What It Was Like To Be a Patient At a Mental Hospital, pt. 5 (final)

[Trigger warning for frank discussion of mental illness.]

After 5 days as an inpatient, I was 1000 times better. Every night, a sleeping pill knocked me out for 11 hours straight, a blessed relief after months of insomnia. That pill also caused me splitting headaches during the day, and I didn’t even resent them. My other meds kept me calm, I had time to focus on getting healthy, and the routines of the hospital disrupted my entrenched obsessions.

I was practicing creative visualization, and I’d written out positive affirmations for myself that I repeated now and then. These things are big jokes in popular culture: “go to your happy place,” “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough”¦” But they were helping me.

Thoughts of suicide were fleeting rather than incessant. I felt like maybe I’d be able to live without constant pain. I started writing out a game plan for my real life, figuring out how I would react to negative things in the future, like this:

trigger: random person says something that hurts my feelings
old thought: I am worthless and should kill myself
new thought: “It’s a shame some people have no manners.”
new action: Buy myself a latte.

trigger: a proposal at work gets rejected
old thought: I am worthless and should kill myself
new thought: “Some people just don’t know great ideas when they hear them.”
new action: Listen to a song off of the “I’m Awesome” playlist I’m going to put on my iPhone.

I checked out of the hospital, but I would be an outpatient for another week: group therapy all day, home at night, like a job. The doctor thought I should wait a couple more weeks before going back to work, just to make sure I was OK.

I felt guilty about leaving my team at work in a lurch with no real explanation beyond “medical emergency.” The sixty or so people in my department had a private Facebook group, and I posted there to explain exactly what happened.

For a couple of hours after posting it, I felt very naked.

Then people began posting lovely, understanding comments, wishing me well. A couple of people private messaged me to say they went through something like this, or their family member did. It’s actually not that unusual; it’s just that nobody talks about it.

My co-workers conspired with my husband and sent him home with a little suitcase full of things I like: rose-scented everything, books on my Amazon wish list, including Jay-Z and opera CDs. My boss’s boss met me for lunch, and when I told her how things have been, she cried and hugged me.

Every day now I’m in meetings, talking about strategy or creative projects, with people who know I almost lost my mind. No one has ever acted any less respectful or any more distant because of it.

I’ve been incredibly lucky. Some mental health facilities are awful, from what I hear, but I went to a good one. I don’t know how many workplaces would respond to an employee’s mental health issues the way mine did, but I’m guessing not many.

It’s been a year and a half since my breakdown, and I don’t think it will happen again. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely “cured” of depression, either – I have flare-ups, but I’m managing them. I guess I’m writing about it now because maybe someone will see it and know they’re not alone, that it’s not shameful, and that they can get better.

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

13 replies on “What It Was Like To Be a Patient At a Mental Hospital, pt. 5 (final)”

Bryn, my experiences with mental health care have been very positive too. I mean, it was horrible I was in a place to need it, but the mental health professionals were angels. And it helped me tremendously.  It scared the shit out of my family that I needed to go in, but I told them that it only meant that I was willing to ask for help and therefore they should feel good about that.

I never told anyone at work why I was out. My supervisor was really really pissy about the fact that I wouldn’t tell her and wouldn’t let it drop. I ended up complaining to HR about her. So that is ongoing.  But it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It put me on a different path.

Hugs and Love.

This is such a great series, and great to know you are doing well now.

Your descriptions of the other residents reminded me a bit of the residents of an addiction treatment centre in Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, a writer who deals with probably more than her fair share of mental health issues (she also wrote a cookbook/memoir called Saved by Cake).

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