(I am not a medical professional. The following information is based on true personal events. You can find my disclaimer policy here.)
TRIGGER WARNING: Depression, rape, incest.
I’ve struggled with mental illness all of my life, at least for as long as I can remember, in some form. Depression seemed to always be at the root of my issues. Both of my parents had abandoned me, leaving a very young me wondering what I had done wrong to make them not want me. Thus, creating a perpetual habit of self-blame.
As a teenager, I battled this constant inner-battle of what’s wrong with me. Matters only got worse when I was raped by a close family member. The ritual abuse continued on for months unbeknownst to the rest of the world around me. (As an adult, I would come to find that this extensive abuse and brainwashing was a large contributor to my diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder.) The torture persisted throughout my teen years. After surviving a stint in a child prostitution ring and a gang rape in 2010, what was left of me was a handful of fragile pieces.
What followed was a series of several hospitalizations due to drug overdoses, alcohol withdrawals, and suicide attempts.
After a psychotic breakdown in 2015, I voluntarily admitted myself to a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) where I would receive treatment for both my mental well-being and and opiate addiction.
Admitting myself was pretty easy, actually. I had scheduled an intake interview with one of the hospital’s psychiatrists. The interview, albeit uncomfortable to talk about my past, went fine. She recommended that I come in immediately for intensive care, to which I obviously agreed to.
I remember being really nervous about beginning my first day in PHP. I’d seen lots of movies in which mental hospitals are portrayed in terrifying light. I didn’t know what I was in for. Perhaps I was to expect shuffling, bumbling and drooling patients collapsing on the floor? Angry, unloving nurses shoving pills down your throat just to quiet you down?
The First Day
Suffice it to say, I was incredibly relieved when I was buzzed in to the facility. I signed in at the front desk, collected my name badge, and headed to my first group. The days consisted of 4 group therapy sessions, with mealtime breaks in between. The first 2 groups were more in depth and focused on the reason you were in there. Most, if not all, of the patients I encountered were recovering from a suicide attempt, or thinking of suicide seriously. I was among the attemptees.
The third group was dedicated to addiction education, and the fourth was always some form of art therapy. (I personally enjoyed the writing group on Wednesdays. The drum circle group on Thursdays was also pretty nifty.)
My first day was busy with meetings with other therapists, a social worker, and my case psychiatrist. Subsequently speaking with my psychiatrist, I received a prescription for medication. Lithium for the depression, Seroquel for the hallucinations and insomnia, and Ativan for the anxiety. Now, I’m not a huge fan of pharmaceuticals. In fact, I almost always discourage them. However, in this case, I truly believe the combination I was given saved my life. Slowly, through the weeks in PHP and taking my medication, the suicidal thoughts dwindled. The voices quieted down, the nightmares began to cease, and I seemed to be recovering.
What It’s Actually Like Inside
Every hospital is different. This particular facility was really amazing. It was clean, updated, had competent staff and pretty good coffee (if you care about that kind of stuff. I know I do!)
The patients were diverse, but all had the commonality of wanting help. I had never been around a group of people that understood me like this group in the hospital. For the first time in my life, I received no judgement when I talked about my past, the voices, my suicidal feelings. People just nodded along as if to say, “I’ve been there, too.” There were others alongside me with scars on their arms, just like me. I was surrounded by wonderful patients who just wanted to get better.
It is a different experience, undoubtedly, being an inpatient versus having the ability to go home voluntarily. But I’d still like to say that it’s not THAT different than what I described above.
When people think of mental hospitals, they think of Girl, Interrupted; brain dead patients and barbed-wire. While some of that portrayal may be true, I’d say it’s only about 20% accurate. It’s truly not as scary nor as dramatic as what you see in the media.
When you’re admitted into inpatient, you will first be searched for any possible items that could harm you, or others. Examples of things that are typically confiscated are shoelaces, strings on sweatpants and jackets, razors, anything made of glass, cell phones. You are allowed to bring clothing and travel-sized toiletries with you. Otherwise, you’ll be given a gown.
Inpatient can be really daunting because of the 24/7 security and watch. There are bedroom checks every 15-30 minutes around the hour, even in the middle of the night. But this is all done with everyone’s best interest in mind. I do believe that contrary to popular belief, the nurses and doctors in psych wards are there to help you. They want to see you get better. No professional doctor is out to get you. Medication seems to be a bit frivolously expended, but certainly not shoved down throats forcefully.
No, the food isn’t terrible. It isn’t 5 stars, but I genuinely enjoyed my morning pancakes!
No, I’ve never seen patients constrained in straitjackets and hauled off for Electroconvulsive Therapy.
Yes, you do get visiting hours!
Groups are very helpful. A lot of people make lasting friendships within them. You end up sharing some very vulnerable stuff about yourself with these people that you basically live with!
I did run into a few interesting characters. But that’s to be expected in the funny farm, as I endearingly call it.
My Takeaway From My Stay
In the end, I’m grateful for the care that I received in the hospital. It definitely was not as terrifying as I thought it would be. I came away with some really fantastic stories and was finally able to procure my own therapist (who, by the way, rocks.)
If you’ve been wondering if you should admit yourself into a mental hospital, I’m going to tell you that it saved my life. The intake alone was a huge step, and I’m eternally glad that I made that step. Again, I’m not a medical professional. But I’ve been there- many times.
If you need help, please call The Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You matter and there is help.
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