I had mentioned I was hospitalized for mental illness in May 2018. I feel odd saying that I’m proud that was my last hospitalization, and that I hope it’s my last. I’ve heard people say things along those lines and while I feel that way to a certain extent, I don’t want to take the hospital off the table as an option. I don’t know what my future holds, and I may need it again. I also don’t want to denigrate it for anyone who needs it.
My first trip to a psych ward was in 2012, during a rough divorce that I never thought would happen. Stressors built up and finally became too much for me to handle when I moved into my own apartment, and I took to alcohol and pills, finally blacking out. I was surprised to come to in a psych ward, and I am very ashamed that I relapsed shortly thereafter (though I later learned that’s common) and ended up there again. After I got out that time, though, I was determined that I had put that shameful history behind me. I hit the road back to work, moved again to a much better apartment with a roommate that was much more affordable for me, and even unexpectedly started dating again. I made some new friends and things seemed to be on such an upward swing. I surely felt my psych ward visits were a thing of the past, and though I even mentioned them as a disclaimer while dating, it was as more of a relic, something I’d had the strength to bounce back from.
Enter 2015, mania, and the introduction into my life of my bipolar disorder diagnosis, something completely unknown to me or diagnosed even during my first visit to a psych ward. I was 35 when I first experienced mania, which is somewhat older to be diagnosed, and looking back I wonder if some of my earlier mood swings and depressive episodes were undetected indicators. I always felt like I felt my emotions more strongly and irrationally than a lot of people did, which is perhaps why I initially ended up in a psych ward for a life experience more stable people could handle. Let’s just say the psych ward became my familiar friend again around the time of my bipolar diagnosis. I actually don’t recall how many times I was hospitalized because it kind of became a blur. Again, I learned that this is not uncommon with this condition. Thank the Lord I had good health insurance and FMLA.
I’ve read and heard about people wondering if and when they should check themselves into a psych ward. I even found myself Googling it a couple of times. I once read somewhere that you’d better be pretty sure if you’re going to a psych ward you’re not taking away a bed away from someone who needs it. And yes, the psych ward can be very expensive, even with insurance. But I’d say? Err on the side of caution. If you are feeling actively suicidal, you should go to the psych ward. They’ll keep you safe. If your case isn’t too extreme, they’ll be the judge of that, and probably let you go in a day or two. But I once had a wise psychiatrist who said you can’t put a price tag on your life.
I think most people would agree, going to a psych ward sucks. You have to wear those awful hospital gowns and have routine blood draws and routine, often bad meals and there’s not much to do (I think Maria Bamford made a joke about all the puzzles that are infuriatingly missing a piece or two). You have to take your medicine with a Dixie cup like a baby while a nurse watches. Probably most irritating to me, a night owl, is that it’s lights out and quiet time around 10 p.m. and they try to shuffle you awake (often with blood draws) around 7 a.m. They take away almost anything you would want as a safety hazard except for paper books and journals. But you know what? Maybe you need it.
I heard another friend say that as much as it sucks, she always looked forward to going to the psych ward, because she knew she was going to get better. I came to feel the same way during that terrible time. Granted, a lot of times it was due to the simple reason that I wasn’t caring for myself very well, and the hospital makes sure you eat, take your medicine, and get some sleep. Sometimes that can be just enough to set you on the right track again, and maybe a re-adjustment in your meds helps do it, too. Maybe I went to the psych ward a couple times more than I needed to. Why make such an unpleasant decision? Because you know you’ll be safe. There are people watching and caring for you. If you are in a position where you worry you may not be safe, then honestly, I think you should err on the side of being in a psych ward if you can.
To address a sticky issue, I do realize checking yourself into a psych ward is a privilege not everyone has. But some people end up there anyway. Sadly, some people end up in jail when they should be in a psych ward instead. If there is any way feasible, the psych ward is the better option. Sometimes when your body gets very sick and it’s an emergency, you need to go to the hospital. When it’s the same situation with your brain, sometimes you need the mental hospital.
Once again, now that I’ve been stabilized and out of hospitals since May 2018 when my bipolar depression came to a head, I’d like to say all those things I originally said in 2012. Oh yeah, there was that time I stayed in a psych ward, but I overcame it. Those days are over. But again, I’d like to leave the psych ward on the table as an option. Granted, it’s one I hope I don’t end up needing again, but if I do, I’ll sure be grateful it’s there, and I won’t see it as a sign of weakness to check in.