Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.
I committed myself for five days at South Coast Medical Center (now Mission Laguna Beach) when I was 47 years old and then attended their partial (out-patient) program for another six months. One thing that negatively impressed me were those people for whom hospitalization was a revolving door: they visited several times and probably have been back since. I resolved not to be one of these, so I made a plan for staying out. I have followed and improved upon that plan ever since. That episode in 2005 was the only time I went in, so far. These are the things that I did:
I faithfully reported to my psychiatrist as we arranged.
I kept every one of my appointments.
Coping with bipolar disorder demanded that I manage the symptoms of my illness. They changed from week to week, at first, so dosages and types of medication needed to be adjusted. My psychiatrist also assured me that things would get better which encouraged me to stick to the treatment.
I had not been honest with her or with my two previous psychiatrists about my condition. I had symptoms such as irritability, paranoia, grandiosity, religiosity, and suicidal ideation — among others — which would have changed my diagnosis. Believing that I could handle these on my own, I kept silent about them. Deep down I did not want my diagnosis to change. I am not sure whether this was due to dread of stigma or the different drugs I would have to take. My anti-depressants were enough, I thought, and through what those didn’t erase, I believed I could boot-strap my way. When the hospital psychiatrist finally presented me with a different take on the strange constellation of indicators that betrayed my bizarre state of mind, I actually felt relief.
One of the first things I did was thank my regular psychiatrist for convincing me to check myself into the psych ward. She had saved my life. And she would do it again.