up, and we went to pick up Brooklyn together. I was so relieved to walk through those hospital doors knowing that my awful experience was done.
I still can't believe that I had to go through all of that just to get help. Mental illness services are sure lacking! I don't know what I can do to help that, but I plan on finding out. Something has to change!