So for the class I’m taking, we have to share our narratives. Our stories, our struggles, our hopes.

We talked this morning about how powerful it is to be vulnerable and how it’s sometimes difficult. I felt a bit disconnected from the conversation because I’m usually able to be vulnerable very easily. At least with other people. I’m good at relating to other people. I’m an open book, I know that I’m worthy of love and kindness, and like…all the stuff we spoke about in regards to sharing excited me. Some others were excited too. Some weren’t. But I really am looking forward to the next few classe.

Anyway, I’ve been reviewing a few pieces of my writing so that I can read one out loud while I share my narrative. I think I’m gonna go with something that I’ve already written and rework it a little. But as I was figuring that out, I smashed the keyboard and something fun appeared on the screen. Something about me walking into the unit at the psych hospital for the first time, being emotional and overall just scared as shit. It isn’t finished, but I’m eager to share it with the interwebs…

They took my elephant. Sickness swirled in my stomach. I looked again, pushing everything else around frantically. I swallowed hard, hoping to suppress the rising panic at the fact that my elephant wasn’t in the brown paper bag that held (most of) the other belongings I’d brought with me. Leggings, shirts, hoodie. No notebook. No stuffed elephant. Why was I frantic? Why was I starting this whole process by having a meltdown, why was I panicking over a stuffed elephant?

I was sitting in a chair like the ones behind the desks in my old high school. I was wearing something that was basically paper. I was cold. I was grossly depressed, exhausted from weeks of it, no– years of it. And my goddamn fucking elephant wasn’t in the piece of fucking shit bag.

A yell across the unfamiliar hallway broke me from my sad-angry mixture as I helplessly stared into that stupid brown bag. I inhaled deeply, unsteadily. But before I could exhale there were more yells from the same general area, way down the hallway of the unit that looked pretty much what you would’ve expected it to look like.

I brought my hands together with stiff arms, fingers laced, thumbs alternately massaging the opposite palm: a visible representation of my twisting, writhing anxiety. 

The screaming got closer, along with banging and stomping and other voices arguing. Something happened to my right, and, oh god what was this place? What did I do to myself? Were they going to–

“Sweetie, are you okay?” said the guy who’d minutes earlier been screaming violently about the staff being idiots. He put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, although I had a hunch that he was harmless. Regardless, I didn’t have to ponder too long because two men in blue scrubs jumped on him to pull him off of me in a manner that was incongruent with the tiny interaction I’d just had with him.

I rocked back and forth as the scene unfolded in front of me and they pulled the man somewhere around the corner, and I didn’t realize I was sobbing until a nurse came over to the little chair where I was folded into myself, crouched down on the floor in front of me, and asked me if I was okay. I looked at her quickly and concluded that she was trustworthy (I’m good at those kinds of determinations).

“It’s so stupid,” I gasped. “I’m 28 years old and it should matter.” I wiped my nose on the sleeve of the paper scrubs they’d given me to wear. “They didn’t give me my stuffed animal, I brought him, I packed a whole bag knowing what was going to happen to me, I knew I’d come here, I need this, but my elephant…” I sobbed in one long exasperated breath.

I don’t remember how she answered. But I remember going into a little room with a table and absurdly heavy chairs with her and explaining a bit about my history for her charts while I calmed down. And I remember when we walked out of that room she handed me a blank marble notebook that she’d grabbed from the closet. I knew she’d just given me one of the most important tools I’d get in that place.

Psycho Education: Things I Learned in the Psychiatric Hospital

I knew I needed to be hospitalized. I’ve known that for a while. Hell, I tried to get myself into a hospital prior to this, because I was desperate for some relief, and nothing happened. I guess it all accumulated for the past year or so, though. I went to my psychiatrist for a normal appointment on February 10th, and she sent me to the ER like, immediately. She actually called them and told them I’d be coming (I felt like such a VIP: very important psycho). My boyfriend left work early and picked me up and we went. And thus began an interesting journey where I learned a bunch of things that I’m going to explain in a vaguely chronological but unimportant order. This doesn’t include everything, and I have so many more thoughts that I’m dying to get onto a page, but I think it’s important that my first post is positive and talks about the last month as a learning experience.

I was in the ER for a day and a half. It was an overwhelming experience. I was crying a lot, and I just wanted to lay there on the gurney under the sheets and be “alone.” But I was on Constant Observation (since I was suicidal) and had someone watching me at all times. And apparently I couldn’t go completely under the covers because they had to see that I wasn’t killing myself under there. So I was basically inconsolable.

I hated the guy watching me, at first. He would ask questions and I’d try to answer, but I’d just start crying at the fact that I didn’t think he understood what I was actually experiencing. How much pain I was in. Like…was he belittling me? I couldn’t tell.

I came around to him eventually. I don’t know when, exactly. Maybe after he went on his break. The nurse manager watched me while he was gone, and she was really nice. We talked a little bit, and maybe that little bit where I was broken out of my shell helped me not feel so upset with Charles who had to sit there and stare at me. Not that he was creepy; he wasn’t. He was cool. It was just a hard situation, and I was emotional and all over the place. I realized that seeking comfort is okay and even brave at times, but at the end of the day, when no one else can do it you have to do it yourself. I was lying there, tossing and turning, my mind racing, all of my painfully confused…and I had to just calm myself down. I’m not saying I was successful at that (I wasn’t). But the lesson stuck with me. I asked for help, and I’m proud that I did. But I also learned that I can’t get help with everything. I can’t have someone help me control my emotions, it doesn’t work that way.

Charles and I eventually got into conversation, and he imparted a gem of wisdom that totally relates and that I wrote down as soon as I had a notebook in which to do so: no one can swim for you and no one can breathe for you. I couldn’t tell you what the hell we were talking about (I’m assuming it was the impending hospitalization ahead of me), but it’s true. The coming weeks were something I was gonna have to face on my own.

Yeah, definitely true. Although once I got to the psych hospital, I wasn’t completely on my own. I made friends almost immediately (once I stopped crying, showered for the first time in three days, and actually consumed some sort of food). I guess there’s nothing quite like being locked up together to bring about friendships. It also probably helps that we were all in a similar place mentally and emotionally. We related to one another. We grew into a weird little dysfunctional family.

And dysfunctional we indeed were. Lock a bunch of crazies up together and shit DOES get intense. I realized pretty early on that sometimes it’s best to just walk away. Walk away from a fight or confrontation, walk away from a trigger. Hell, sometimes you even need to walk away from someone crying who just needs to cry. I loved when the other patients there calmed me down as I was crying. A fist-bump and a sneaky hug go a long way (we weren’t technically allowed to touch each other). But there were moments I just needed to cry. And I saw the same being true of other people.

We were a unique bunch.  It became increasingly clear to me why you should never judge anyone without talking to them first. Like, everyone has their own shit. You literally never know someone’s story without asking them. And human beings are interesting, so ask! Listen to everyone’s story and learn from them, because my god is there so much to learn. Not to mention that people are all complicated, with or without mental illness. We’re all just different. It’s fascinating.

I sat down next to the schizophrenic who needed to be restrained and sedated the day before and actually talked to him. I was happy I did because he’s got a lot of wisdom inside of him next to all his fear. We sat there on the floor outside the med window after each taking our cocktail of pills, and started talking. The day after that was not one of my better ones. And he was the one to sit down next to me. “Hey,” he said. “Put out your hands like this.” I wiped my tears and looked up at him. I held out my hands in front of me. “Do you see them?” he asked, to which I responded with a tentative ‘yes.’ “See? You’re here, you’re safe, you’re okay.” I used that technique to ground myself a few more times after that.

I can’t talk about lessons learned in the psych hospital without mentioning how I learned to be thankful in a simple but grand way. I vowed that when I got out I’d stop taking day to day conveniences for granted. My phone and my laptop are wonderful tools I have, and I’ll never again forget how fucking cool they are. I was, however, already thankful for the support I am lucky enough to have. Every morning we had a “community meeting” where we told everyone how we were feeling, what our goal was for the day, and who our support was. I never once forgot how special the people around me are that they love and support me as much as they do.

Then there’s the lesson I’m continually re-learning: let it go. I really tried to tone down my reactions to minor little things while I was there. Like, I put serious effort into it. There were a few instances in the beginning when I was uhh…using humor as a coping mechanism, and it wasn’t received well by some of the staff. So I was told to stop. Which, okay, that’s fine, right? It is, and looking back I realize it right away now. But my general response is to feel stupid and dumb and dwell on the situation for far too long and then feel stupid again and just continue on and on. But I’m actually damn proud of how I let it go because I literally forgot about how angry I was at that staff member until just now. We turned out to be chill with each other anyway, and I’m glad we turned out that way because I feel happy to have known the guy. But yeah, I’m giving myself major props for that one, and I’m gonna remember this exact paragraph next time I go to overthink about something like that. I also want to phrase it differently, in case I didn’t make my point as effectively as I wanted to: don’t worry so much about what’s going on in other people’s heads, because you don’t have to live there.

As I got more stable (I’m gonna write a whole post about how that was able to happen to begin with, because holy shit was it a process), I started to get the itch to get the fuck out of there. I wanted to go home. I was naturally going stir-crazy, as you can imagine would happen after being cooped up for over two weeks, and I was even getting anxious wondering when they were gonna release me. I was tentatively scheduled to be discharged Tuesday the 25th, but on morning on the day before, I’d just about lost my mind wondering if that date was still set. The weekends went slow there, and no doctors or social workers were there, so I was left hanging and wondering. Anyway, as I was freaking out, another patient pulled me aside and told me that in his struggle with drugs, whenever he told himself “just don’t do drugs” every day, he’d inevitably wind up doing them. But “when I told myself I was gonna get up, go for a run, make breakfast, and so on, guess what I did?” I stared at him for a second. “I’m gonna go home tomorrow,” I told him, and he smiled and nodded. The moral of the story, I guess, is either that you attract what you think about, or that it’s easy to spot what you’re always thinking about. And it turns out I did go home the next day!

As I was getting ready to be discharged, I started to reflect back. I’d filled an entire marble notebook with thoughts and feelings, but there was still a lot I wanted to think about. Still a lot I had to think about. I said to the counselors and my social worker that even though I’d done so much work and self-reflection, I knew I still had a lot more work to do once I left. And oh boy is there still a lot of work to do haha. Self-discovery is a never-ending process. I think I used to let that overwhelm me, but honestly? It isn’t such a scary thing. Life is a never-ending process. Self-discovery is just a way of life.

And finally, because I actually do feel hopeful that I’ll succeed in my quest to be the best version of me: remember to have hope.