Trigger warning: Self-harm, suicide, and inpatient hospitalization.
I was 16 the first time I was in a mental hospital. I was anxious, depressed, and severely suicidal. In retrospect, I probably should have been admitted a few weeks before I was, but I was hellbent against going to a hospital where I had the possibility of being labeled as "crazy." I was not crazy. I had this under control...or so I told myself. And besides, I had a job, more performances for my current show, and work to do before the upcoming school year. I simply didn't have time to be depressed.
Eventually, though, my depression became unmanageable and I had a mental break. One night after a performance of "Into The Woods", I began to cry uncontrollably in the backseat of my friend's car. I cried and started to shake and hyperventilate, and as my friend called my parents, all I could do was sit and accept the fact that I needed help. I needed help. I needed help. The following morning my parents took me to a mental health hospital for a psychological examination, and the next day I began outpatient therapy. That means that I would be in the hospital all day, but I would go home to sleep.
The hospital was a life-changer for me in the best way. I learned how to take care of myself while being able to have a life too. I was treated kindly and my brain was filled with stimulating new things and ideas. Don't get me wrong, it was still a hospital, but it helped me become myself again. I did well for a while. I was in therapy, taking my medication, and doing what I needed to do to take care of myself, but then I went to college. In college I stopped taking my medication regularly, I quit therapy and wasn't sleeping or eating well. I had friends and great classes, but I was not taking care of myself. I was in a new city with new people and no familiarities from home. Everything piled on top of each other and again, I broke. This time however it was more severe. This time I attempted to combat my depression once and for all with a bottle of pills and a razor blade. It didn't work.
I was taken to the E.R by ambulance where I was pumped with fluids, connected to an EKG, and downing bottles of charcoal soda. I cried and shook in pain and shock. There was a nice nurse who stroked my hair and played my favorite music and let me use her phone to call my mom, the hardest call I've ever had to make. After I was treated for my immediate physical trauma, I was evaluated by a psychologist who asked me questions such as "Have you had thoughts to harm yourself?" and "Have you ever felt suicidal?" "What do you think," I said. At least I've still got my wit. Within the next few hours, I was to be admitted to the hospital's psychiatric ward for "intensive inpatient care." Okay, I thought. I've got this. I've done this before. I know what to expect. And that's when I learned that the psych ward of a hospital is not the same as a hospital specializing in mental health care.
After being wheeled into the bare common area of the psych ward on a wheelchair, I immediately began to notice some differences between the hospital and the psychiatric ward. First of all, the nurses station was closed off from the rest of the ward. There was a clear divide between patients and staff. Some of the patients were playing "Call of Duty" on a small game set and there was a man with the word "satanist" tatted across his fingers rocking in a plastic chair staring into nothingness. There was a middle-aged woman laughing while scribbling on coloring pages on top of a checkerboard table. And then there were two boys, both about my age playing a game of chess while cracking jokes to each other across the table.
I don't remember much of the first day. I think I slept a lot. The mattresses were hard and the blankets were thin and breathable. I slept with all my clothes on at night because it was so cold. I examined my room. It was big but very bare. Besides two blue plastic beds, two shelves, and a trash can, I was in a plain, unlock-able room. There was a bathroom connected to my room. The doors locked, surprising, although there were triangular slits on top of the doors so privacy was limited. I colored. I watched TV. I called my family. I couldn't write or read, two of my favorite things, because it was too taxing on my brain. I was still foggy from the day before and couldn't connect my thoughts. I talked to a few of the other patients, and quickly realized that I was known as "the girl with her shit together." Me. The girl who had just downed a bottle of pills. I was in a cuckoo's nest with mentally unstable adults and suicidal teenagers.
Meals were served at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., and 5 p.m with one snack at 8 p.m. If you missed breakfast you waited until lunch to eat. No extra food was permitted. I explained to my mom that the psych ward felt like a holding cell. Meals were eaten mostly in silence, I couldn't go outside or even open a window, and during the five days I was in the hospital, I had only one therapy session that lasted for a half hour. I like to look at the bright side of situations, but when it came to this, I was drawing a blank. I was not getting treated for my mental health, the very reason I was in the hospital in the first place. The college boy's were my therapy. We debated over who had the toughest schedules and made jokes to compensate for our confusion and anger over our care (or lack-there-of).
Going to bed at night meant being woken up 20 minutes later, and waking up meant getting my vitals checked for the 10th time that day. I wished I could be back in the mental hospital, something I never thought I'd say. But I am glad I was kept safe at the very least. I am thankful for the nurse who slipped me an extra ice cream cup, the one with the salmon scrubs. The people there were doing their best, all of us were and all of us are.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255