One year ago, I was in a psych ward for the very first time. I was on a chapter 51 after my first suicide attempt and let me tell you… it was quite the eye opening experience. Here is the story of my first hospitalization.
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon on October 17th, 2017 that I was finally admitted to the behavioral health unit. I was wheeled into my room in a wheel chair and given some scrubs to put on. The nurse that wheeled me in there left, my new nurse introduced herself and gave me my stack of supplies, like shampoo, lotion, toothbrush, etc. She was super nice and her name was Kathy.
It was shift change right as I was admitted, and during that period of time, this hospital does something called “reflection,” where everyone is supposed to go to their room and work on any assignments they were given and wait for the nurses to come around and brief the next nurse on your situation, needs, etc. Well, I didn’t know about any of this. I heard an announcement on the intercom but didn’t catch what was said, so I was very confused. I went out to the common area and there was only a few people out there, which added to my confusion and made me think I was supposed to be doing something, but I had no idea what. It felt like the first day at a new school, where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know where anything is or how anything works around there. I felt like a fish taken out of its pond and released into the ocean. Or, maybe a fish taken from the ocean and released into a little pond is a more accurate metaphor, haha.
There were 2 phones on the wall in the common area, they look exactly like pay phones. I picked one up but there was no dial tone. I asked the staff member behind the desk why the phone wasn’t working and they said it was off and I couldn’t use it until later. It made me want to cry. I felt so helpless and lost, and I couldn’t even call my mom or friends to let them know I was here or when visiting hours were. Some friends of mine drove 3 hours to come see me and I was panicking about them coming that far and not even being able to see me or know what was going on. I didn’t realize how little freedom I would have as a patient there. I really just had no idea what to expect, but everything I did expect would soon prove to be the complete opposite.
I started looking through books on the shelf, to act busy or like I knew what I was doing. A girl came over and said hi and introduced herself. She straight up asked me what I was here for, which took me by surprise, but I answered with “I overdosed. What about you?” She said “I got really angry.” Then she told me that she was just about to be discharged any minute now. She said she had been there for 10 days. In my head, I was like “oh hell no. No way I’m gonna be here for 10 days, no way!” That seemed like such a long time to me. I had no perspective of how long people usually stay there. I admittedly thought something along the lines of, “this girl must have a lot of problems to be here that long.”
She told me I was supposed to be in my room and quickly explained what reflection time was. She said I was supposed to go to my room until my nurses came around, so I went back to my room and waited. I was really thankful that she gave me that small bit of guidance, because I was just so lost. I didn’t have a roommate yet, which was nice because I love being alone. As I waited in my room for my nurses, I walked over to my window and it all kind of hit me. I started crying a little. I just couldn’t believe that I really ended up here. It felt so surreal.
As I was in my room, Dr. Imara, the doctor who would be seeing me during my stay, knocked on the door and came in. She is one of the nicest and best doctors I’ve met to this day. She sat on the window sill, I sat on my bed. She asked me questions about what happened to put me here, my history, etc. I felt listened to for the first time ever in my life. She asked me if I was glad that it didn’t work (my suicide attempt). I said I didn’t know, which was the truth.
A few hours later, it was dinner time. I went out to the common room, got my tray and sat down at a table by myself. I don’t remember what I had on my tray, but it wasn’t super good, and I was confused because I looked around and other people had cheeseburgers, pizza, pasta, etc. and I had this random ass meal on my plate. I didn’t know yet that you get to choose your food on a menu every morning, and if you don’t fill out a menu, you get the default “kitchen special.” One of the many things I was yet to learn about this place.
I looked around at everyone there and I was very surprised. These people looked completely “normal” to me. People I never would expect to see in a psych ward. I think I had the same misconception of psych wards that most people do – the version you see in the movies, the place for “crazy” people. I noticed people talking to each other. They were socializing and laughing. Let me reiterate that. There was laughter. In the psych ward. This all was slightly blowing my mind, I was very confused. Why are these people here if they are laughing and smiling? Don’t these people have issues? Like, issues bad enough to end up in the hospital? What is going on here??
After dinner, it was visiting hours. My mom and the two friends that drove from home came right away. My mom was extremely upset and crying, rightfully so, because she “almost lost her baby.” Several other friends of mine from school came to see me as well, which I appreciated more than I could express. I had never felt so loved. One of my professors came to visit me as well. She’s more than a professor to me, though. I babysat her kids a lot, and she was overall a huge inspiration and mentor to me, and just a big part of my life.
Just as we’re all having a little love fest over here, my nurse comes over and says “you’re only allowed 2 visitors, so the rest of you are gonna have to leave.” Wow, way to be a buzz kill. I had no idea about this rule, no one told me this, so it hurt my feelings a little because she was extremely rude about it, as if I was knowingly breaking this rule. She knew it was my first day there, too. I also was not told that we weren’t allowed to have visitors in our rooms, only in the common area, so I got yelled at about that, too.
Since there were about 6 people there to see me, we asked if they could rotate in and out, so that’s what we did. 2 people would talk to me for a bit and then tag someone else in. I ended up getting scolded once again, because this was stressful on the staff to have to keep letting people in and out. But of course they couldn’t just let them all visit with me at once… especially since literally no one else had visitors this night, only I did, for some reason. So it’s not like the common area was overflowing with visitors, which I’m assuming is why they have the 2 person rule in the first place. Whatever. This isn’t important haha. Just another example of me having no idea what I was doing or how anything worked around there.
The next day, I went to group for the first time. I really had no clue what to expect. We were divided into 2 group classes. Morning group at this hospital was called “Goals Group.” We were handed a paper to fill out with these questions: my goal for hospitalization, my goal for today, how I can achieve these goals, one positive step I will take today to make changes in my life, and questions I want to ask the doctor or treatment team today. Then, once everyone was done, we would go around and everyone would share their goals and what steps they were going to take today. My goal on this day was “get better, be able to handle my depression and anxiety.” And the step I was going to take that day was “do what I’m told.” My answers became more thought out and sincere as the week went on.
The other groups during the day were “Coping Skills,” “Workshop” (art), and “Exercise.” We had a few hours of “rec room” time, as well. Coping Skills was similar to Goals Group, in that we would all fill out the worksheet for the day (the topic changed daily) and then go around and each talk a little. My favorite group was Workshop, because I got to paint or do other art projects, and that is totally up my ally. It was my favorite hour of the day. In between groups, people would watch TV, color, read books, do puzzles, sleep, socialize. Every day, we would also meet with our treatment team, which included my nurse, doctor and social worker.
I slowly became more comfortable and sociable. I was surprised when that first girl asked me why I was there, but I learned that this was a common question among patients, so I became less awkward about answering or even asking it. So many people asked me why I was there, that I actually started asking other people, too. It was comforting, in a way, because these people didn’t judge me for trying to kill myself. I mean, they’re in the psych ward, too. There were some other people there that had also overdosed or tried to kill themselves in other ways. Many were there for alcoholism or related problems. Some were there for eating disorders. Some were there for suicidal ideation. I realized that these people around me are quite possibly some of the only people I will ever meet that actually understand me and don’t judge me. I went from feeling completely lost and disoriented, to feeling like I finally fit in somewhere. I started to actually enjoy being there. The more I got to know these people, the better I felt. The less alone I felt.
During free times, especially at night, a lot of us would play board games. It was so much fun! Who knew you could have fun in a psych ward?! I swear, every minute of the day, another expectation of mine was being squashed. One expectation which I haven’t mentioned yet, is that it would be all young people. I was actually one of the 2 youngest people there. Most of them were older, in their late 30s or 40s. Some of them in their 50s or 60s. Only a handful were in their 20s or younger. I genuinely expected it to be all emo, young people. Haha. And no matter our age differences, we all became friends and had fun together. It warms my heart just thinking about it. I witnessed many other people go through the same phase as me — get admitted, feel disoriented, be very shy and not talk to anyone, witness everyone else socializing and having fun, slowly start interacting with others, and then be full fledged laughing your ass off and engaging with everyone. It was really cool. We became like a little family.
Now, I want to be clear about one thing: my future psych ward stays were NOT all like this. I don’t know why, I think maybe one or two people can really change the dynamic of the group, for better or worse. The group of people I was hospitalized with that first time were special and it was a shock when I was hospitalized again and it wasn’t the same experience.
Remember how I was shocked that that girl was there for 10 days? Well, I ended up being there for 8 days. See, I was put on a 72-hour hold and I thought I would literally just get to leave after 72 hours. Yeah… that’s not really how it works, at least not around here. I asked my doctor if I could leave after the 72 hours and she said “oh, no. Absolutely not. We’re just getting started. And if you do try to leave, I will pursue another chapter.” So… I was stuck there until my doctor thought I was fit to leave. She was right, by the way. I definitely needed to be there longer than 3 days.
On the day I got out, it was an experience I’ll never forget. I walked outside and felt the brisk, October air and it was as if I forgot what fresh air was like. I remember everything looked different. I just looked around and was like, ‘wow, I never noticed that before,’ or, ‘I didn’t realize how beautiful the river by my house is.’ Everything felt more vivid. I don’t know why. I guess being cooped up in a hospital changes your perspective on the world a bit, haha.
Overall, my first experience in a psych ward was positive and absolutely nothing like I expected. I met some amazing people. I learned a lot about mental health care. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that more people loved me than I realized. This hospitalization didn’t cure me, as I think I expected it would. I definitely felt a little “better” by the time I discharged, but I think that’s more from the fact that when you’re hospitalized, you’re removed from all stress of daily life. You don’t have any responsibilities. You don’t have to prepare your own food. You don’t have to think about bills that you owe or other obligations. You’re in a mostly stress-free environment, and obviously a week free of stress is going to help anyone balance back out and feel a little better. My point is that I don’t think the therapy classes or meetings with the doctor are necessarily what made me feel better, I think it was just the break from life that made me feel better. I’m sure others can relate to this.
Well, this was super long, haha. Thank you anyone that actually took the time to read this, or even parts of it. I really appreciate it. I know that my experience in a psych ward probably looks completely different than someone else’s experience, but maybe this gives someone else an idea of what to expect, or maybe someone else can relate to my experience. I don’t really know haha.
Peace out and see y’all in my next post ✌🏼