This is a seven part series. A new part will be released every Wednesday until all 7 are out.
Disclaimer: As some of you may know, I took a Memoir Writing class in 2017. For that class, I wrote a lengthy (22 page) story about my first time going inpatient in a mental health facility back in May of 2015. I utilized a “journal” or sorts that I kept while in the hospital. It was really just a yellow legal pad with notes scribbled all over it each day. I was hesitant to share it here because it’s very frank and may contain details of thoughts I had that some people may find disturbing, but I also feel it’s an important look at what being in a mixed episode can feel like. In a mixed episode, you experience symptoms of both mania and depression. So you may have a ton of energy and engage in risk taking behaviors but your self talk may be incredibly negative and scary. At any rate, I’m now going to share that story with you weekly in several parts. I’m not sure how many parts yet, but I don’t want to make each post so long that no one wants to read it. Some parts of this story contain strong language not suitable for children. I know some of the stuff I have written and write in this part are really off the wall and bizarre, but they are the honest thoughts that I had at the time.
The walls are white painted cinderblocks. The floors are white linoleum. The air is cold and sterile and it smells like disinfectant. In the room, my room now, there is a wooden desk with the drawers nailed shut, a chair, a made-up bed that’s bolted to the floor, a small open locker to place my things in, and a window overlooking the roof of the hospital that has a fairly wide sill on it for me to place books and belongings on. The door doesn’t lock and there’s a smaller door inside the larger one that can be opened from the outside. There’s a shower, a toilet, and a sink, but a shower curtain is all that separates them from the rest of my room. Lying on my bed, I wonder if anyone has ever killed themselves in my room before and if so, how? They couldn’t jump out the window. There are bars over it and it’s locked. They couldn’t jump off the roof because they couldn’t get out of the window. They couldn’t hang themselves with the sheets because they have made sure there is nothing to hang them on except for the shower curtain rod, which isn’t strong enough to hold the weight of a body. I conclude that the only way a person could kill him or herself in my room would be by drowning themselves in the toilet, which is just disgusting and doesn’t sound like an appealing or dignified way to go out at all. I don’t want to kill myself. I’m just curious and, being manic, my thoughts are racing a mile a minute in all sorts of weird directions. I’ve only been here for a few hours and the place is still strange and foreign to me, but I know I will adjust. I’m behaving very out of character. I’m spending a lot of money. I’m not really sleeping. I have a ton of energy. I can’t seem to stop moving. My thoughts are racing so fast I can barely nail one down to focus on it. All of these things are classic symptoms of mania. I’m also feeling ashamed and embarrassed, two feelings that don’t typically happen for me until the end of a manic episode. That coupled with the obsession about how someone would kill themselves here makes me suspect that this may actually be a mixed episode.
I finally came to the ER last night after trying to get in touch with my psychiatric nurse practitioner all day. It has been her pattern for weeks that I will call to say I’m manic and desperately need help and she will refuse to call me back. I was amped up and couldn’t stop pacing and moving and talking, even after extra Ativan. The ER sent me home but told me to call in the morning to see about getting into the hospital’s Intensive Outpatient Program. That’s a program where you do group therapy for three hours a day three days a week. I found out I can’t do it right now because you have to commit for 4-6 weeks and I’m supposed to go on vacation with my family to Destin, Florida in a week and a day.
It’s Friday, May 27th, 2016 and I am at Park Ridge Hospital sitting patiently with my parents waiting for a volunteer to walk us up to the locked psych ward. I look up at the clock on the wall and it’s a little past 3:30pm. I’ve just signed the paperwork to voluntarily check myself into the Women’s Hope Unit for “as long as their doctors deem medically necessary.” Now that’s a scary concept. I’ve been in a mixed episode for a couple of months at the very least now and my psychiatric nurse practitioner has just kept insisting that I’m experiencing anxiety as opposed to mania. She is being negligent and I know better. I’ve been having tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations. I feel like bugs are crawling all over me, I’ve heard a non-existent man’s voice twice now, and I’m seeing moving shadows out of the corners of my eyes. I’ve also racked up a lot of credit card debt. Out of control spending is a symptom that doesn’t get talked about much because it’s so embarassing, but it sure does happen.
It’s our turn to go up now. We step into the cold steel elevator and the volunteer asks, “how are you doing?” in a cheerful voice as she pushes the button for the second floor, as if my life isn’t ending as she speaks. I think it’s a really stupid question since she knows I’m headed for the mental health ward. I’m so scared. I’ve seen Return to Oz, Girl Interrupted, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I have very specific ideas about what the mental health unit will be like and those ideas are terrifying. We exit the elevator to the right and continue down the hall to two doors on our left. The volunteer knocks on the first door and a nurse walks out and takes my bag from me. “Nothing with strings or wires,” the nurse on the phone had said this morning. “What am I supposed to do about bras?” I asked desperately. No wires would be a bit of a hindrance for me. “We’re very strict about the wire and string rule. It’s for your safety and the safety of other women on the unit. Maybe try sports bras” she had said. Great. Even my sports bras have underwire. “Bring a couple of changes of clothes and some comfy pajamas, but you’re not allowed to bring any electronics.” “Not even my Nook?!” I asked incredulously. “Am I at least allowed to bring books?” “A book is okay, but no electronics at all. Electronics are contraband,” she replied. My mom had to go out shopping for sports bras for me while I packed the few things I was allowed to take with me into a suitcase. She was able to find two that fit me and one that did not.
It’s time to say goodbye to my parents. “Y’all should go home and watch Girl, Interrupted, that way you’ll know what I’m up to,” I say. “That’s not funny,” my mom says with a frown. I know my parents are just as scared as I am. I hug them each and hold on a little longer than I normally would. I’m close with both of them because I’ve lived at home with them off and on ever since Mom got breast cancer in 2011. I moved out for five months to join the Peace Corps, but I moved back in as soon as I got home because that’s when I developed the Bipolar Disorder. A buzzer sounds and I walk through the second door on the left.