That was the beginning of having my world turned upside down for the next couple weeks.
“If you try to leave, you will be arrested.”
“We’re here to make sure you’re safe.”
“Well, yes, we do have to protect ourselves as well . . . If you did choose to leave, and something were to happen . . .”
“My name is Doreen. I’m here to watch you tonight.”
“You look fragile. Why don’t you just have a seat there while I check your things to make sure they’re allowed?”
I was beyond fragile. I was in shock. What have I gotten myself into? Why did I ever say anything at all?
I think the moment you realize you’re locked in a psychiatric hospital is the moment it hits you. It was elusive. It was impossible to see when you’re on the outside. In there, it was inescapable.
It was a reason to live. When you’re told you can’t go anywhere, you (all of a sudden) have a long list of places you’d rather be. You don’t miss people until you can’t see them anymore. You don’t have things you really want to do until you no longer have the ability to do them. It was perspective.
I hadn’t been in there long before I made friends with the other inmates . . . I mean, patients. When you’re locked in an under-staffed for-profit hospital, your MO changes. You know you’re not getting help, so you focus on getting out (and finding what enjoyment you can until that happened).
Some of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve met were in that hospital – all patients. With them, it was okay to say, “I have bipolar II” – many of us in there did. It was also okay to admit why I ended up there.
One thing we were taught there was to process our emotions through gratitude. I listened attentively and participated – anything I could think of that would contribute to an early release. Six months off for good behavior – type thing. All the while thinking it was a load of hooey – nice in theory, didn’t change squat.
At that point, I hadn’t seen my kids in five days. I hadn’t heard their voices. They were just too young to know or understand where mommy was. I asked my husband to bring in pictures of them when he came for visitation. Anything that came in had to be searched before given to us.
I asked for them that night. Too busy, they said. Understandable. I asked for them the next morning. Too busy, they said. Okay . . . I waited a few hours and asked again (surely a fragile mom would be allowed to see her children, right?). Too busy. Deep breath – in and out. Waited a few more hours. Oh, you can’t have them without doctor’s orders. Tears rolled. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I knew it wasn’t true, but they had chosen to keep them from me. Now, six days, I couldn’t take it anymore. I found a doctor, and he began to look for my pictures.
All of the items we weren’t allowed to have were stored in a closet and labeled. No pictures anywhere. They were hidden, and I was broken. Everyone knew the pictures didn’t just disappear. Everyone knew they were choosing to keep them from me. That was just the kind of place this was.
I got out my journal and decided to focus on things I had to be thankful for:
1. That I know how to be kind. (Okay, so this actually wasn’t very kind of me to write down, because it was meant to point out how some people were really good at being unkind. Some folks just weren’t raised right.)
2. That I have a family I love and want to see. (I had a home I wanted to go back to. I even missed doing laundry.)
3. That my family wants to see me. (I got a visitor or two every time there was a visitation. Most people didn’t have anyone come to see them.)
4. That I have a husband who’s willing to fight for me. (I’m married to a man who’s going to ask to speak to a supervisor until he gets the problem solved.)
5. That I won’t be here forever. (Finally found some hope – when you’re at rock bottom all you can do is look up.)
At this point, I was feeling a little better and determined to make it to 10 . . .
6. That I have a comfortable bed to go home to. (Anything other than two inches of newspaper wrapped in vinyl would be a step up.)
7. That Tippy will be happy to see me. (I make sure she’s fed every day. Of course, my dog is going to be happy to see me.)
8. That there’s a hot shower and razor waiting for me. (A button operated the showers. Press the button, and you’d get a few seconds of lukewarm water. There’s no telling how many times I had to push the button just to get their three-in-one shampoo out of my hair. If you wanted to shave at all, you had to wait until a staff member was willing to watch you shave. No, thank you – I’ll just go home Sasquatch.
9. That I was able to get in the gym and play. (They have a gym you could go to if a certain staff person was there and willing to go. I did have a close game of HORSE with a one-armed man, but I managed to pull it out in the end. Such a fun guy – he was also very good at football.)
10. That I have supportive people around me despite where I am. (All of the patients knew what had happened with the pictures. They knew how much it hurt, because they had all had similar experiences. One of the greatest blessings was getting to meet my fellow inmates and share the struggles we go through in and out of that place.
I finished my list and felt better. My pictures were gone, but I’d found other things to focus on. I found my perspective through gratitude. I wouldn’t be in there forever, and I would be able to see my kids in person. That evening we had another group session, and my one-armed friend sat beside me. At groups, we were given worksheets to fill out. Basically saying, “On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel?” My friend leaned over to me: “Can you read this and write my answers for me?”
11. I can read and write.
It’s hard, almost impossible, to find perspective when you’re sliding down the rope. All you feel is the pain of the rope burn. All you can see is the top getting further and further away.
Perspective is found most easily when you’ve reached the end of your rope. And for heaven’s sake – tie a knot on the end of that sucker and hang on, because there is so much to be thankful for.