What I learned when I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital
In January of 2016, I made the fateful decision of telling my psychiatrist that I wanted to kill myself. I didn’t cry or really express any emotion — I said it to her as if I was bringing up the cold weather outside. I had wanted to die for so long; it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. I almost assumed that everyone felt that way from time to time.
However, before I checked into the hospital, nobody told me what to expect. The entire hospitalization process was a mystery to me. In case any HelloGiggles readers find themselves in this difficult situation, I’m here to tell you what I learned from my week in the mental hospital.
Looking for straight jackets, electroshock therapy, and patients attempting to kill you? You won’t find any. Not in this day and age, at least. Occasional breakdown aside, psych wards are actually pretty peaceful and serene. The doctors aren’t going to beat you into submission. Rather, they’re going to let you get the rest and help you need so that you can go home as soon as possible.
Sure, no one’s forcing you to wake up at 6 a.m.. But if you don’t get up early, you’ll miss group therapy — AKA a chance to get better, AKA a chance to get out of there faster. The rest of the schedule is pretty important too, and some of it’s even fun. One of the highlights of my stay was getting dog piled (pun intended) by puppies on dog therapy day. If you don’t follow the schedule, there isn’t much left to do besides watch TV, call a loved one, or fiddle with your ID bracelet for hours on end.
I probably cried more during that short week than I have in my entire life. I cried all day when I when I was being checked into the hospital, and even more when I had to say goodbye to my mom. I cried myself to sleep that night, wondering how I got myself into this situation. I cried tears of joy when my friend and fellow patient was reunited with her daughter, and I cried tears of joy when I finally got out.
But I think I cried the hardest when my dad came to visit me during my second night there. The moment I saw him sitting among the sea of concerned loved ones, I completely lost it. At first I was embarrassed (I hate crying in front of people) — but when I looked around, I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Contrary to what TV, movies, and my previous paragraph might have you believe, psychiatric hospitals aren’t miserable places. You’ll meet a lot of people who are going through the same things, and you’ll bond over the goofy stuff that happens in the hospital. I have fond memories of teaching a group of 50 year old women how to do the Cupid Shuffle, and getting bombarded with questions about what to do with your arms.
I also remember karaoke night, and slowly realizing that — given the present company — I probably shouldn’t sing Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” I remember walking towards my room for the first time, tears streaming down my face — but actually laughing as someone announced that they were going to start twerking in the hallway. Even though the situation as a whole sucks, there are all kinds of light moments that make things just a little more bearable.
Want to talk to yourself? Pace around the room? Sit in a corner and rock back and forth? Go for it. Anything that helps you cope is welcome. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, you can basically do whatever. I spent a good three hours pacing around the common room, and did anyone say anything? No siree. It’s almost liberating; you can be your full, mentally ill self for a little while — and nobody tells you to stop or calls you crazy.
Would you believe me if I told you that I had dreams of getting my phone back? Or that I actually fantasized about returning to work? Well, it’s all true. Aside from the obvious things like family and friends, you’ll find yourself longing for the little things: eating unhealthy food, watching something on TV besides Maury, etc. Even though you’ll have a bed and a shower, you’ll miss your own bed and shower simply because they’re familiar to you.
When I was in the hospital, it felt like I would never leave — mostly because the staff never actually told me when I was going to leave. I would wake up every day and go to group therapy, waiting for a sign that I was finally getting out of there — and it felt like it never came. Finally, six days into this experience, they told me I was leaving the next day. It was the most amazing feeling in the world.
You may feel like you’ll never get to leave the hospital, but in reality, the average stay is only about one or two weeks. It feels torturous because you’re bored and you miss your loved ones, but it’ll pass eventually.
I hope you’re never in this position — but if you are — I hope you know it’s okay, and I hope this article helps. The idea of getting admitted to a psychiatric hospital may seem scary or depressing, but once you’re actually there, you’ll realize that it’s for the best.
At first, it may feel like the lowest point in your life, but if all goes well, you’ll walk out of there happier and more at peace with yourself than you’ve ever been.
And remember: asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.