Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sometimes the most life altering events happen in the places you'd least expect

I'm almost nervous to write this post because I'm afraid that my words aren't going to properly convey my experience and emotions...but here goes.

As I've stated in a previous blog entry, I admitted myself to the psychiatric unit of a local hospital in late June. What I didn't mention is that the experience was not life changing nor did it help with my problems. A portion of that was my fault- I was terrified and ashamed and spent my three day stay holed up in my tiny room, refusing to come out for groups or meals. I left my room one time to attend an "assessment" which involved me sitting in a room with about five people staring at me and analyzing everything I said...I almost felt like I was on trial. That was the only time I saw a psychiatrist during my stay.

The aftercare wasn't much better, and after one appointment (which consisted of me completing various questionnaires on a computer) I stopped going. Yes, I know this was not a good course of action. I simply did not like this particular health system but I felt I had to go there because the other option- the hospital I work at- was out of the question. I was worried someone I knew would see me there and ask questions or, even worse, judge me. I went to the "bad" hospital's psych ER about three more times over the next few months and always left feeling no better than when I had started.

Fast forward to January 3, 2017. I had spent my holiday season drinking myself to the point of not being able to feel. I did that on purpose. I didn't want to feel anything because of my (apparently) impending divorce. I had spent a lot of time trying to prove myself to my husband, to make him believe I was worthy of his love and that I could be a "good" wife, that I was just sick and needed to find a way to get better only to find myself walking in circles. I wasn't able to understand that nothing, literally NOTHING I did was going to be good enough. Nothing was going to impress him or change his views about me. I found myself wishing I had a "visible" disease, something he could understand...because then he'd stick by me no matter what. Depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder are unseen medical conditions that manifest in unpleasant behaviors and reactions- and who wants to deal with that, right? Who cares what I'm truly like as a person? Forget her, she may exist under all those awful layers but she's not worth digging for, not worth waiting for. It was truly the lowest point in my life.

After a weekend of drinking (plus one extra day since I had Monday off for the New Year holiday), I woke up Tuesday morning feeling horribly depressed, hopeless and with very little will to live. I felt like I was still in a fog, still intoxicated. I made a decision for myself at that moment. I was going to call my mother and have her take me somewhere for help. I didn't care if it was for a month- I was going somewhere...and that somewhere was the hospital I work at. I felt I had nothing to lose at that point and I knew what the outcome of attending the other hospital would be.

My mom arrived within half an hour. I kissed my dogs goodbye and we were off. I was seen right away through the ER after explaining to the intake personnel that I essentially wanted to die- that if I had a gun I would blow my head off right now. My hopelessness, depression, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness were attacking me all at once- on top of the after effects of drinking.

After being assessed by a social worker and physician it was decided that, whether I liked it or not, I was going to be admitted to a psychiatric unit for help. I wanted the treatment so this wasn't a big deal but they made it clear that the doctor was petitioning for my admittance regardless. The next step was finding a place that had room for me. There was talk of sending me to Chelsea, MI and a few other places within about 50 miles but after checking availability the only unit that had a bed for me was right where I already was- the unit at my hospital. I didn't have much choice and I really wanted the help so I didn't protest.

A few hours later, I was whisked off to the hospital's psychiatric unit. I wasn't as nervous as the first time I was hospitalized because I had an idea of what to expect. I went there determined to make the most of it. I told myself I wouldn't hide in my room, I'd attend all the groups offered to me and take full advantage of the treatment options. The first difference I noticed is how much more welcoming and friendly the staff was. They made me feel at ease. My room was much more spacious and they didn't lock my bathroom for 24 hours like the other hospital did. I didn't feel so much like a prisoner, which was a pleasant surprise. I even attended an activity after I got situated and dressed- a pet therapy session. I was quite proud of myself for leaving my room so soon after admission- something I couldn't bring myself to do the first time.

I was prepared for many things- the admission protocol, the types of groups I'd attend, the meetings I'd have with various mental health professionals, some possible medication changes. What I didn't expect, though, was what the next seven days were going to bring me. I didn't expect to meet a group of people that I would fall in love with...people that I'd wish I had more time with, people that I would want to keep in touch with "on the outside." People who understood me and made me feel more comfortable in my own skin than I have in many, many years- actually, possibly the most comfortable I've felt in my skin my whole life.

For privacy reasons, I can't use anyone's name nor will I use fake names in order to describe the diagnoses or issues any of my fellow patients have. None of that matters anyway. What matters is what incredible human beings they are. I've never seen such acceptance, kindness and camaraderie as I did during my stay in the unit. My very first group involved listing goals for the day on paper, something I had no problem doing. I figured I'd be turning my paper in for the social worker to review later, which was fine by me since one of my goals was a bit personal. As others around the room began volunteering to read their goals, then volunteers trickled down and people were being called on to share a slow feeling of panic spread over me. We had to read our goals OUT LOUD?

I leaned over to a man across the table from me and whispered, "We have to read these out loud?!"

"Yeah," he responded back. I felt like he looked slightly amused but I can't say I trusted my perception at that point.

"Well fuck. I don't want to read this one. I don't want to cry," I hissed, pointing to the personal goal.

"Don't read that one, just read the others or make something up," he whispered back, trying to be helpful. I instantly liked him. I had been watching him across the table as he cared for a much older fellow patient, reassuring her when she worriedly asked him if anything bad would happen today and complimenting her on the goals she had listed. I'd also heard him tell someone else to fuck off, jokingly (I think). My kind of person.

When my turn came, I bit the inside of my cheek for a split second, then read all of my goals, even the personal one, out loud. I glanced at him and he gave me the thumbs up. It felt great to let something out that I was scared to share and almost kept to myself. That moment opened up something for me and set the tone for the rest of my stay, from a participation and sharing standpoint. I attended all groups (with the exception of one because I woke up with a pounding headache and had to lay in my dark room with my eyes shut) and spent time outside my room between activities, making friends and socializing.

Each day I woke up feeling better than the previous day. There was no hangover. No stress, no weight on my shoulders, no black cloud hanging over me. I didn't think about having a drink to stifle my feelings. I found myself looking forward to getting out of bed and sitting with my "posse" and having breakfast and delving into the day's activities together. I shared my feelings in group therapy without feeling scared someone would laugh at me or roll their eyes. I felt heard and respected. I listened and respected. Each night at 7:00 we would gather in the TV room and watch the movie of the night, sharing candy and snacks and laughing while genuinely enjoying each other's company. And what's more, I was having a great time without any alcohol. Pure fun without a buzz. This was a relatively new concept to me and I fucking loved it.

I didn't want to leave. Obviously I knew I'd have to eventually, we all would have to, but I didn't want it to happen anytime soon. This was my safe place where I was accepted, mental health issues and all. Flaws and all. Scars and all. Nothing I could reveal about myself made the others dislike me or not want to be around me. And nothing any of them could have said about themselves would make me dislike them or think less of them, either.

It was like magic. I don't know how else to describe it. Not the words I'd ever have thought I'd use to convey my feelings about a stay in a psychiatric unit, but that's what it was to me. I felt free and happy. I felt more like my true self.

I am the type of person who either has all her walls up or completely down. There is no in between for me. My walls fell down on their own this past week. I let myself feel everything. I let myself make friends and not worry about whether or not they truly liked me- I allowed myself to believe they did. I also allowed myself to watch a couple movies with the guy who helped me through my first goal setting group. Everyone else had settled on a comedy on the main TV. For those hours, we watched movies and talked about our lives. Nothing I shared about myself seemed to repulse him or make him think I was "damaged." I told him about how I drank when I felt uncomfortable or sad. How I sat in my bathroom one night, completely beside myself with despair and hurt, and cut my arm with a razor- not to kill myself, but to make the pain stop. He understood. He didn't think I was a freak or a nutjob. That night, from the moment the first movie started to the moment the clock struck 11:00 and everyone had to go to their rooms and he walked with me to mine and lightly touched the small of my back and said he'd see me in the morning, is one I will not forget.

I came home today. I woke up extra early this morning so I could spend more time with my new friends before my 9:30 am discharge. I said goodbye to some people I'd never see again and to others who I know I'll be in contact with. I cried as I hugged each one of them goodbye. I was happy to be feeling more like my old self and to be starting the next part of my journey but sad at the thought that none of this would ever happen again. Even if I was to be admitted again in the future (I can confidently say I won't) it will never, ever be like this particular stay. To me, it was as if all the "right" people were admitted at the same time with all their "damages" and different backgrounds so they could all come together. Maybe it wasn't as life altering for everyone as it was for me but I'm thankful for it. I'm not saying I'm "fixed." It's up to me to put the work and effort in now. But I feel stronger now, more confident and capable. I feel like I can do this.

If any of my new friends are reading this, thank you. Thank you for everything. I can never repay you for what you've given me. I hope I was able to give you something as well. Because of you (and some good medicine, ha) I am a different person. I now have hope. I feel like I have purpose. I no longer feel worthless or unworthy of friendship and love. Years of therapy couldn't have gifted me with those things.

And thanks to someone I'll call Miss S, I know one thing for certain, which I will use to close this extremely long and all over the map post: I AM a princess. I deserve a prince.

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