As my close friends and family know, I recently spent nineteen days in a psychiatric hospital because the medicine I was on to treat my anxiety, depression, and OCD stopped working. In early March, I slowly fell back into a depressive and unhealthy way of living, which continued until the burden I was carrying became too much for me and I confessed my feelings to my therapist. Worried about my down spiraling mental health, she sent me to my psychiatrist, who immediately sent me to the emergency room. Why?
I was going to kill myself.
The intrusive thought (a thought that I could not control coming into my head and a symptom of my OCD) telling me to commit suicide was worsened by my depression, and I began to convince myself that I was destined to die in a certain way, and at a certain time. I lost sight of what was an intrusive and fake thought and what my non-OCD brain was thinking.
After a day of being kept on the eleventh floor of the emergency unit, a spot opened up at a psychiatric hospital in Westchester, and I was carted there in an ambulance. My first impression of the adolescent psych ward in White Plains was the stench of loneliness and isolation. We really were isolated from the world.
Only our close family was allowed to visit us, and the only form of communication we had was through pay phone-esque phones that we were allowed to dial only at certain times of the day, and only for fifteen minutes at a time. I wasn’t even allowed to call my friends for the first ten days I was there. Going outside was deemed a ‘privilege’ that could be taken away if you behaved out of hand. Examples of ‘behaving out of hand’ were physical contact (whether it be high fiving or hugging), cursing excessively, not going to group therapy, and attacking staff members, which actually happened fairly often.
The first week I was there went pretty smoothly. During certain hours of the day, we were allowed to watch TV and play Mario Kart. The school system they had in place was absolute crap, but at least I could catch up on the work I was missing. The food was as good as you could expect it to be, but my family could visit me and bring food in along with books, puzzles, and other distractions that had to be checked by the nurses before being given to me.
There was a strict routine every day, and we had to stick to it until it became, by the second week I was there, extremely boring. I had run out of things to do. I had run out of books to read, of people to talk to, and I was sick of going to group therapy and doctor appointments every single day.
I missed my friends. My not hospital friends. My hospital friends were amazing, but it’s hard to bond with people when you are constantly being observed and watched. We weren’t even allowed to stay in touch with each other after discharge. Phone numbers and social media accounts were passed around like drugs being dealt. My closest friend from the hospital (with whom I still keep in touch with) says that her biggest fear is, in fact, returning to the hospital.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Most kids who get sent to the hospital are in a life threatening situation, and the hospital merely acts as a quarantine for them while they change meds, learn new coping techniques, and improve their mental health. Sadly, because you aren’t allowed connect with people in the hospital, because hospitals are such a sad and depressing place to be in all day, because I couldn’t play piano, write, draw (no pencils or markers allowed), shower with hot water, hug my friends, because we overheard some of the nurses talk about how much they hated their job, because our punishments for not behaving were not being allowed to go outside, no TV and a strict curfew, because the first time I went outside in ten days felt like a gift, because if you got too close with someone they would put you on Peer Restriction (which meant that you couldn’t even be in the same room as the other person), because we weren’t allowed to be kids, the hospital became a hellhole.
When we were kids and stayed up too late, or gossipped, or were even the least bit rambunctious, we were reprimanded. Because of this, the hospital became seen as a punishment for our faltering mental health that we were in no way in control of. If felt, to us, unfair. This led to many patients bullsh*tting their way out of the hospital instead of taking time to realize that, yes, our situation is unfair, but that we still have to push through it and put in the work to get better; however, I know for a fact that multiple patients left just as suicidal and drug addicted as they were when they were admitted because they lied to their doctors in order to get discharged sooner.
It wasn’t all negative, though. The hospital provided a safe space to talk about mental health with kids my age and also helped me cope with my disorder and monitor me while I switched medicine. It was where I needed to be at that time, which I understand.
By the end of week two, it was just waiting for me to be discharged. I was going to go to a two-week partial program (which was, actually, amazing), which meant that I would go to the hospital for group therapy during the day and sleep at my own house at night in order to slowly integrate back into everyday life. I was just waiting for a slot to open up. This was the most painful part of my time in the hospital. When I finally stepped out of the hospital after nineteen days of recuperation, I felt free, as if I had gotten out of prison. On the drive home I collected my phone in my hands and hastily reached out to everyone I could think of. The best part of my discharge, though, was arriving home.
My dogs ran to the door and jumped into my arms, their time of wondering if I would ever come home again finally complete. The house smelled fresh and clean. I took a shower with warm water (and locked the door), I used an electric toothbrush, I laid in my bed, I saw my brother for the first time in three weeks, my every move wasn’t being watched, and my family was whole again.
Sometimes I still miss the hospital. I miss the simplicity of it, how easy it was to just coast along and not have to worry about the outside world, to not know what was going on outside of the small walls of a stretch of hallway. I miss the community that was there, to not have to worry about making friends because everyone there had awful social skills and, you know, we all kinda had to be nice to each other. I miss some of the staff members, how much they cared about me and how much I cared about them. I miss not being a part of society.
This is the beauty, however, of life. To be able to worry about things, to be able to care about people, and to touch them; to be able to go outside by yourself, to have bad days but still get back up; to be able to live freely yet not carefree, to be a part of the world around you and create a rippling butterfly effect with every action you make. I miss the hospital only when I feel like life is too much, but I have come to realize that that is what life is about. My life has meaning and purpose and I am in control of that – it just took me a nineteen-day break from reality to realize that.