Fear and loathing in the psych ward.

I started this blog to share my stories and I’ve done that. But even though I’ve committed to sharing my stories in the hope that it helps me and, hopefully, others to heal, I’m still terrified. Stories about my two stays in a psychiatric hospital are frightening to share. When I got home from the first time I was there I sat down and wrote about my experience as a way to make sense of it all. Here’s what I wrote:

My anxiety has been in major overdrive since my marriage of 22 years imploded, just over a year ago. Since then I’ve become a walking, talking self help directory and can talk a very convincing game on mindfulness, yoga, DBT, CBT, mediation, attachment theory, radical self acceptance….you name it, I’ve tried it, read obsessively about it or listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on it. I go to therapy once a week, have been enrolled in an intensive outpatient program at a hospital (twice!), I’m college educated, get paid to do a job I love, have countless supportive friends and family, and, here’s the best part, I’m a yoga and mindfulness teacher  — yet I still think I’m the worst and I still ended up involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital this week.

I won’t dive too deep into the black hole of my separation and pending divorce, except to say that it, like many divorces do, includes infidelity, questionable financial transactions and a generous amount of animosity and lawyers fees.  The whole experience of ending this 25 year old relationship has been the proverbial emotional roller coaster ride and I’ve experienced the highest of highs (i can pile as much crap in my garage as I want now and nobody will yell at me for it….yay!) to the lowest of lows (I’m going to die alone….sigh) and all points in between. A few days ago, I hit one of those lows. 

In hindsight, it wasn’t truly as catastrophic an event as it seemed that day, but when I found out that my soon-to-be-ex husband was backing out of his promise to cover my health insurance and was offering to pay what amounts to less than minimum wage in spousal support, I went OFF THE RAILS. With depression and anxiety being two very large pre-existing conditions, and this being Trump’s America, this was alarming news, to say the least. Anxiety moved into the driver’s seat in my brain and it began yelling that this was THE END OF THE WORLD.

As I have done often over the past several months, I poured myself a very tall glass of wine and paced back and forth in my room, crying and hyperventilating.  Halfway though, I realized that my very tall glass of wine wasn’t going to be nearly enough to get my brain to STFU. So I, very unwisely, grabbed a bottle of Ativan, popped one in my mouth and washed it down with a swig of wine. Soon after, I convinced myself that one measly Ativan, along with my second glass of wine, STILL wasn’t going to be enough to make it through the night without my head exploding. So I popped a few more. I knew it was wrong, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to kill me. My kids were home, I had no thoughts of killing myself. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to feel anything. Not experiencing any serious side effects and still standing a short time later, I thought “why not?” and down went another two pills. That is the last thing I remember.

It turns out that my 18-year old son, concerned about my erratic behavior, called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and sat me down in my kitchen. I’m told, I helpfully offered that I had taken about 5 or 6 Ativans along with half a bottle of wine.  That was just about all they needed to hear and I was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. New to the neighborhood and being a single mom with a extremely un-pedigreed mutt and a slowly dying lawn, on a street lined with perfect-seeming families, living in perfect houses, with perfect lawns and perfect pedigreed dogs, I must have created quite the scene. I try not to make eye contact with any of them nowadays.

My timeline is still a bit fuzzy, but at some point I was informed that I was being transferred– though, nobody would tell me where I was headed. As I was being strapped onto a stretcher, I was told my kids were fine and were being taken care of by their aunt. Two very nice paramedics told me we would reach our destination in about 40 minutes.

I’ll pause the narrative here to say that while I was under the influence of my wine-soaked benzos, I learned that I made dinner for my kids (cheeseburgers) took my dog for a walk in the neighborhood with a friend and had numerous text conversations with varying degrees of coherence. I have not one single recollection of any of it and I cringe when I look at those text messages. I don’t think I need to mention that at least some of those texts were to my husband and they were not kind.

Back to the ambulance. We arrived at what was to be my new home for the next few days and I was whisked into an intake room carrying a plastic bag filled with my clothing and wearing a hospital gown open up the back. Underwire bras are considered dangerous, apparently, so my bra was in my plastic bag.

After what seemed like hours of questions and hundreds of papers to sign, I was escorted down a long hallway and through many locked doorways into the Sequoia Unit. Each door had a sign somewhat inexplicably reading “AWOL risk, think about it.” 

About Sequoia Unit, I can’t stress this enough: it was like every single television show or movie depiction of a psychiatric ward you’ve ever seen. Honest. To. Fucking. God. There were multiple agitated patients pacing up and down the hall and there was indiscriminate screaming coming from several directions — the many nurses seemed unphased by all of it. 

Opposite the nurse’s station was the “activity room” which was filled with about 10 patients either coloring in childrens’ coloring books or watching a television that was locked inside a cabinet with a plexiglass door. Not one of the television viewers appeared to be actually paying attention to what was on the screen and I think they’d all be hard pressed to tell you what they were watching.

I filled out more paperwork and watched as a pretty young Asian girl who looked to be in her mid-twenties started, very nonchalantly, taking off all of her clothes. The nurses screamed at her and rushed to re-dress her. They then turned back to me, took my plastic bag of belongings and handed me a set of blue paper scrubs, yellow socks with grippy rubber bottoms, and my discharge paperwork from the hospital, before walking me to room 108. My bag of belongings, unfortunately, did not contain my contraband underwire bra, so my 50 year old boobs spent the next few days located at stomach level. Let me just say that under no circumstances should 50 year old boobs be unsecured for any significant length of time. It’s not good for me, my boobs or anyone near me or my boobs.

I think we’ll stop here for now and pick this back up.