One year ago, I was admitted to the Hyland Behavioral Health Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at St. Anthony’s Hospital for severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It was the single most terrifying day of my life.
After sitting in the Behavioral Health Unit of the Emergency Room at Depaul Hospital for 12 hours, I was transferred via ambulance, alone, to Hyland, where I had to repeat the same story about why I was there to no less than 5 people, before being stripped of all my clothing and belongings, given paper scrubs to wear, and shown to my room occupied by a sleeping stranger, after 10pm. I was exhausted, defeated, and in tears.
And I was absolutely terrified.
I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if there would be people running through the halls screaming. If I was going to be put into a straight jacket. If the nurses would be mean and torture me. If I would be allowed to use the phone or talk to anyone. I’m sure I had every negative image of a psych ward that I had ever seen in my life running through my head at that exact moment.
But blessedly, it was nothing like that. It was actually exactly the refresh I needed. And now looking back a year later, I can tell you that the things I learned during my 3 day stay will stay with me for life.
3 things I learned:
Your boat just has a hole that needs to be plugged.
The first time I met with my psychiatrist, he said something that I will forever remember. He told me that I was like a ship that is normally able to rock with the waves and weather the storms but that my boat had just gotten a hole that needed to be plugged. Life-changing. In the midst of feeling absolutely broken and useless, I felt a weight lifted. I was not broken beyond repair. I was fixable and I would one day sail again. I just needed to right tools to plug the hole.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
In the wake of recent stories in the media like Kate Spade’s suicide and the popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I am glad to be reminded of this lesson. I waited until it was almost too late to reach out for help because I thought that by asking for help, I was admitting that I couldn’t even handle the daily stressors of life. I thought it made me weak that there were people who had it far worse than me and here I was moping and crying about seemingly insignificant things. But on my first day, one of the group facilitators congratulated me on having the strength to speak up and ask for help instead of allowing myself to continue down the blackhole of depression. I thought he was crazy for saying I was strong when I felt anything but. Now looking back, I see how much easier it would have been to just give up and give in rather than continue fighting but I am so glad I found the tiny shred of strength I needed to make that phone call.
Behavioral Health Units are nothing like you see in the movies.
You know how you see movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted and you think “Those people are crazy. I could never end up like them” or “I wouldn’t survive in a psych ward. Too many crazy people”. Well I’m here to tell you that my experience was nothing like the movies. There was no mean nurse taking advantage of people or long-time residents who had learned how to manipulate the staff and patients. Quite the opposite actually. The nurses were one of my most favorite things about my stay. They were so friendly and supportive. They truly cared about you, your wellbeing, and your recovery. And there were no “lifers” or people having been stuck there for years. The average inpatient psychiatric hospital stay in the US is only 12 days as inpatient is geared toward the acute, crisis situations. The goal is to get the patient stable enough to return home and continue treatment. Believe it or not, that 3 day stay was the best thing to happen to me at the time. I needed that break from life to focus on myself and give my mental system a “soft-reset”. Would I ever want to go back? Heck no! But if I needed to, I would.
So there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth of what mental institutions/behavioral health units/psych wards are really like.
As I was thinking about where I was a year ago a wise woman said to me, “Don’t think of it as the day you bumped your head and fell down. Think of it as the day you got up from the fall and kept moving”. Wise words from a wise woman. (Thanks mom!)
June 5, 2017 thankfully was not the end of my life, but rather the beginning of a journey towards freedom and mental health. But I wouldn’t be here right now, if I hadn’t reached out for help.
If you or someone you know is in need of someone to talk to…