My time in in-patient care.
By Anna DesLauriers
If you or a loved one has experienced a mental health crisis, you know that getting the help you need can be incredibly difficult. Best case scenario, you find someone who will listen and give you resources. Worst case scenario, the police get involved, and that never goes well. My story is full of difficulties, like many others. For several long days, I felt like I was losing my mind, and didn’t know what to do. Eventually, a good friend took me to a hospital, where I was taken into the psych ward, and had my shoelaces and jewelry taken away. I was very frustrated and scared, and not being rational. I was almost thrown out, without any care, because I wasn’t “calm enough.” After my friend did a lot of talking, they agreed to recommend me to in-patient care, and I was finally set up with some resources.
The days leading up to the hospital visit were the worst days of my life. The memory that stands out the most was when I tried to deposit a check for my boyfriend at his bank. They denied me, because it wasn’t my account. Instead of just leaving, I took the pen cup and threw it on the floor. I shouted and created a scene. I will always remember throwing wide the front doors, storming out, and vowing to get back at them. I know now that this was the day I finally cracked. By the time I got to the hospital, I had been on edge for days. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and I couldn’t control my emotions. I lashed out at everyone because I was so afraid of what was going on in my head. I had spent my life obsessively in control over everything. And I had lost that control. When I finally got the help I needed, it was like someone letting steam out of a pressure cooker.
Just getting the appointment was mired with roadblocks, but actually getting in there once I had the resources created a new host of challenges. I was given a date and time of when I was going to be picked up and transported. I packed a bag, packed my allergy meds, and got ready to leave. The car ride was uneventful, but I will always remember the interior of the case worker’s car. Blankets everywhere, beaded seat covers, and coffee cups littered on the floor. It was a combination of cozy and chaos. We didn’t have music, but our chat carried us on the twenty minute drive. We chatted as if she was just an uber driver taking me to some vacation. There was nothing in her tone of voice to make me nervous, but I still was. At the time, I was so worried about the stigma of in-patient care, and losing my job, that I couldn’t think about what the positive outcomes would be.
The hitch in the journey came when I arrived. They asked to look through my things, which was fine, although it made me anxious for some reason. When they got to my inhaler, they said I wouldn’t be able to take it in because it didn’t have the pharmacy packaging. I went into an instant panic. I’ve had asthma all my life, and it was early summer, when my symptoms tend to be bad. I started sobbing right in the lobby. My inhaler is my crutch, my safety blanket. I couldn’t go for an undetermined amount of time without it. They ended up sending me home to get the packaging I needed, and I was scheduled to come back the next day. The relief I felt when I got home was very short lived, because I had the impending cloud of going right back.
When I arrived the first day, I mostly stayed in my room. The other occupants were mostly middle-aged men, many homeless, and I didn’t know how we were going to get along. I colored and drew a lot that first day, holed up in my empty white room with my trash bag of clothes and a couple personal belongings. The walls were bare and sterile. I hung up my art in an effort to have a bright spot to look towards. But staying alone wasn’t going to help me.
The next morning I decided to go full force into this, since I was there for a reason. I had no problem showering in the communal bathroom, because I was the only girl there at the time. I went out and had a slice of toast for breakfast, and looked around the community room. I saw that everyone was out on the patio, chain smoking cigarettes, and just chatting. They seemed happy and carefree. I decided to go outside and see if I could join in the chat.
That next ten days ended up being the most peaceful time I had had in a very long time. I spent my mornings drinking coffee, my afternoons sitting on the patio, and my nights doing puzzles. When I got out the first puzzle, everyone was just doing their own thing, and I decided to just do mine. After the second night of doing puzzles, I had one man join me. Then another, and another. By the fifth day, I was surrounded by these men that I thought I had nothing in common with, and we were working on an incredibly challenging puzzle of the state of Maine. I remember how we all cheered when I put the last piece in. In the little moments like these, and during our patio chats, I realized that we had a lot more in common than I thought. We all came from different backgrounds, and to them I was a spoiled little girl. I had a boyfriend to call every day during the allowed phone time, he visited twice and took me to the beach, I had nice clothes, and I had a home to go back to when it was over. But once we got beyond that, I learned a lot about these men and where they came from, and how they ended up here. There was a truck driver who loved to read, there was an older man who missed his daughter, there was a scared young boy who missed the bottle, and there was me. There were a few other characters, but they kept mostly to themselves. The time we spent together was priceless, and really changed my outlook on life.
Of course there was also treatment and medications. They sorted that all out for me. The medications went on to change my life in a big way, and these days I’ll tell anyone who listens how important the right medications can be. I proudly take my pills each morning and night, and if anyone asks what is “wrong with me” or what I take, I will always explain. In these talks, I’ve helped others realize that maybe they need treatment as well, or at least that treatments like this can be a positive thing. Ending the stigma has become my part time job.
But I really do think that spending time with people like me is what helped me the most. Before I had gone in, I had never really had any type of mental health issues, and I didn’t know how normal it was. Seeing people from all walks of life struggling, but still finding joy in the little things, has given me a light I carry to this day.
A final note I will end on is a little story from a particularly warm and sunny day. We were all out on the patio, the men smoking their hand-rolled cigarettes. The counselor came out, and we were having a great time. I remember that he was eating a little bag of fritos. The scared boy piped up, which he didn’t often do, and said “do you know those chips burn blue?” Immediately we were all interested, and so the counselor opened the grill, put a chip down, and asked for a light. We all stood around the little grill, watching this chip burn bright blue. It didn’t burn normally, it burned like a little beacon of light. After the fire died down, he took us on a walk around the neighborhood. That day was definitely a bright spot on my time spent away from normal life.
Some days, when things get hard, I wish I could go back for a day. I don’t really need that level of care anymore, but I miss the community and the little moments in the day when we would just have the freedom and safety to be silly. No work, no bills, no pressure. Just (monitored) days, sitting in the sun, watching the clouds go by.
If you or someone you know is in need of this type of care, Opportunity Alliance is incredibly helpful. They were the ones who got me care, and gave me my ride. Their number is 1 (877) 429-6884 and you should never be afraid to ask for help. End the stigma.