Sometimes, when babies are screaming, Amor’s asking me questions, Mica’s not focusing on her never-ending homework, cats are scratching at the door, the phone’s ringing off the hook, Grandma’s ringing the doorbell because she can’t get her key to work, the TVs blaring in the background and I’m trying so hard to focus and I just can’t, I say, “I feel like I’m in a nut house.”
But, truth be told, it’s nothing like a nut house. I know because I’ve actually been in one.
In 2005, I was finally officially diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder after having struggled with it (unknowingly) for almost ten years. It took another two years of trying different medications and combinations of medications to find the right combo for me. During that time, I had great insurance but later fell on harder times. I had also gone through a pregnancy, had a daughter and my medical needs had changed over time.
In the beginning of 2012, I was struggling financially and emotionally. I was still grief stricken over the death of my bipolar father. There were other factors too that caused some problems. Long story short, I stopped taking my meds (for various stupid reasons, one of which was financial) and started self-medicating with alcohol. I ended up in the ICU for 3 ½ days and then it was off to the loony bin for what they said would be an indeterminate amount of time, but a minimum of 3 days. It was a short-term facility where they would treat patients and then determine a long-term plan which, for most patients, meant transferring to a longer-term inpatient facility.
Not for me! I wanted to go home.
I was open to the idea of going there, though I didn’t really have a choice. The hospital would get a court order if I didn’t go voluntarily. I was fine with all the rules, except the one about not letting me bring stuffed animals. I wanted my bee pillow pet (some other time, maybe I’d do a post about the significance of this but for now, just know that the bee pillow is very significant). I tried to smuggle a mini-bee that my daughter had given me but they found that in my pocket during the strip search and it was confiscated.
The psychiatrists there asked a lot of questions but never seemed to listen when I would respond. I also saw a lot of psychiatrists, rarely the same one twice. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I just needed to tell them what I they wanted to hear if I ever wanted to see the outside again. I missed my 3-year-old daughter. I was depressed, lonely, cold and terrified. It didn’t help that they assigned me to the wrong wing of the facility. I was never an alcoholic, though I had ended up there due to misusing the substance. So based off assumption, they assigned me to the east wing with the detoxing heroin addicts and meth heads who had the shakes, missing teeth, and uncontrollable fits of anger. The staff knew many of them well, calling them repeat offenders. The patients would complain about not getting some kind of specific medication (presumably to “take the edge off”) and would irately demand to speak to a doctor. The staff would just openly warn them that next time they would be visiting a morgue. Yes, straitjackets were used.
There was a strict schedule. They had “group” in 1 ½ hour intervals with 15 minutes in between when you could return to your room to reflect. Or you could wait in line to make a phone call which would enviably result in waiting in line for 15 minutes for the junkie ahead of you to get done with his instructions to his significant other on how to smuggle contraband into the facility and then hang up the phone and curse when it went dead because they would cut the line when it was time for the next group.
These groups were supposed to be optional. But “if you do not go, your doctor will know,” and of course, convincing your doctor that you were well would determine when you were released. There were cameras everywhere so I just knew mine was watching. Interestingly, I never met “my” doctor (the doctor whose name was on my wrist band) until the day I was actually released when I had to prove to him I was ready to go home.
To say groups were boring is an understatement. Mind-numbing, maybe that term does it some justice.
After the first day, I was delighted that they had allowed my wonderful husband (who visited me at every available opportunity) to leave some crayons, a magazine, a snuggy and my coat, which I used at night to supplement the paper-thin blanket they had provided. My bed was directly beside a freezing cold, snowy window.
I had found some coloring sheets in the entertainment room beside the 1,000 piece puzzle with missing pieces. There was one guy whose mission it was to put that thing together. I wondered if they were doing some kind of psychological experiment to see how long it took him to go crazy. But wait, he was an in-patient, so he was already crazy, right? Maybe they were watching me to see how I would react. One crazy watching another crazy.
But back to group, there was one where a chipper, young blond-headed little therapist talked for over an hour about the definition of good-self esteem. I wondered what her credentials were. She couldn’t have been over 20 years old. Both her voice and lingo sounded like a little girl’s. Everyone just looked at her when she concluded her session. “Any questions?” Blank stares.
In yet in another group, we were divided by gender. The ladies were taken to another room and given some “guidance” cards. I’m not sure what tarot cards look like, as I’m not into that sort of thing, but from what I understand, they were similar. Each card had some sort of ethereal figure on it and we were supposed to state what the card we were given meant to us. Then others were encouraged to comment. The group leader struggled to keep it clean as those ladies seemed to always bring it around to some sort of raunchy, sexual context. “Doesn’t it make you think of strength?” she’d encourage, then some comment would be made about how, “yeah, he’d be strong in bed.”
The group all the others seemed to enjoy the most was led by an AA speaker. He did have a compelling story. One with which many of the patients could relate. At the end of the group, however, they went around the room stating their names and identifying themselves as alcoholic. I was one of the last ones to speak. I felt the pressure but I just couldn’t go along with calling myself an alcoholic. When it came my turn and I said, “My name is Michelle, and I have bipolar disorder,” I got glares. Clearly I was in denial. I hoped my doctor wasn’t watching at that moment.
Arts and crafts was, um, fun (relatively speaking, I guess)? They gave us heart stickers and red construction paper. Oh how I longed to be in the West wing with the depressed patients. At least they got to use glue and colored pencils during their arts and crafts therapy. On the East side, we couldn’t be trusted to not sniff or stab.
I had been put on an antipsychotic drug called Risperdal my first night there. It did not agree with me. My legs would twitch so hard at night that I would kick myself awake as soon as I’d fall asleep. The second day I was on it, I fainted in the breakfast line. Apparently, this is nothing unusual to the staff. I woke up in a wheel chair in group. I was told it would take several days for the doctors to change the script so I just had to take it. One of the conditions of my release was that I’d get a prescription filled within 24 hours of my release. At the pharmacy I learned the stuff was more expensive than my house payment! Did they miss the part where I told them over and over again that I was having financial problems?
Thankfully, another condition of my release was that I’d see my regular psychiatrist right away. Usually, there’s a long wait time between my first call until actual appointment time. I guess a call from crazy town bumps you up on the list because I was seen right away and put on a better, more cost-efficient regimen.
In total, I was only at the psychiatric facility for 3 ½ days. It was the longest 3 ½ days of my life.
When I got home, I cuddled my baby in my arms. I was grateful to be alive. The entire experience was life altering and I will write about the serious side of this one day when I’m comfortable with that. But for now, enough time has past for me to look back and see the comical side of it all.
So, even though I compare it to a mad house sometimes, I know that I actually live in a house full of love. And I am still so grateful to be alive today.
NOTE: The use of the terms “crazy” “nuts” and “loony” are descriptive of my personal experience. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from seeking treatment. I just hope they have a better experience than mine!
Double Talk Quote: “That’s nice mommy. When are you coming home?” Mica to me when I gave her a picture I had colored during group.
Verse: …Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Word that has Lost its meaning: sanity (I’ve learned that word is relative)
Relatable Lyrics: They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa! by The Napoleon XIV – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Fn36l_z3WY
January 26, 2015 (6 -7 months old)