So, I went to the hospital twice this weekend. And the second time I decided to stay, and the next morning I decided to leave. All told, it was a horrible, miserable experience that had, if not a happy ending, at least a beneficial ending.
I’ve mentioned before, multiple times, that I’m mentally ill. I’ve got a heavy dose of panic disorder, a moderate case of depression, and a growing, angry case of OCD. (All of these things are diagnosed, by the way. When my OCD literally makes me punch myself in the face, or smash my hand in hopes of breaking it, there’s nothing I find more annoying than picky people who like to keep their desk tidy cheerfully declaring “I’m totally OCD!” Words have meanings.) (Anyway, that’s a tangent.)
Back to the story. On Saturday, I started to have a bit of a breakdown, starting with a panic attack. I get bad panic attacks a lot on Saturdays. One of the really stupid things about panic disorder is that if something is coming up that might spark a panic attack, I’ll get a preemptive panic attack. They’re called “anticipatory attacks”. So, because I find church extremely difficult to handle on Sunday (because of noise and crowds), then I will get anticipatory attacks all day on Saturday.
Similarly, I get anticipatory attacks on Saturday because I’m anticipating my OCD flare ups on Sunday. With my OCD I get something called an “obsessive fixation”, related to my work. For a long time I’ve known that I can’t sit still: I can’t hardly watch TV anymore, or lounge around the house, or sit quietly in a room, because I have an obsessive fixation on working. Consequently, I work usually from the moment I get up in the morning until usually seven o’clock at night, and then I’ll usually go for a drive (because that helps me stave off the obsession), and then I’ll get home and help get the kids in bed, and then I’ll usually eat something or just go to sleep. I purposely don’t allow myself to have any downtime. If I do, my OCD kicks in: that’s the self-harm stuff, like hitting myself in the face, or beating my head with an object, or all the other scary crap that comes with my OCD.
Sidenote: self-harm usually comes in several different flavors: Generally speaking, a teenager cutting themselves is usually of the Borderline Personality Disorder variety. I’m of the OCD variety, where an obsession (like needing to work all the time) can only be relieved by a compulsion (like hurting myself).
Anyway. Back to the hospital. So Saturday, for whatever reason, both the panic disorder and the OCD were raging, much more so than usual. I wish I could point to a single event or a specific trigger to blame it on, but I can’t. So, suffice it to say: I was going crazy. I tried working, and that helped a little (though the panic didn’t help me concentrate), and I tried a long drive (though the driving didn’t help the panic). Eventually, after sitting in my car up in the mountains behind my house, I called my wife and told her I was going to the hospital.
I wasn’t planning on being admitted. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But I knew that if I called my psychiatrist after hours, the voicemail would tell me to contact a Crisis Worker, and those guys are in the ER. So I went.
It took him two hours to see me, during which I punched my leg and the arm of the chair and the wall until my knuckles were raw.
When he finally came in he talked with me for a long time, and he gave me some options, one of which was admittance to the hospital. I turned him down, mainly because my insurance recently changed and I didn’t know what their inpatient mental health coverage was like. He told me I could always come back, or that I could tough it out and wait until Monday and try to see my doctor.
Sunday came, and I was a mess. Usually I can sleep a panic attack off, but this one was bigger than most. I didn’t go to church–I didn’t even want to try under the circumstances, but that left my only option as going for a drive. So I drove, and I ended up in my parents’ city and I stopped and talked to them. And it was while I was there that I decided that I needed to do something drastic. So I went to the ER again.
Psych patients are treated carefully in the ER. They have you change into a hospital gown and they take away all of your stuff (so that you won’t have anything to hurt yourself with). The chair in my room was actually made of some kind of foamy stuff, so hitting it wouldn’t do any good. And it was an “observation room”, one wall is all windows, facing the nurses’ station.
I met with another crisis worker, and she had all my records from the night before, and I was admitted.
Now, let me just say: I had no idea what to expect. To be honest, I had no idea what I wanted them to do. It was more a case of “I’m in over my head, and I’m desperate, and this is my only option.”
But the psych ward was not everything I hoped it would be. Which is not to say it was bad, or that I was mistreated, or anything like that–it was good for what it was. It just wasn’t what I wanted.
First off, they take all your stuff. Then they strip search you, just in case (I know, right?) You’re put in a room that is designed to be as non-conducive to suicide as possible: the doors don’t close; there’s nothing to hang from; even the electrical outlet covers are nailed into the walls, rather than screwed. They thought of everything. And justifiably so, because there were a lot of people in there a lot worse off than me.
The woman in the room next to mine was getting ECT–the modern version of Electro Shock Therapy.
In the morning I went to group meetings, which were probably helpful but seemed horrible. And at my first opportunity, I went to my nurse and said “I’m here voluntarily, and I want to be released.”
That process took about seven more hours, because I still needed to meet with a psychiatrist, a general practioner, a social worker, and a couple more groups.
And you know what? By the time I was released, I was feeling pretty good.
Again, I don’t know why. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the therapy I received in my short 24 hours in the psych ward, or if the severe panic attack had just run its course.
But I’m okay today. I slept alright. I’m back at work. I have a new medicine we’re going to try, and I have a new round of cognitive behavioral therapy sessions scheduled.
As with all of these posts about my mental health, I don’t know how to end this. It’s hard to write a conclusion when I don’t really have a conclusion. So, let me end this way: There’s a charity group (you might have seen it on TV) called Bring Change 2 Mind. It’s all focused on getting people more informed about mental illness. I urge you all, if you’ve made it all the way through my blog post, to do something about it: go make the pledge on their website. It’s not a donation; all it takes is your willingness to agree to some meaningful, worthwhile statements.
Also, many thanks to the people who were thinking and praying for me while I was in the hospital. And even more thanks to the people who were caring for my wife. She has to go through a lot.