The Tough Stuff – One Year
If you asked someone what the worst time in their life was...do you think they'd be able to tell you right away? Do you think they could say - this point. This exact point. This was the absolute worst time. So sure of it. So easy to remember. Not taking the time to mentally flip through a rolodex of misfortunes or mishaps.
Well I can.
Trust me, I've had a lot of misfortunes and mishaps. Today, my mom brought up a really awful time, a specific afternoon where I was breaking down in front of her for once, that I had completely forgotten. But it's burned in her memory forever. I think it was one of the few times I let anyone else, even my own family, see me in my completely broken state. And I had completely forgotten about it until she said something. That's just to show there are plenty of lows to pick from but there's one clear bottom.
Last October. My time in the mental ward.
I've mentioned it before. It's not something I've ever really gone into detail about. Not even to family and friends still. Until now.
I read a lot of books. Silly random stuff I get for cheap on my Kindle. One I picked up the other weekend was called Medicine Man. It was some forbidden romance, I didn't think too much of it. The main thread of the story ended up being the protagonist was in a mental ward for something, you don't know what for much of the novel, and she falls for the psychiatrist there. I'm not going to dive into that mess there morally or in the writing sense but I will discuss the mental aspects that I found in this book that set me on the path to discuss my own situation.
First of all, I'm not sure how the author did it because she said she was never in a ward, but she nailed it. Today, mental wards aren't what you see in movies. But they are intense. There are no locks on doors. You get checked throughout the night, every hour, in your room. There are no shower curtains. Not toilet seats. No strings of any kind. No sharp objects. The clothes and anything you bring in must be given over to be thoroughly checked before being deemed safe for you to have. Any hoodie needs to have its strings removed. Shoes cannot have laces. Things you wouldn't even think of: they've thought of it. The rooms are bare. The halls are bare. There's a heavy hush to everything.
You get herded from place to place. Upstairs where you sleep down to the first floor where you're fed, where you take your meds and just like in the book I read, they make you open and show that you did indeed swallow your pills. I, too, thought just like the protagonist. This really happened? That wasn't just a thing in movies? They really don't trust me enough to take the happy pill they deem is going to fix me? Herded into therapy after therapy. Music. Group. CBT. DBT. Mindfulness. The works. You can have visitors. They stand on the other side of the heavy doors until the allocated hour when they get buzzed through to finally see you. You can use a phone at a certain time, because you don't have possession of your own.
So yes, this author of Medicine Man got the setting of a modern day mental ward right on and brought me right back to my short time there. But more than that, I connected to the protagonist's feelings on it all. Aside from the reality of the ward, here is my story:
In October of 2017 I had been going to therapy for severe depression for almost 10 months every. single. week. There had been no improvement from how I had been upon my return from Ohio State. I was numb. Life was in black and white. Living didn't appeal to me anymore. So we made a change. I would go to intensive outpatient therapy. 5 days a week. 8am until 5 pm. I think I made it two days there before I was hospitalized. You see, I was deemed unsafe. So I was sent to the ward due to "suicidal ideation". This is a fancy way to say I had thoughts of killing myself but hadn't made an attempt. As soon as I was admitted to the ward, I regretted it. Just like the character in the novel, I thought this was a mistake. I didn't belong there. I wasn't that bad. I wasn't crazy. I didn't need this. It was a mistake. It was taken out of context. I wouldn't actually kill myself.
You learn later in the novel the protagonist was hospitalized for the same reason I was-suicidal ideation. I guess when we think of mental ward we think of someone who has tried and failed to kill themselves. We don't think the ones who are just thinking about not living need to be there. At least, that's what I thought. I didn't need to be there. I was smarter than that. I wouldn't actually kill myself. That was too selfish. I knew better. I wasn't going to hurt my parents that way. So what if I thought about dying, how I would do it, what it would be like. So what if when I stood on the edges of cliffs I thought of how easy it would be to just "trip". So what if I thought of the guns in my house, but knew I'd never use them because that would hurt my family too much. See? I was okay. I was logical. I wasn't crazy like they thought. I didn't belong here.
Reading this book, looking back on my time almost a full year later, I'm finally seeing that I did. Maybe I should have stayed inside even longer. The thing with depression is, you can never truly understand it. Sometimes you think you're beating it and out of no where it comes back and knocks you down harder than ever before. Sometimes you think you're never going to feel happy again and that night you're laughing with some friends. It's not a constant intensity. So what would happen if I suddenly went to the darkest place I had ever been and I had those thoughts already? Because the thoughts I had? They weren't okay. It's not okay to think like that. I did need help. And did I get that help then? No. Because I was too stubborn and forced their hand to let me out early still thinking this was all a misunderstanding.
I was lucky. The ward itself scared me so much that I never wanted to go back there. I never wanted to be in that place again. The psychiatrists and therapists all said the same thing to me once I had gotten out: "well, it didn't work like it was supposed to but I guess it worked in some way". My stay didn't fix me. I didn't allow it to fix me. It put enough fear in me, gave me enough motivation though, to keep fighting. To keep going. And I'm glad I did.
Maybe one day I'll share the things that have been mending me. I'll never be fixed, but that's okay. Maybe one day you'll share with me the things that have helped to mend you. Maybe me sharing my story will help you know you're not alone. It's not okay. We can work to make this better. But first, you have to acknowledge that you need help.