By Raquel Lyons
So, you’ve made it to the final part of this series. The glitter is falling, the confetti is springing into the air, and this is the heart of the series–what is it like inside a psychiatric hospitalization?
Number one: The people inside a psychiatric hospital are the same as you and I. Just as we college students interact with each other by asking what major we are, what year; we, too, in the psych hospitals ask each other: “What are you in for? Unless you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I’m here because…”
Number two: You’ll likely hear stories of other inpatient units’ people have been to before. I’ve heard from the grape vine of a patient hiding from the staff in a cupboard (which is funnier than it should be).
Number three: You may see or hear things in an intense manner. For instance, I heard about some interesting action happening on the ward before I got there (“Never a dull moment” is a common phrase said), people yelling in expletives about getting their medications, people yelling otherwise at each other in an unfortunate spat and so on.
This can be very triggering and can be scary. I can’t tell you what your experience will be like going into the unit. It depends on where you go. There are some amazing places in Massachusetts where you are treated as the human being you are and taken well care of, and there are places that are utter crud. Unless you know of the good places before you are transferred there, it’s a bit of a toss-up for where you’ll end up.
At the same time, psychiatric hospitalizations are not like how movies portray them. Psychiatric hospitalizations are a place of safety, where people who are unsafe to either themselves or others go for, essentially, a refuge for a few days. The length of time someone stays there depends on many factors, such as where they are in recovery, what they’re dealing with or if there are other programs nearby that better fit what issues they’re having. My lowest stay was my first hospitalization at 5 days, my average is a week, and my longest was 8 days.
You will likely find some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful, sweet, compassionate people within a psychiatric hospital. I’m talking both patients and staff. Granted, people are people so you may not mesh with everyone the right way–there were a few people I met that I wanted to punch in the face, I didn’t though, and it was a good time to utilize some more positive coping strategies. Sometimes I would get really irritated with the staff, but I kept my head cool because I knew acting out would only escalate the situation. Advocate for yourself and maintain patience and understanding are my best tips.
I have met people who inspire me within a psychiatric hospitalization. I met people who were so creative that I got into drawing for mindfulness and art therapy. I met people who shared with me their stories–their other inpatient experiences, their struggles, and their vulnerability.
Never forget that vulnerability is a strength. People within a psych unit are often very vulnerable, they’re going through absolute manure and they’re struggling, yet some of them are there for help and to get better. I encourage you to be an active participant in your own recovery journey and for you to be one of those people struggling who puts as much as they can into getting better. I didn’t always want to be in the hospital–and I set aside my anger, my irritation, my sadness, and I attended groups they had throughout the days and I made new friends or got to know other people whom I still think about from time to time today.
The staffs in various psych units are often doing the best they can. There’s probably going to be someone you don’t like as much and that’s pretty normal. I didn’t like all of the staff every time I’ve been hospitalized and I connected differently to each one–so, I had my preferences. But the psychiatric unit isn’t always super serious all the time.
In my second hospitalization I watched “Guardians of the Galaxy.” In my fourth we played corn hole (where you throw sacs of sand to a wooden box with a hole in it and try and get it in). I’ve played ping pong a number of times. I played some video games in my first hospitalization.
Next, how each unit structures themselves is different. I’ve been to a place where the only groups they had were art therapy. I’ve been to places where there was more variety–art therapy, DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), mindfulness, interpersonal relationships, social skills, positive coping strategies, learning about different teas and yoga and exercise, and more.
Every time I’ve been hospitalized it was because I needed time away from the dangers of the outside world in order to remain physically safe. From my first hospitalization I learned about positive coping strategies. From my second, I received a psychiatrist (they came in a bow and a box and everything), and began my recovery journey. From my third, over time I regained my identity and took back my life.
From my fourth, my most recent one, and the one that started this series…I’ve learned more about self-care. I don’t get stressed out from my drawing class anymore! I know it’s important for me to take breaks and to listen to my body and my mind when it’s time for me to NOT listen to my mind.
I’ve also been learning that despite how highly self-aware I am, I have my limits. I struggle still with recognizing and blockading my brain’s manure when it comes to having genuine feelings about anxiety or depression. I like to remain firm when people tell me how I’m feeling or guess at my feelings that no, I’m not experiencing those feelings (and, often, I’m not), but when it comes to the times that I AM–I won’t admit it either.
Such steadfast, stone cold denial has left me missing the dozens of warning signs I’ve been experiencing of the depression since my last hospitalization. It may even be the reason why I get hospitalized again soon.
Because as of mid-October, I am really, really struggling. The past month I have been at an all new low, a low reminiscent of my dark days yet also different from them.
I began this series with the open letter that writing these articles brings me accountability and purpose. Yet I feel during my struggles that I’m no longer the face plate of recovery or wellness, not in the same way I once was when I began writing for this newspaper. It feels like there’s a huge loss in that, yet I suppose the next thought is, is it rational?
As someone in recovery from mental health issues, I’m not always going to do the right thing. I’m going to make mistakes and I’m going to learn from them. I am my first priority and so is my safety. To echo Spongebob Squarepants, I AM number one.
Relapses and lapses are a part of the recovery journey. I’ve said that how many times now? Yet recovery is still a continuous circle of reminding yourself what you inherently know but what feels like is no longer true.
So I may not always have my recovery to wellness items together. I may not always act in line with my recovery goals, yet I’ll still be here writing these articles because…my story is worth sharing, and you’re worth reading it, and we’re both worthy of being alive and staying alive. Writing these articles gives me a sense of responsibility to hold myself accountable to myself and to the people I reach with these scrawled words.
And I say this to you as much as I say it to myself: Going to the hospital because of psychiatric issues is just as legitimate as going to the hospital for medical issues. You are everything far from “weak”–asking for help takes a HUGE amount of strength, courage, faith and trust. You are absolutely amazing and you have so much to offer this world.
After all, I won’t be at UMB forever, so someone’s going to have to pick up the mental health conversation in this newspaper while I’m frolicking in meadows of homework with graduate school.
Just remember: You matter, you are loved, you have so many people who can, who will and who have yet to support you, and your life has so much purpose. If you haven’t found your purpose yet, it’s coming for you. Please, stick around another day to receive it.
Article 3! FINAL PART!
What did you guys think of this series? Are there things you can relate to? Things that have been different for you yourself or for friends you know? Let me know what you guys think!
I’m going to work on posting once a day for maybe a week, depending on how everything else goes. 🙂 Thanks for supporting me and being there for me you guys! You keep me inspired and loving. ❤ ❤ ❤