I was involuntarily held at mental hospitals twice in the span of four months. Both times qualified as psychotic (manic) episodes. The latter episode was complicated by the fact that I had decided to take myself off of my mood stabilizer, Lamictal — medication I had taken for 10 years without good effects. Being on that drug was like living with untreated bipolar disorder.
I have a 29-minute-long read written on my first stay, obviously created in a still-manic frenzy. I shall spare you that one and keep it as a draft. The worst memories from my stays have been blocked by now, thanks to my increasingly unreliable memory. What I do remember is horrifying enough to make me never want to return.
This is why I find it mystifying when people speak of mental hospitals as if they help people. That was not really my experience. In fact, I felt violated on so many basic human rights levels that I can’t get past that fact alone to see how their idea of “care” helps.
I have PTSD about being restrained and forcibly injected with sedating medications I never consented to. I have PTSD about being placed in four-point restraints for an entire day, unable to move, with my deformed stomach exposed for everyone to see. I was treated like a rabid animal. It was absolute overkill (and these weren’t my first times experiencing such violations).
But maybe they do help more than I’m willing to admit. My second visit resulted in me getting the outpatient treatment I needed to eventually get stable. The Lamictal wasn’t working anymore. The hospital didn’t directly cure that problem, but set me up with resources where I could get that problem taken care of. Unfortunately it took a hospital visit to get to that point of urgency.
I’ve had occasion to review my medical records for a court case, so the bulk of my recollection of what happened now comes from third-party reports of my time there. I was kept at the first hospital for three days after thinking my apartment and body were covered in mold, and for four days the second time after thinking my cousin was going to murder me. I heard the sound of the revolver being loaded in her room. I was apparently having hallucinations, and the doctor noted that I was “responding to internal stimuli.”
Is it possible to have PTSD from reading your own medical records? Because I don’t really like to remember this. This doesn’t even seem like myself reading through it. I’m not this person…descriptions of me running through the hospital halls screaming and trying to escape, violently fighting hospital staff…when what my manager at work always says about me is how calm and collected I am. Who is this person in the medical records?
I don’t recommend making friendships in the mental hospital. I ended up making out with one guy in the first hospital — I also have suspected Borderline Personality Disorder, so this seems like something to check off the list when you’re locked up in a mental institution — and also made friends with a girl more than a decade younger than me. She had been admitted for an Ativan overdose (suspected suicide attempt). She worked at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, and prior to being in the hospital, I saw her everyday when I ordered my large iced hazelnut coffee. I loved her because she always made the best coffees. So, imagine how I lit up when I saw her as a fellow inmate wandering the halls of the hospital.
“YOOOOOOOOO!!!” she screamed at me.
We remained close even after we were released from the hospital. Hung out everyday. But I was still struggling mentally in the weeks after my stay, and she got scared. She wouldn’t be the first to be scared off by me that year. I moved away and reached out to her some time later saying how I missed her, and she didn’t even have my contact information saved in her phone. She had deleted me. She told me, “we kind of ended things on bad termz.” I had no idea. News to me.
You forget that the people in the hospital are just as sick as you, and cannot be relied upon for any kind of emotional support. I thought I had forged a new human connection, but I was wrong again. She and I shared the same name, and she’s someone I’ll never forget. To her, though, I’m just some batshit crazy lunatic she’s already forgotten. I never expected to be so judged by people who experience the same problems I do.
The pudding. I will never forget the pudding in the second hospital. I can’t get the vanilla Kozy Shack in grocery stores to replicate the experience. The nurses keep track of how much you eat, and unsurprisingly, my records always note how good my appetite is. Fat kid at heart, always n 4 eva. Prior to my stay I hadn’t eaten for three days, so I was probably legit hungry, too. I get like that when I’m manic. Food becomes an annoyance. You’re too busy with your thoughts to be bothered with food. Or restricting food intake becomes a form of self-harm.
For the first time in 10 years I got a chance to see what I’m like unmedicated, and as it turns out, it isn’t pretty. I will never come off my medications again without close doctor supervision. With the exception of that one time in 2016, I’ve been fully med compliant since my diagnosis in 2005. I don’t want to suffer, so I take my meds. It sucks that any semblance of stability I have comes from the four pills I take every night — that I’m so reliant upon these chemicals for my very survival. But I suppose it’s no different than a heart attack survivor using heart medications to survive. My brain just needs a little help to function right.
I hope I never experience hallucinations or psychosis again. It was by far the most terrifying and embarrassing experience of my life. I ran around my old town like a fool obsessively trying to clean my house and car of mold that didn’t exist. Not to mention the absolute waste of money all of that entailed, too. And then when I moved home, I ran around thinking the FBI was after me for imagined crimes, and nearly alienated my family with my extreme thought patterns during this time.
I had tried to voluntarily check myself into the hospital before I was involuntarily admitted, so on some level I knew that’s where I needed to be. I had never experienced something so out of my control as psychosis. I was tortured by shadow figures and thoughts of infestation. I spent the bulk of my days that summer researching exotic illnesses I was convinced I had. For a time I even wondered if I wasn’t schizophrenic instead of bipolar. I know now though that you can experience psychosis in bipolar, it just hadn’t happened to me until that point. That’s when my diagnosis officially became Bipolar I. Mania that requires hospitalization automatically qualifies you for the more severe form of the illness.
My first mania was in 2005 and didn’t require hospitalization, but did result in me dropping out of college temporarily. Looking back at the intervening years, I see a lot of mania during 2008–2009, 2011, and 2014–2016 as well. My life was destroyed in various ways during each of these periods. Lost relationships, evictions, domestic violence, restraining orders, jail stays, bankruptcy…you name it, I’ve probably done it while manic. I just wish so desperately that I could have been stopped before doing that much damage to my life. The sad thing too is that my outpatient psychiatrist noted that I was in an acute manic state after my first hospitalization, but offered me no solution for that. I had to call him in a panic after leaving his office, desperately pleading with him to call something into the pharmacy to help with the paranoia that had taken over my life.
My long and hard journey also can be attributed in part to the fact that I was deathly afraid of taking antipsychotics for about a decade, even though they’re some of the most effective medications for bipolar disorder. My vanity got the best of me — as someone who had been overweight most of her life, then losing 100 pounds, I refused to risk gaining weight from a medication. And that’s a very common side effect of antipsychotics. I finally gave in after my breakdown and tried an antipsychotic named Latuda, and it ended up being a lifesaver for me. Nothing had touched the paranoia before Latuda. I felt so much freer. Unburdened. No longer a prisoner to my thoughts.
My experiences in the mental hospital were negative ones on the whole, but an involuntary hold is a lot different than a voluntary one. If you think the hospital is where you need to be, it probably is and you should go. I just have such a hard time recommending people check themselves in after the abuses I endured in the mental health system. I didn’t feel I was acting that erratically. My bright magenta hair got me typecast a lot, too. Never again. People tend to think you’re crazy when you have that hair color.
I will certainly do my best to never return. That means going to therapy regularly, taking my meds, and keeping up good habits like eating well and sleeping regularly. I have to be ever vigilant, the same way they tell us to be vigilant of our alcoholism in AA. Bipolar could rear its ugly head at any point. To remain healthy we must watch our behaviors and correct them before they become too destructive.
I’m terrified of what will happen when my access to health insurance changes. I’ve been lucky enough to be covered by state programs for awhile now, but it will get dicey when I get private insurance with a deductible and co-pays. Last time I had an HMO, I would have had to pay out of pocket for therapy until hitting my deductible. It just wasn’t financially feasible on a $50K salary. Therapy really isn’t optional, but I love how health insurance companies treat it like it is.
One thing at a time, though. I’ve bounced back from two hospitalizations in a short period and right now I’m just grateful for the stability I’ve achieved since then.