This is the next segment chronicling my time in the psych hospital – “Day 2.”
*Names have been changed to protect patient’s identities
Wednesday, July 27
I got woken up in the middle of the night by a nurse I had never seen before, telling me I needed to move to another room. Um… what? Is it really that urgent at 2am for me to move to another room? Apparently it was – I was moved to another pod in the same unit, just on the opposite side of the central nurses’ desk. It wasn’t hard to move, all of my belongings were in a small laundry basket they provided to all the patients, so I picked it up and moved to my new room. It just so happened that this new room already had one occupant, but it ended up being *Lindsey so that wasn’t too bad, she was one of the friendliest people I had met there so far. I asked the nurse why they were moving me and she told me that Lindsey did not do well being alone in a room. I remember that sinking feeling of “this is not real, I’m in a dream,” coming back, but I tried to ignore it. It just didn’t make sense to me, and anytime I couldn’t make sense of something, I assumed it was because I was in a dream-like place and things didn’t always have to make sense. In dreams, anything can happen and you never question it, you just go along with it.
I guess I had slept for a few more hours when the same nurse came into the room again, I had no idea what time it was. The only clock in our entire unit was by the nurse’s desk and normally I would have just checked my phone to see what time it was, but obviously I couldn’t do that. The nurse told me she was just there to take my temperature and blood pressure, pretty standard procedure as I was to figure out. Why they have to take your vitals at 5 in the morning instead of 2 in the afternoon is beyond me, but that’s how it worked.
Every morning there was a 6:30am smoke break (I never went to those, too early) and then 7:00 was breakfast. Breakfast was usually pretty good – they always had cereal in case you didn’t like whatever else they were serving. After breakfast there was a little bit of time for people to take showers if they wanted to or do laundry if they needed to.
And then there was a lot of sitting around time. They had a schedule of the day posted by the nurse’s station. I knew around 10am or so there was supposed to be an activity of some sort. Some days it was just that, an activity, and other days it was a group therapy session. Patients were never required to go to any activities, but they were encouraged. I remember Lindsey telling me early on that you should go to all the meetings and activities because that helped you get out faster. “Getting out” was a big topic of discussion among the patients. It was always, “I think they’re gonna let me go home tomorrow” or “I can’t wait to get out of here, this place is driving me crazy!” It was a bit unnerving to not know exactly how long you were going to have to stay, and that decision seemed to be determined by the doctors and case workers. If they deemed that you were doing well and being social and “trying,” then it was likely that they would let you out sooner. If you stayed cooped up in your room and did nothing, it was likely they would make you stay longer. All the patients caught on pretty quick to this, and I realized that most of the patients were not in there voluntarily like I was. They had been admitted due to situations like attempted suicide or drug abuse.
Our activity for the morning happened to be games – Louis, one of the hospital workers, starts rounding up people who are interested in playing BINGO. Lindsey and Jake were going to play, so I decided I would play too. Not to mention, Louis gave out prizes to the winners – candy bars – something that was not readily available at the hospital, so indeed they were very valuable. Louis turns up some music on his iPhone (the workers were allowed to have their phones) and starts calling out the numbers. There were at least 15 or 20 of us playing BINGO in one of the living rooms of a pod, it was crowded. But everyone was having fun and some people were singing along to the music. We played about 3 rounds, the last round being a blackout round (of course!) and the candy was handed out to the winners. It was usually just a few of those “fun size” candy bars, I think the blackout winner got to pick a full size candy bar. One thing that struck me was that all of the winners were eager to share their candy with others around them. Lindsey had won, and she gave me some of her peanut M&Ms. Other people would give away one of their candy bars to a friend. And it was no big deal – they weren’t worried that they would have less, they were excited to share and make someone else’s day. It’s like, we all knew that none of us had very much, so it was easy to want to share what you had with others. Once you know what it’s like to have almost nothing, you are more ready to part with anything you do get. This was surprising, and yet a very neat thing to experience. Definitely felt some spiritual undertones there!
That afternoon, I finally got to meet with the psychiatrist. During the evaluation, he’s asking me questions, and I remember thinking that I just didn’t have the words to accurately describe what I was feeling. The confusion about reality continued to come and go in waves. The overwhelming anxiety would sometimes be relatively under control, and other times it was so bad it hurt my whole body. But all I could really get across was, “I’m just really anxious…” It sounded so trivial coming out of my mouth. Those words just did not describe my experience. This was so frustrating throughout my whole stay. Even now as I’m writing it, I still lack the words to adequately describe what the feeling was like, and it’s still frustrating! The doctor prescribed me Xanax and also put me on 50 mg of Zoloft.
Now, I’m not sure if this is common knowledge, but among the many things you are not allowed to have or do, you are also not allowed to be in charge of your own medications in the psych hospital, and (honestly) for good reason! So, they had times during the day where the nurse would be “in” and we would all line up one by one to get our pills and a small cup of water to take them. Almost everyone was taking some sort of medication, sometimes you had to wait in line for a long time until it was your turn. Although I definitely understand why they couldn’t just give each of us a pack of medicine to take to our rooms, it was just one more thing that kind of made you feel like a child. Other things of this nature would include having to line up single file to go everywhere, not having your phone, only being allowed to take showers or watch t.v. at certain times, having specific times you could use the community phone (since you didn’t have your own phone)… basically the freedom of choice was very limited.
I know Dean called me at some point during “phone time.” He was going to get to come visit me later that afternoon. Normally, patients only get to have visitors for an hour, twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays. However, Dean really pushed for them to allow me to have visitors every day since I had a (not even) 1 month old child. It seems so sad to me that patients can only see their friends and family for one hour, two times a week. That is such a short amount of time! I understand part of the healing may come from the isolation and removal from your reality, but it’s still very lonely. I was thankful to get to see Dean when he came. His mom and Calvin got to come too. I remember I got to go through the infamous locked doors with a sign on them that said “No Admittance Past This Point,” so that I was in the hallway close to the lobby (most patients don’t have access to this part of the building, once you’re locked up you never see the front of the building again till you leave!) We got to hang out in the room I had had my initial consultation in (also the room I had to strip down naked in!) I don’t remember a lot of what we talked about. I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law said I looked like I was doing better, and I remember that I really wanted them to believe that I was getting better, whether it was true or not. I know I was afraid to hold Calvin, I didn’t really want to. He was a big reason I felt like I was anxious all the time, not to mention I think I was already feeling some guilt about not being there for him. I know I still wasn’t sure whether to believe this was really happening, or again, if this was some weird dream or reality I was stuck in.
The hour went by quickly, and I was escorted back past those locked doors to my unit. The rest of the afternoon I just kind of hung out with Lindsey and Jake, we watched some t.v., maybe played a few games, trying to just pass the time. After dinner we had our last smoke break of the day, by this time it was already dark outside. The nurse on duty happened to be the same one we had had the day before (the one who shared about God taking care of us), so I was happy about that. A lot of casual conversation was going on, but all of a sudden, one of the patients who had hardly said a word the entire time I’d been there, started talking. His name was Anthony, he had dark hair and a couple tattoos on his arms. I had never seen him with a smile, he always seemed angry and brooding, so, of course, I was kind of afraid of him. He had been in my pod before I was moved to be roommates with Lindsey. All of the other smoke breaks, Anthony would just sit quietly and smoke his cigarette, and then go back inside. But this time, he just started sharing – sharing with us why he was in there, what had happened to him, why he was so depressed. His wife had left him and taken their kids with her, and from what I understood, it didn’t seem like he would get to see them very much, or ever again. His story unfolded over what was probably 15 or 20 minutes, and we all just listened. I remember being so surprised, and at the same time feeling a bit humbled. Here was this person who was hurting just like me, and I had been afraid of him. I had mistaken his depression for meanness, but it was not like that at all. He was genuinely suffering, and some days just had a hard time getting out of bed. This was one of my first big eye-opening moments when I realized I was not that different from all the other “crazy” people in here – we were much more alike than I had thought.