I’ve only been hospitalized once, although there’s been multiple times when I needed it.
I always had a curiosity about what it’d be like in a ward.
The background story is: I had/have issues with self harm. And when it was at its worst, I cut myself deeply. Deep enough to see the tendon and to be rushed to the ER. Long story short- my parents found out and asked what they could do to help me. I told them I needed outpatient care and they said okay. I called the local psychiatric hospital and they said I could come in any time for a psych evaluation so I could start outpatient care.
I went in for my evaluation and left 5 days later.
The hospital had decided that I was too unstable/unsafe after my self harm incident, so they required me to stay. I remember sitting in the evaluation room, staring at the window. It was dark and all I could see was my reflection. I don’t know what I felt. It was a mix of wanting to cry, wanting to run out of the place, wanting to scream that they couldn’t do this to me. But mostly, I just felt defeat. Eventually a lady retrieved me, asking if I was okay. She informed me I could go back to the lobby. I ran back in there and hugged my friend, sobbing as I told him they weren’t letting me leave. I could feel everyone in the room staring at me. But at this point, I was certifiably “crazy” so who cares, right?
I won’t go into the details of my psych ward stay. Instead, I will tell how it felt for me.
At first, it was terrifying. It was nighttime when I was admitted, and I told them I wouldn’t be able to sleep since I had a nocturnal sleeping cycle to begin with. I sat, alone, in the one room where you could just hang out. I sat with a puzzle, and tiredly tried to put the pieces together. My mind felt both overwhelmed and slow. Like the puzzle, none of the pieces were coming together.
When everyone woke up for breakfast, I had to face the other patients. I had no idea what to expect of them. A million different versions of “crazy” went through my head. And yet, I didn’t expect them to be … so much like me. They seemed normal, for the most part. But what stood out was how friendly they were. I was invited to sit and share my story.
I grew comfortable in the hospital. I knew my parents must be upset, I knew that my dad was probably having anxiety over it. Anxiety that would make him angry, that would make him yell at my mother. And what about my mom? How would she feel? Scared? Or would she feel like it was completely unnecessary? Would she be mad too?
But honestly, those questions barely crossed my mind. Because I knew I was safe from them. I knew that while I was in here, they couldn’t really hurt me. My dad wouldn’t yell at me. They’d awkwardly visit at visiting hours. Just to clarify, my parents have never been physically abusive. But I do fear their tempers. Mostly, I fear the control they have over my life since they’re completely supporting me through college.
It didn’t matter though. I was hospitalized, they couldn’t do anything about that. Plus, I could control all communication with them. I felt safe. Everything was so routine, we’d wake up and take our pills. Then we’d eat breakfast and go on a smoke break and go to group therapy and then a smoke break and then group therapy and so and so forth, all day.
I was able to talk about my problems and I was able to bond with other people who were going through exactly what I was- not necessary a “mental crisis” but more like we were all stuck here, and that brought us together.
I put the pieces of that puzzle together with the help of the other patients. We’d sit and talk and figure out the puzzle together.
On maybe my 2nd or 3rd day in the ward, I was given terrible news. News too long to explain right now. But news that shook me and turned my life upside down. I felt as if the walls of safety had been broken down. All it took was two police officers and suddenly I didn’t feel so safe anymore.
You see, the world had stood still for me. During my stay, nothing could hurt me. I was impermeable. The outside world could do nothing to me. But those police officers proved me wrong. The outside world could come in, it was just me who couldn’t leave.
I stopped socializing with the other patients, I curled up in bed. Sobbing until there were no tears left. At once, I felt like the hospital was both a prison and a sanctuary. I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t take care of the responsibilities the police officers had informed me of. But still, I was safe from myself. I was safe from my family, friends, everything.
I felt the desperate need to leave, I had things to do- immediately. But I was so sick from the news that I wanted to stay. And the staff agreed- I needed to stay. My 5150, or a 72 hour forced hospitalization, was changed to a 5250, where they could keep me for longer. I stayed an additional two days.
We weren’t allowed on phones during group therapy, that was our punishment for not going. But I was given special permission to use the phone to sort out my personal life because it simply could not wait. I was given a room with a phone. And I sat down and made all these phone calls, with the occasional call to my mom or to my friends to tell them what was going on.
It was a mess. I felt very stressed out and my memory of those hours I spent on the phone are best compared to the way you feel after crying- broken, defeated, but mostly tired.
Very, very tired.
My time in the hospital was ruined by those two police officers. Had I been able to stay non-interrupted, I imagine the stay would have been rather pleasant. For the most part, I actually enjoyed my stay. My fellow patients were all friendly and their company was desirable. The food was decent enough. I got to smoke cigarettes every now and again. Group therapy was fun to me. Doing the puzzle in our spare time gave me something to obsess.
The puzzle let me forget about all my troubles. About the predicament I’d gotten myself into. I loved that puzzle.
I still remember walking out of my family therapy meeting, eyes puffy and red, sniffling from the tears. And when I arrived to my fellow patients, my support group, they handed me a puzzle piece. I looked at the puzzle and realized they’d left me the last piece. I probably cried, I don’t remember. All I knew was that these people understood me, they understood how important this puzzle was to me. And they had saved the last piece for me.
Ultimately, I loved the hospital. It was a safe place for me. Many of the patients reported they’d been transferred from other facilities, and they said those places were nightmares. I guess I was lucky.
I’ve wanted to go back. To remember the safe feeling, to know everything I needed was taken care of, and that all I needed to do was work on making myself better. But you can’t forget the locked doors. Even though I enjoyed the hospital, the patients and I would scheme on how to act to get out sooner. Once you’re in there, you want out.
On the smoking patio, there was a giant fence that had a green canvas blocking our view out. It rose far above our heads, but I would gaze through the little holes at the corners. A glimpse of the real world, I could even see plants if I looked hard enough. But I also saw another gate.
It is bittersweet. There is no good way to summarize my stay there because it was such a conflicting period. On one hand, I was safe from the world. But on the other, I wasn’t. The world was still moving even though mine had made an abrupt stop.
I needed to be in the hospital. I needed that experience- all of it. I needed the feeling of security. And then feeling that security ripped away from me. I needed to learn that I could withstand all of this.
I needed the hospital to give me a place to experience all my emotions… while keeping me safe from them.