Pretty much as the title says - I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward last week for what was supposed to be a 72-hour watch (or even shorter) that turned into 144, and it turned into something of a minor living nightmare from the get-go. These are the nearly raw, transcribed notes that I was jotting down during my stay there. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here, and needless to say a bit of a TL;DR warning. This is the final part, including the postscript. And as customary, a rather nice public domain/royalty-free image of a Porsche from Wikipedia.
Still Stuck in the Cuckoo's Nest After All
As soon as I was smart enough to liberate myself from my confines (or rather, someone was sent to check up on "Roommate") I made my way to the art room where I hastily drew a second cat picture in 15 minutes. I talked to "Jackie" who was again a changed woman, speaking highly of "Nutty" and acting as if everything had been nothing but roses and our previous conversation didn't happen at all. She went so far as to start coloring a picture of a kewpie couple sharing a malt drink as it reminded her of when she first met "Nutty" at the age of 14. She told me, "I feel more like myself today than yesterday," explaining that the sweaty palms from the weekend were withdraw symptoms from smoker's cravings. That said, I deeply have to wonder which side of "Jackie" is the real side.
Another patient told me that she saw the equipment needed for the blood withdraw this morning, making me wonder if it was possible for me to be discharged that day if they had only gotten that damn test done. My anxiety is spiking through the roof right now and I'm seriously wondering how the hell I'm going to make it out of here at all, or if I'm going to be like "Jackie" who has now been confined here for nearly a week - long past what this facility allegedly typically equipped to handle (at least that's what the staff keeps telling me). While I stand by my gratitude of the staff over how I was directly treated, this omission feels outright inexcusable and I'm really wondering what the hell is going on here. It seems that the hospital admission and current system prizes outright laziness and sloppiness over proper and expedient treatment of patients, and it genuinely, truly baffles me how the American public can even tolerate such a shoddy, broken and self-defeating (if not worse) system.
Tonight's group therapy session was the worst yet and is driving home the point that the key to getting "cured" is to merely say and enact exactly the cheery happy bullshit they want to extract from you. In essence, it's the psychiatric equivalent of being trained as a "yes man." No wonder I've encountered so many people who have claimed to have multiple visits to this hospital and other facilities.
Even "Alex, "Max," "Jackie" and the others have noted that I seem to be one of the most lucid, content and calmest of the patients currently occupying the floor, and their statements regarding my intelligence and articulate nature and general well-being, if I may sound rather arrogant, make me wonder if I truly belong here. I've met people who keep overdosing to the point of clinical death, have made near-successful suicide attempts and rescued just in the brink of time over and over again, and people who have had truly violent mood swings and tendencies to the point where they almost literally turn into a different person with drastic two-faced attitudes of their own family and loved ones, and the only thing the system seems capable of or even cares about is consuming them like raw material and spitting then out with virtually no palpable change in condition - they still are prone to suicide attempts, still continuously overdosing to the point of near-death and still experiencing disconcerting mood swings while in the middle of treatment. Never before from experiencing it first-hand has my faith in the mental health system been so shaky, especially given the mantra being promoted of Ya'll keep coming back now ya'hear! To treat patients as a failed Stepford Wives assembly plant more suited to the grounds of the former Packard Plant (with apologies to Aaron Foley) rather than as a practical solutions to crippling and deadly mental illnesses.
The Storm Before the Calm
I wake up early anticipating getting my blood test done early only to find out from the woman administering it that my name isn't on the blood withdraw list - according to her, they never ordered one. Even though the staff assured me they would yesterday. My heart races in a panic as I fear this is yet another contrivance to keep me confined here for whatever bullshit conspiracy they're planning. Fortunately rectifying this issue was as simple as contacting one of the nurses who was in fact able to confirm the order and get me started - though it took long enough that I had feared the woman with the blood cart would waltz on out of here before we got the chance. It's particularly frustrating that this would have gone completely unnoticed had I not, in my impatience, approached her directly to withdraw blood from me first. I decided in the meantime that I would try to complete the lack blocks to what was keeping me incarcerated in what was in fact quite literally a minimum-security prison in all but name.
Having mingled with the population for close to 120 hours (minus sleeping, of course) I feel I've come to know them quite well. Yesterday saw many much luckier than me get their discharge papers while a steady trickle of new faces filled in their places, so the staff had been pretty lively and busy with work. I've learned much about the common threats of the patients here - massive substance abuse yet again, dangerously abusive relationships and being so accustomed to a system that simply accepts them only to chew them up and regurgitate them and consume yet again like living cud. Many had visited this particular ward so often it had become a second home, and they were able to navigate their way by second nature.
I also learned that the reassurances from nurses and "virtual" guarantee that I was going to get out of here today wasn't much of a guarantee at all. I've just been told by my psychiatrist (who also determines my discharge) that I'll be kept here for at least one more day, quite possibly two, which will bump me right into that one-week barrier. It's already been too long. What's even more upsetting and frustrating is that this is apparently based on the recommendation of my campus counselor, and I can't help but feel especially betrayed now. So one brief stay has turned into 72 hours into 96 hours into 120 hours, and now at least 144. Nearly a full week of my life stolen from me. Obviously unleashing all my frustration will only further impede my efforts, so I do the only smart thing I can do - keep up the Stepford Wives act. My psychiatrist keeps making a big deal of the anxiety dripping from my voice, a condition I've had a natural tendency towards since well before puberty. It feels like an insurmountable transformation being asked to do, to fundamentally change my very being, a part I have no idea how to control in the slightest. Thanks to that I may be celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving here, maybe my whole damn life. That this one stupid conversational tick is the one damn thing that's separating me from resuming my life again, from meeting and interacting with my friends and family again. I feel mad enough to strongly consider punching the polished-metal mirror that hangs above my government-issue sink.
If there's one thing I've truly made progress on, it's the host of patients who I have turned into "short-term life-long" friends. Now I get to see them discharged one after another as I'm left hanging by myself. In all fairness most were already in here as long or even longer, but some a little shorter. One was discharged for medical reasons, the exact nature of which too disgusting to share here. For whatever reason and however long their stay, I can't help but feel envious. And it's making the halls seem that much lonelier and that much emptier. Once again I am completely alone and isolated while completely surrounded by strangers.
A Page From the Silver Linings Playbook
If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. About an hour after meeting with my assigned psychiatrist, I was pulled aside by one of the nurses. She then told me that I was definitely being discharged tomorrow morning, and asked if I was excited. Of course I told her I was looking forward to it, though at this point now I just feel as if I'm being teased. Nor did I tell her that I was rapidly becoming wary of this hospital's "promises." But still a reason to have hope. It worked for Bradley Cooper's character in Silver Linings Playbook, and that is after all a gorgeous film (and book!)
One of the patients being discharged told me that she took inspiration from my story of studying to be an English teacher, of my adept skill at articulation, of my voracious reading appetite, and of my tireless effort to chronicle my experiences in these words as inspiration to go back to school. This was by default the most flattering thing I experienced that day and a badly needed lift of spirits.
"Max" also took inspiration from my example, but confided in me that he wasn't able to do anything about it. When I asked him why he said that he had no imagination to take advantage of. That was the epiphany moment for me - when I realized how closely education and imagination are intertwined together. He told me he wanted to have a more active imagination, but didn't have the education to realize it. He didn't have the imagination necessary to pursue that education. He was caught in an inevitable Catch-22 cycle. He told me that he was in fact homeless and unable to hold onto a job since his last, working for a party supply company. When working on a set piece a metal girder crashed into the left side of his head and he now as a permanent limp on the entire right side of his body. I gave him the name and address of my lawyer, who happens to specialize in disability cases, and told him to make contact as soon as possible.
Most of the people incarcerated here have some sort of physical malformity (as I previously mentioned) whether in the form of a physical handicap, brain damage or even injury as the result of protracted substance abuse. I suppose my lack of the same is another page I can put into my silver linings playbook.
Talking to "Max" and others did dredge up personal memories, and I confided in "Max" that I wanted to meet my ex again. Maybe get her into counseling help as well. Especially after meeting these patients I am now more convinced than ever that her heavy drinking and other substance abuse is taking her down a path she can't turn back from.
A final page from my personal silver linings playbook, at least for now - I met with one of the social interns brand new to the floor, whom I'll call "Randy." Really nice, stand-up guy. He wanted to have a chat with me to see how I was doing, and it turned into a full-blown conversation of not only the damn stupid drugs that help put me inhere, but of my own hopes, aspirations and dreams of becoming a teacher, a writer, a novelist and even just a reader. When I asked him if my apparent anxieties were what's really keeping me back from being discharged, he said he didn't have the professional knowledge or in-depth look at my case to make that declaration, but he did say that I was amazingly articulate, incredibly sociable and a very outstanding guy, and that in his best opinion and experience sees no reason why I can't have a successful social or even romantic relationship or why I can't even be discharged immediately. Who knows, maybe there's still hope for me yet. Maybe I can finally close this chapter in my silver linings playbook by tomorrow morning at the latest.
That said, I still broke down and, for the first time actually prayed to God to be let out of is miserable prison.
I'm not the only one who found his own silver linings playbook. "Alex" was inspired to write new song lyrics, and I say, his song is pretty rockin'. I even helped him with a lyric choice which went on to inspire the song's title. He thanked me and which was one of the few times - in fact quite possibly the very first time - someone has ever called me that. In the meantime, I painted some watercolors - and continued to work on these words.
A minor setback to my playbook - my ice cream for tonight's lunch had obviously been thawed and re-frozen. On a better note I help "Alex" and "Max" discuss college plans including on how to obtain financial aid. We're joined by a newcomer, a former Marine with PTSD. "Jackie" tells me the cameras that are obviously constantly recording us also have microphones which instantly sends me into paranoia overdrive. Am I not getting discharged, and in fact being actively punished, because of the private conversations I'm having with other patients? For sharing my frustrations with what I'm seeing and recording, and the seemingly constant broken promises? At my subversion to complying with their Stepford Wives-dom? She calms me down by telling me she's joking - that the guards and nurses monitoring the cameras can only read lips instead (It's why she always sits with her back to the camera).
Just to make it clear, she also tells me she's joking again.
In the meantime I think of yet another literary allusion that applies to my situation - Stanley Yalnats of Holes, always digging in eternal punishment for a crime he didn't commit until his sweat finally strikes treasure for the benefit of slave drivers.
We've also received the first female "inmates" actually close to my age. They both look like compete wrecks, shivering and wrapped in thin hospital blankets.
In group today, "Max" shared why he wants to be a lawyer - in addition to trying to repeal Colorado's so-called anti-camping laws (which are designed to disperse the homeless from public spaces) he also wants to clear his dad's name (he never explains the alleged crime, and I never push to ask). "Alex" wants to quit both smoking and LSD, and I tell him he should not only concentrate on that, but audition for one of those reality show talent competitions. I think he's really that good - and perhaps the added layer of his struggles will make him extra compelling.
When watching TBBT I see a commercial for MasterCard Concierge's new "One More Vacation Day is Priceless" ad campaign, and it just dries home how precious the week that was stolen from me was.
And Finally, One Really Did Fly Out of the Cuckoo's Nest
Woke up this morning with one of the few and most prominent dreams I've had during my "stay" here - I dreamed I was constantly trying to find my ex by driving and even biking around a strange hospital campus. Woke up several times and had trouble falling back to sleep each time.
News emerged of the three Denver teens who tried to defect to ISIS, along with a CBS Morning News report of a young man forced to fight for ISIS. Both stories were heartbreaking, and my fellow patients agreed, yelling at the TV over why this awful bullshit is happening in the world. I don't know why it doesn't occur to them to also change the channel.
I talked to one of the new girls - she strikes me as a bit of a pixie-manic, high strung. I talk to her about the ins and outs of being here, but her mind is a bit too wound up to listen. We shared more in group today, including more heavy emotional stuff. "Jackie," "Alex" and "Max" all shared deeper insights into their abusive relationships and spiraling substance abuse.
I'm actually kicked out of a safety plan meeting for having already completed one - not that that's a bad thing.
My observing psychiatrist - the one with the responsibly of determining my discharge - pulls me aside and tells me that I've finally made it. He tells me that I'm a bright young man and that his recommendation is to find the career in exactly what I want - to become a writer or author or to be involved in education in the Language Arts. He says the type of job like what the nurses have - seeing to, checking in and discharging complete strangers day in, day out - would be disastrous to me. He says I should make it a priority to work with my campus counselor and therapist and other mental health professionals to help me achieve my writing and novelist career aspirations, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. In fact, I tell him that his words, his advice, his judgement and his assessment meant the world to me.
I've been looking forward to talking to "Randy" - mostly to practice some techniques I came up with in hopes of showing that I'm ready to be discharged. Obviously, they're not necessary now. He wanted to pull me aside and tells me he's finally ready to talk, but when I tell him I'm in the middle of being discharged he merely shakes my hand and tells me the best of luck.
A quick shower later, and getting back my clothes, and I'm out of there. And that's when the miracles started pouring in. That's when I really start to think that God himself answered my prayers after all.
For starters, after a whole week my phone is still charged with 70% battery remaining. Though they bungled the initial handling, they had at least been smart to turn it off and the battery remained true. I can now call my parents and tell them I'm coming home, although I'm hesitant to tell them I've been in the looney bin for over 140 hours. I maintain the story I fed them on the hospital's phones, that I was working with a friend. My parents are extremely reactionary and outright against many of the aspects of the mental health profession, to the point where my dad thinks PTSD is nothing but made-up fiction for the benefit of government moochers. When given an ultimatum of either seeking outside help or no longer being allowed at a college campus I had previously been enrolled in, my parents forced me to select the latter. I quickly decide this is the wisest decision.
I hurry outside the hospital trying to catch the bus that eventually goes to the parking lot but I just miss it. I still for 20 minutes in the shade of the bus stop - and to my amazement a good friend I happen to know happens to be finished volunteering there. She calls me over and she's kind enough to drive me over to my car. I tell her it's a literal act of God that I met her at that point, and she will always have my eternal thanks. I can't name her name in here, but truly Thank You from the bottom of my heart.
My car is bereft of parking tickets, broken windows or flat tires. I had been assured the cops would actually watch over it for me and it looks like they kept their promise. Only one literal scratch - and it quickly wipes away as it turns out to merely be a broken spider web. I consider this another miracle.
The first thing I do is visit my campus counselor who convinced me to sign up for this imprisonment in the first place, and I break down in tears. He tells me that I should remember that I signed up for it, which is probably one of the harshest things anybody's ever said in my life. But he gives me permission to berate him, and he's still one of the guys who has most ever had my back in my mental health misadventures. I know many of you will say that him saying I only have myself to blame for singing that one week over is unforgivably harsh, but he's been too much of an asset and even friend for me to turn my back on him just for that.
Postscript - Never Again
The next day I visit my campus psychiatrist. Every word she tells me is exactly what I needed to hear that moment, especially when I share how I never thought I could be an artist even though it's one of the few things my mom incessantly encouraged me to get into because my hands are so damn naturally shaky (and a big reason why I refined my writing skills so heavily, so I can at least express my storytelling desires in some way - if I wanted to be anything with any skill I'd be a comic book or anime/manga artist/creator full-stop).
Along the way there I hear Maroon 5's Payphone which was one "our songs" between my ex and I. I instantly break down in tears. The next day I'm driving and I randomly think about my cancer and my chemotherapy, and how reading stupid Young Adult literature and watching stupid Disney Channel and Nickelodeon helped me get through all that, and how a week's worth of valuable reading time was stolen from me, and I break down and weep some more.
After seeing my campus psychiatrist I run into an exhibit on campus presented by the Breaking Silence Coalition Against Inter-Personal Violence. It's a walking tour of vignettes narrated by people telling their own horror stories through iPod recordings. I geek out over the Lego and Hot Wheels strewn about the first exhibit as if pulled from a broken home, but the women running the exhibit tell me photographs are forbidden. My glee and geeking out are replaced by tears as the woman on the iPod takls about her abusive husband grabbing a knife and threatening to pull their unborn daughter right out of the womb, of strangling the family cat and dog to death and hearing the woman's description of how those pets struggled, their faces bug-eyed and begging for an explanation as their lives slowly left their bodies, of how the abusive husband promised everything would be better with their second son only for the abused mother to whisk him and his sister to a shelter where she built a new life as a counselor herself. Of a man who was raped by his own mother and would repress the memory until he was 47. Of a woman who was raped and nearly flunked out of college for it. The very last exhibit was a near-empty room with a mountain bike to represent how the raped woman's repressed memory was triggered by a biking accident. She says on the iPod words of encouragement - three of these words, "Discovery," "Dream" and "Believe" are painted on the walls. I take my tears and use them to underline each word several times. It seemed important to leave a piece of myself behind with this exhibit, and I consider encountering it yet another miracle. The women running the exhibit rush over to me with tissues and it takes me minutes to calm down, even as I'm walking into a meeting with a sympathetic professor (who has also been helping me with my struggles and is an active component of my support system). I tell them the stories narrated on the iPods are heartbreaking beautiful and ask if they're available on the website, which they ensure me are (I highly encourage you to listen to them as well). I also tell them I eagerly want to volunteer for their organization, especially as a writer in some capacity.
For me, and for many people I met, this hospitalization experience was nothing short of nightmarish. What was meant to be a relaxing stay to get me to calm down turned into one of the most distressing, most anxiety-ridden and most helpless moments of my entire life. This experience, this story, is hardly unique. Often passed off as virtual spas for the poor paid for by the taxpayer's dime, they have much closer resemblance and function to minimum-security prisons down to the highly regimented and limited lifestyles possible inside them. The drug Celexa has helped many, but has also condemned many others to similar situations. Hospitalization in a psych ward may be an option for some - most especially, people who are desperately escaping physically abusive relationships or drug problems and simply have no other physical place to turn - but for me and many others, it's far from even being a subpar solution. In fact, if there's one lesson, one sole thing I learned from my experience it's this - if I can help it, when asked if I want to sign myself over for a 72-hour observation period, I have only one response.