Admission: Dispatches from the Psych Ward

[The next few blog entries are going to be about my time spent in the psychiatric hospital. There won’t be any chronological order to them as they are mostly snippets of my time. Some of the things that I talk about in the stories aren’t going to be politically correct and are a reflection of my own state of mind and lack of education in mental health at the time. Please don’t be angry by some of the snap judgments I made].

“Do you think you need to be admitted into the hospital?” My therapist asked me. I was at my weekly session in the outpatient treatment centre attached to the hospital. I had left work on my lunch break and drove across the city to make it to this appointment. Frankly, I was more concerned about getting back to work on time than I was about getting help.

“Of course I don’t need to be admitted into the hospital,” I scoffed at her. Although I had been battling with my mental illness for about four years, this was the first time anyone had suggested that I go into the hospital. I didn’t belong in the hospital. I wasn’t that crazy. I’d had some suicidal thoughts here and there, but surely these didn’t warrant being institutionalized, right? Besides, the hospital was for bad cases. You know, the one’s who were seeing the devil or thinking they were the reincarnation of Jesus. I was just depressed. I didn’t need to be locked up with the loonies.

“But you just admitted to having suicidal thoughts…”

She had me there.

This had been my first mistake; admitting to her that I was thinking about suicide. Sometimes I speak without thinking of the ramifications and in this case, talking about killing myself during a session was a major faux pas. You see, when psychiatric professionals hear the S-word, they immediately go into action mode. I guess I looked like enough of a mess that I might actually act on my suicidal thoughts. That was my second mistake. I didn’t look as put together as I normally did. Frankly, I had been too damn tired to put on makeup. It had been days since I slept and I was losing touch with reality. So putting on eyeliner was the least of my concerns. Besides, the therapist had seen the fresh self-harm wounds from a mile away. Therapists are perceptive like that. My attempt at camouflaging them with bandages and bracelets was futile.

Although, i had already learned that the hard way at work. A female coworker had had called attention to the cuts on my arms and wrists.

“What are you trying to do? Kill yourself or something?” She asked, laughing hysterically as if she had just made the funniest joke in the world.

Imagine I had actually responded honestly?

“Yes, actually. Every night, instead of sleeping, I cut myself because the anxiety I have is so intense that I feel like I  may actually explode. The cuts act as release valve on the pressure I feel. And you know what? While I’m cutting, I’m actually thinking about ways to kill myself that would be the least inconvenient for everyone. Wanna hear what I’ve come up with? The best way to commit suicide is to take all of my medication with a mickey of vodka. What do you think?”

But because I’m depressed and frankly don’t have that sort of personality, I simply ducked my head and vacated the scene for the washroom before bursting into tears.

“I can’t go into the hospital,” I said to my therapist. “I have to get back to work. They can’t function without me.”

“Do you really think that?”

In response, I burst into tears. In my mind everything was dire, end-of-the-world serious. And so yes, I did actually think that if I didn’t return to work the world would, in fact, stop rotating on its axis.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest“Marisa, I’m going to see if there’s a bed available for you today.” She handed me a tissue as she got up from her desk. She was a blur of grey hair and beige clothing as I watched her leave the office.

The familiar prickle of anxiety was forming in my hands and feet. Unable to sit still any longer, I got up and began pacing in her office. All I could think of was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson. Images flashed through my mind of Nicholson convulsing on the table as he received ECT. Do they even do that anymore? Would they do it on me? Or what if they just injected me with a whole bunch of medication and I was just one of those zombie patients doing the sedation shuffle across the ward? I could almost hear the raving lunatics screaming in the night, begging for help.

“You’re lucky,” my therapist said as she came back into the room breaking me from my imaginings. “A bed just became available.”

I laughed out loud. Lucky? How the fuck was I lucky? I was going to be institutionalized. 

Later, when I would be hospitalized for a second time, I would realize that I really was lucky that day. Psychiatric beds are hard to come by and my second hospitalization included a week-long stay in emergency because there were no beds. The psychiatric ward is bad, but staying in ER for a week before you are transferred is even worse.

“Do I have to go?” I asked, tearing at the tissue in my hands. My stomach was a tight knot and I felt like I could puke at any moment.

“Well, I can’t force you into the hospital, but I strongly recommend it,” she said gently. “We’re able to make more dramatic medication changes when you’re hospitalized and hopefully get you sleeping. Wouldn’t that be good?”

I shrugged. “What about work?”

“You’re not going back to work,” she spoke more sternly this time. “You’re sick, Marisa.”

A different person would have protested and fought, but I have been conditioned to obey authority figures and defer to their professional opinions. If my therapist thought I should be in the hospital, I should be in the hospital. Despite my reservations and fears about the whole thing, there wasn’t any arguing to be done.

“But what will I tell work?” I asked, always worrying about how I was going to disappoint someone. “I have shifts this week.”

“Your’e going to call them and tell them that you’re going to be admitted to the hospital for an illness. But you don’t have disclose what.”

So I called my mom who then called work to explain the situation. And when I was released from the hospital, I never went back for fear of embarrassment. I don’t even think I collected my last pay cheque. At least I never had to see the bitch who made fun of my self-harm scars again.

To be honest, I don’t really remember how the next few hours proceeded. My parents showed up to the hospital with a bag packed with my things and before I knew what was happening I was being herded into the psychiatric ward.

As they buzzed me into the ward, I was hit with the sharp smell of antiseptic and sickness. There’s something about the way that sick people smell that makes me nauseous. But the psychiatric ward had the added scent of greasy hair and unshowered bodies. I understood what it was like to be depressed and unable to shower, but in that moment I swore I wouldn’t become like one of those people. I vowed that I would shower every day. That was, until I realized how inconvenient it was to shower on the psych ward.

Taking a shower was a multiple step process. First, you had to get the attention of the nurses at the nurse’s station. Then you had to ask if you could take a shower because one of them had to be on duty outside of the shower room. If no one was available, you’d have to come back later. If someone was available you would then have to go through the process of collecting your shower products. Once you were in the shower, you would be interrupted every few minutes by a nurse asking if you were okay.

Eventually, it became easier just to not shower. Besides, who’s seeing you except your psychiatrist and your family who came to visit? And as I would learn, looking disheveled got you taken more seriously by your psychiatrist than looking clean and shiny.

After being admitted into the ward, I was escorted to my room. I cried as I walked down the long hallway, clutching my pillow at my chest. I glanced into one of the rooms as we walked by and saw a woman sobbing into her hands on the side of the bed. I couldn’t believe my mental illness has gotten me here. I know my therapist thought this was the best place for me, but surely it wasn’t. This had to be a mistake.

Crazy Cat LadyFinally, we stopped outside of one of the rooms. As I entered, I was horrified to see that I would have a roommate. The curtain that divided the room was pulled back to reveal a sleeping woman in her 80s. She looked like Eleanor Abernathy, a.k.a. the “Crazy Cat Lady,” from The Simpson’s.

I had never shared a room with anyone, let alone a complete stranger. What if she had a psychotic break in the middle of the night and tried to kill me in my sleep? Or what if she screamed in the night? She was the personification of what every crazy person ever looked like.

Seeing the fear register on my face, my mom said, “Well, at least she doesn’t look chatty.”

And she was right. “Eleanor” wasn’t chatty because she had some how lost the ability to speak. She had extreme dementia and her family had dumped her here when they couldn’t handle her any longer. Her meals were brought to her room, but she barely ate. She was on so much medication to manage her dementia that she spent most of her time sleeping. The strangest thing she did was pee with the door open and the light on. Once in a while she would scream in the night, but I couldn’t possibly begrudge her that because I felt so terrible for her. I never once saw her family visit.

The nurse ran through the rules of the ward and then searched my bag for contraband (i.e. things that I could possibly use to kill myself with, which included my tweezers in my makeup bag. For some reason, makeup seemed like a good thing to bring to the psych ward). They also confiscated my purse and they would have kept my cellphone and charger had I not hidden them in my pocket.

Then the moment came when my parents had to leave. The nurse left us alone in the room and I started to cry again. Some words were whispered about this being the best thing for me and how they would come and visit every night. I wouldn’t be in here very long.

And then they left. Leaving me alone with my snoring roommate and my fear.

One thought on “Admission: Dispatches from the Psych Ward

  1. Just reading through this gave me anxiety. I think if I ever made it to the psych ward it would be involuntarily and I would probably have to be restrained because I do not deal well with authority figures or hospitals or doctors. I turn into a total hysterical, confrontational, violent person when things are “forced” on me. And I would never have the strength to walk in there willingly. I admire you for doing that and also for sharing your story with us.


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