** Trigger warning: psych ward/mental hospital, manic episodes **
** Content warning: cursing and just generally chaotic energy **
I have been admitted to a mental hospital, or psych ward, or whatever, 3 separate times in the past 5 years.
Twice involuntarily and once voluntarily.
The first time was before we knew anything was different about me, I would say “wrong” but that feels… stigma-y.
The whole experience was terrifying and honestly horrific for me.
I melted down in a very public way at my college.
It started with getting really into the Lean In circles’ recruiting efforts.
For those of you who don’t know Lean In circles are groups of support for minority groups.
The concept is pulled directly from Sheryl Sandburg’s book “Lean In”.
So, I got really into that.
Like so into it that I was inviting people personally on Facebook and Facebook kept flagging me thinking I was a bot because I was going so fast.
I thought that was hilarious.
Then I was posting way too much on the Computer Science Facebook group.
People kept trying to talk me down from that, saying stuff about “notification fatigue” and how I was going to get blocked.
I didn’t think I was posting that much… turns out I was losing time.
One day a friend came up to me and was like “I need you to spend the night with me because something bad happened in my life” and I was like “yeah whatever you need”.
Except I was talking way too fast, she probably couldn’t even understand me.
She led me to a car that my favorite professor was driving.
They didn’t take me to her apartment.
They took me to a hospital and insisted I get a psych eval.
They lied to me about my friend’s circumstances in order to trick me into getting an evaluation I didn’t think I needed in the hopes of admitting me to a mental hospital.
This may not seem like a big deal to you but there are a few things to keep in mind about the situation.
I was already paranoid so feeling like my closest friends betrayed me was a devastating blow.
They violated my trust in a fundamental way.
I don’t think the ends justify the means here.
They didn’t tell my husband what they were doing.
I could have gotten admitted to a psych ward without him knowing!
I didn’t let them into the eval room, they were idiots if they thought I trusted them to be there after lying to me in such a huge way.
I called my husband from the eval room and he eventually got there.
I was allowed to leave that night, which I thought meant I was fine.
I learned later I had to sign an AMA (against medical advice) paper that I have no memory of.
The next day I got… shall we say hyper at school and believed that the people who took me to the hospital were in the wrong and got in trouble for it.
And I did the worst thing imaginable.
I outed my friend’s sexual assault story.
Not because I was being malicious.
No, I thought she had been arrested for kidnapping me and therefore would need all female police officers because of her past experiences.
I remember doing that, I also remember thinking it was a totally acceptable thing to do.
So… that awesome woman and I are no longer friends.
She tried a few times but it was too awkward.
I felt a weird mix of angry and guilty for way too long.
Like block her on everything mad.
We both messed up, but her’s was while she was stone cold “sober”.
She knew the implications of what she was doing.
At the school I got an eval from our university mental health peeps.
I had to talk to a psychiatrist.
She wouldn’t let me see the notes she was taking which I thought was quite rude.
Apparently that was something I agreed to in the treatment papers I signed.
I informed her coldly that no one actually reads those and it was ridiculous that I couldn’t see notes about myself.
Of course, that got me nowhere.
Then I had to talk to a nice police officer who didn’t look so nice through my haze of mania and paranoia.
He asked some basic questions and went through what I like to call “the depression checklist”.
How are you feeling?
Any thoughts of hurting yourself or others?
When was the last time you slept?
After answering those questions they let me go.
I assumed, again, that this meant I was fine.
I returned to the common area in the school and proceeded to melt down even more.
I wrote too much on whiteboards and made “announcements” about the current state of affairs as I saw them.
Someone called the police on me.
Not sure who, I will probably never know.
Everyone I asked denied it… but… they already lied to me once so who’s to know.
I learned later that I was so erratic I threatened to kill myself if they didn’t let me go.
I have no memory of this.
I don’t remember ever saying that or having any of those sorts of feelings.
After that everything is sort of a blur but with very distinct points of memory.
There are gaps so it’s very possible that some of my perception was off but here we go.
Riding in the ambulance for what felt like forever to get to the hospital. T
hem demanding I change into a hospital gown.
Them demanding I give blood, even though I gave some the night before during my eval.
Me giving into the blood letting because I had no other choice.
Them not closing the curtains all the way around my bed.
Me informing them that I had no privacy, which was a problem.
Them not caring.
Me informing them that if I was dangerous enough to be there I was probably dangerous enough to need to be tied down.
Them telling me that would violate my rights.
Me telling them that had already happened anyway.
Them coming to take an EKG to make sure my heart was ok.
Them trying to be delicate about putting on the electrodes.
Me flinging open my gown, which I had put on backwards, telling them I had no privacy anyway so they could look at my nice black underwear.
Them being shocked.
Them taking my backpack and not telling me where they put it.
Them putting me in a wheelchair and taking me down to be “processed”.
Me asking where I was going and being told by the not so nice policeman that it didn’t matter.
Me demanding a different, female, police officer because I felt unsafe.
Them telling me there was no one else.
Me telling every nurse I saw along the way that “I hope no one hits you today”.
It didn’t seem like the threat, it probably seemed like to them to me.
Them telling me to take of my clothes for a “body check” and not explaining why that was necessary.
Them handing me a towel to cover my breasts for “modesty”.
Me throwing it on the ground, looking the male nurse in the eye, and saying “you’re going to see it anyway”.
Them being flustered and uncomfortable.
Them doing the check, including moving my underwear around.
Me still not understanding why they were doing it but feeling more violated because of my confusion.
Them putting me into a waiting area.
Me informating a nice nurse I hadn’t eaten since 8am.
Her realizing it was 9pm and rushing to get me some food.
Me “bothering” another patient with my chatter and being told to sit across the room.
Them moving me to the psych ward and processing me while the janitor waxed the floor.
Them having me sign papers I don’t remember signed.
They provided someone to watch me sign them and make sure I understood what they said, so don’t worry.
Them leaving me alone at a table in a mental hospital, no idea where I was, how long I’d be there, what I had just agreed to.
He showed up.
He told me he was a doctor, he was in scrubs so I believed him.
He explained what was happening to me and what I could expect.
He was so kind as he held my hand and told me everything would be ok.
They tore us apart because patients couldn’t touch each other.
He was another patient.
He looked so handsome and convincing in his blue paper scrubs.
He made me feel safe.
I wasn’t safe there.
I know that sounds like straight paranoia but it’s true.
No one can convince me otherwise.
Because that was one of the hospitals they sent people to determine if they were fit to stand trial.
There were violent patients there.
Don’t worry, they were in another part of the hospital called PICU, the patient intensive care unit.
The place I got sent for taking off my shirt in the middle of the room.
It was a whole thing about how we had no privacy in that damned place.
It made sense to me at the time.
They didn’t send the man who kept exposing himself to female patients there.
Because that makes total sense and is not sexist at all.
Here are some of the things I did/ experienced while at the hospital that shall not be named.
Another patient barging in on me in the bathroom, which of course didn’t lock because… reasons.
Another patient threatening the nurses with colored pencils, which we were allowed to have for some reason.
When I informed the nurse of her plans he just shrugged and said she had a right to the pencils.
That was until I handed him a cup full of the pencils that had been sharpened to a fine point without them noticing.
His eyes got wide and the other patient was dragged into PICU the next moment.
I don’t feel bad.
She was dangerous, just like all the other patients.
Later that patient threatened me and was yelling in my face.
I elbowed her to get away from me.
I was put into PICU because I was “violent”.
She got to stay in the regular part of the hospital.
Actions mean more than words.
I was forcibly medicated, a.k.a. Got a needle in my ass after freaking out after realizing I was stuck there.
They wouldn’t let me out no matter what I did.
It was like jail except I didn’t think I did anything wrong to deserve it.
I was potentially dangerous and needed to be kept from the general public.
I didn’t realize they thought the danger was mostly to myself.
I dumped my meds onto the floor because I didn’t understand what they were telling me about them.
Another shot in the ass.
Another patient was so kind to me.
They made sure me and him were never too close to each other.
Turns out hypersexuality is a thing for me.
They made another patient shave her head because her hair was so matted there was no washing it.
A nice tech watched me shave my legs with an electric razor because I felt gross after a week there.
A nice nurse spoke quietly to a man who was dealing with deep depression.
Another patient told me to get away from them because I was giving them a headache.
Another patient gave me some clothes because I had none.
They made me give them back because we weren’t allowed to give each other things.
My husband and mom visited me as often as they could and made sure I was as comfortable as I could be.
My mom brought me origami paper to make paper cranes.
A not so nice tech tried to throw them away behind my back.
I informed him that I may be in a psych ward but I’m not an idiot, I can see him.
He looked chagrined and stopped throwing them away, making me move them to my room.
I learned the video cameras didn’t have sound and started lip syncing my rants to the cameras instead.
Those weren’t cameras.
I got a composition notebook and started scribbling plans and such like… well… a crazy person.
I got the right combination of meds and started to come down.
I went in front of a judge a few times to see if I was still dangerous enough to have to stay.
I finally got released because they couldn’t keep me there any longer.
I wasn’t ok.
I was still pretty up but no longer dangerous.
I got assigned a state psychiatrist and stayed with him for way too long.
I gained weight.
Like very quickly.
The state psychiatrist said “well you won’t’ gain weight eating carrots” when I expressed concern about it.
The state psychiatrist never asked how I was really doing or seemed to care at all.
After months on a waiting list I finally got a private psychiatrist.
She doesn’t take insurance.
It’s a whole thing.
The appointments are expensive but worth it.
She keeps me for lack of a better word, sane.
I was stable for 3 years.
Stable through the rest of grad school.
Stable through starting my new job.
Stable through med changes as we tried to find the right cocktail.
Stable through family stress and holidays.
Not so stable when there was a Hackathon at work after I spent a week on call where I felt ineffective and stressed.
Not so stable at all.
I was so excited.
A chance to work on whatever I wanted and make a difference.
I could do so much in 2 days!
Especially if other people helped.
I’m sure they would want to help.
I had great plans and I’m sure they did too.
We could fix the whole app in 2 days if we all stuck to our specialities and focused.
I insulted your part of the app?
Get over it, we can’t afford to be precious about our stuff.
I’m normally so nice?
Nice means nothing, we’re here to get things done.
It’s not a good idea?
It’s a great idea!
How dare you sir.
I shouldn’t go to work today?
Someone called you?
Tell me now.
Why won’t you tell me?
Why are you acting like this?
This isn’t like last time at all.
I’m totally in control.
I’m sleeping less because it’s a hackathon.
I’m eating less because I’m so busy.
I’m working more because it’s a hackathon.
This is a temporary state.
It won’t be like this forever.
On Monday I’ll go back to work as usual.
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Where did the husband go?
Mom, why are you here again?
You told me you just wanted to see me!
You know how I feel about lying after last time!
Where did the husband go?
Why are there paramedics here?
The nice parametric wants to give me a shot?
I guess that’s fine.
Mom, will you hold me?
I hate needles.
When did we get to the hospital?
I have to put on that gown?
Well, at least it’s a pretty purple color this time.
This feels much different than last time.
How much blood do you need?
Can my mom bring me food?
How much blood?
I want a milkshake.
If I have to stay the night…
If I have to stay the night…
if I have to stay the night…
My mom knows that.
I don’t want my mom to come with me.
It’s too embarrassing.
I get to keep my clothes on for the body check?
Just move them aside so you can check to make sure I’m not hurt anywhere?
No, I hate needs.
No, I don’t want to sign a medical release form for them, I don’t want them to see me like this.
Yeah, I’ll take his call.
Ok, I’ll sign the forms now.
I need better clothes, will you bring me some?
Can you bring me my Get Fuzzy comic book?
Bananagrams, that’d be fun to play with my racing thoughts.
I want to put some on my ID bracelet because fuck this.
The other patients are much nicer here.
Why did I start in PICU?
Of course I tried to escape, this place is horrible!
Her “the more excited I got, the more scared they looked”.
Him “I was so rich, I had…”.
Her “will you dial that phone for me? My hands aren’t working”.
Him “I’m so excited! I get to leave soon, I hate it here”.
Her “where did you get that composition notebook? I need one!”.
Him “where am I. What’s this place called?”.
Nurse “no high fives, people don’t want to be touched”.
Nurse “why do you have all those straws?”.
Nurse “stop talking about that”.
Nurse “that’s not how it works”.
Nurse “I’ll talk to the doctor about you getting to leave”.
Nurse “here are your meds”.
Nurse “today’s the day, time for checkout”.
I was still pretty up when I got out.
I was still up for probably another 2 weeks.
I was still pretty up when I returned to work.
I was still pretty up when I tried to explain to my coworkers what had happened.
I told too many people around the office what had happened.
I wish I hadn’t disclosed so much.
I felt awkward around my coworkers for the first time ever.
Did they stigmatize mental illness?
Did they really understand what had happened and what it meant for me?
Did they still like me?
It all felt like a cluster fuck and I wasn’t sure what the best way to handle it was.
We all started to work from home.
This was really hard for me.
Turns out the part of my job I liked was being around my coworkers in person, not the actual work.
I missed going into an office.
I needed someone sitting close to me to encourage me to be as productive as I normally am.
I started to no work as hard.
Slowly I became so ineffective that literally nothing got done for months.
It’s a testament to software engineering that I wasn’t fired after the first week.
It is so damned hard to fire engineers because we are worth so much.
I was probably in a depressive episode.
When I told me psychiatrist about it she just short of upped one of my meds and called it good.
Don’t get me wrong she’s a good doctor, there really isn’t much else she could have done.
Eventually, I was just logging in and not working at all.
Hiding it from the husband of course.
Eventually I got warnings about not doing work and calling in sick, when I wasn’t really sick.
I quit my job before they could fire me.
I didn’t want to be there anymore and after confessing everything to the husband he agreed that quitting was really the only option.
I was so happy to be rid of the job that was making me so sad.
I needed to get another job though because money.
After several weeks I got another software engineering job at what amounts to a start up.
It was my fatal mistake.
I didn’t want to be a software engineer.
I shouldn’t have tried to force it.
I really should have waited it out for some sort of teaching position, which is what I really wanted to do even if it was quote/unquote wasting my degrees that I worked hard for and suffered so much to finish.
A few weeks in and I was already not ramped up and ineffective.
I wasn’t going to be able to do it and I already hated the job.
I’m starting to lay awake in the morning waiting to get up as not to alarm the husband.
I’m starting to intentionally speak slower because I don’t want the husband to know I’m speaking faster.
Oh no, are my thoughts racing?
Time to talk to the husband per our emergency plan.
I need to call into work.
Here are all my electronics per our emergency plan.
Dear husband you’re being a little harsh and intense.
Dear husband I’m going to email the doctor first and then call and leave our message.
Dear husband, I don’t want you on the call with the doctor, I think it would be bad for me emotionally.
If you’re worried about me missing things just send her an email.
What do you mean per our emergency plan?
That’s not part of the plan.
The goal is to get her all the information, my plan does that and makes me feel better.
Dear husband are you saying that my feelings don’t matter because I’m manic?
Dear husband, I’m going to call my mom, why don’t you go upstairs?
I don’t what you to me around when I call her.
Are you saying you don’t want to climb a single flight of stairs to make me feel better?
Dear husband, whatever you think, that’s what we’ll do.
Are you saying I’m fully manic now?
I think it’s time for me to check into a mental hospital, I can’t be around you anymore nurse Rachete.
Oh, by the way, my mom is coming, she should be here after I’m in the hospital.
Going to a different hospital this time seems like a good idea, the last one was ok but not the best.
Don’t follow me back, I don’t want to be around you right now, you shouldn’t have ever said what you did.
Hours and hours later I was admitted into the mental hospital.
It was a totally different experience going in voluntarily.
I don’t know if it was just my perspective, or the hospital, but the people who worked there seemed to be much nicer.
The doctor listened to me and made solid suggestions, like we were a team.
The nurses trusted me to take my meds and weren’t jerks about it. T
he techs were just… nicer.
Like they weren’t burned out and still liked their jobs.
I met a lot of really cool people there.
The 40s man who wanted to get out of being a software engineer like I did.
When we got out he told me we couldn’t be in contact anymore because it was a condition of his outpatient program.
The 50s woman who was there because she attempted suicide for the 2nd time.
Her husband was a jackass and divorced her as soon as she got out.
We still get lunch occasionally.
The early 20s woman who was previously undiagnosed and was admitted for a bad manic episode.
Her story was so close to time it makes my heart hurt for her.
We still basically high five over text every so often, me checking to make sure she’s still ok, her saying she is.
The mid 20s drug addicts who were there to detox.
One man and one woman.
They educated me a lot on addiction and how it works for them.
The woman and I do the high five over text thing still.
As far as I know she’s still clean and I’m so proud of her.
The 18 year old trans man who had an eating disorder and self harm scars up and down his arms.
I sort of want to cry everytime I see them.
He’s such a kind person.
We text a lot and have hung out a few times since our releases.
He has a nasty habit of texting me appreciative messages that sound like goodbyes but other than that it’s a great relationship.
More of a mentorship than anything else if I’m being honest but totally worth it.
He has a semicolon butterfly tattoo on his forearm and it inspired a whole Instagram account for me.
My butterflies are so damn cute.
But dark, like the butterfly whose wings are made of bright blue bubbles but is holding a pink tipped needle in their “hand”.
Or the one with cross stitches sewn into their own wings.
The mid 20s woman who didn’t think she should actually have her diagnosis but was clearly in the middle of violent mood swings.
She was my roommate and I gave her some of my extra clothes so she would have a bra and not have to wear her one pretty dress all the time.
We connected when we got out on social media.
She blocked me after I didn’t join one of her mass video calls.
It makes me sad because she was an awesome person despite her moodiness.
I was in the hospital, which we started mockingly calling a wellness center, for a week this time.
The time gets shorter every visit.
The discharge process was less stressful because I wasn’t itching to get out and I knew that I was actually stable.
See that’s the thing about a voluntary admittance, the goal is stability not just no longer being dangerous.
The 18 trans man was clearly manic when he was discharged.
He wasn’t a danger to himself or others so they had to let him go.
It makes me so sad.
Dealing with mania in the real world is so hard, especially if you don’t have the right support people in place.
I wish he could have waited until he was stable enough to leave but he didn’t want to be there anymore and they couldn’t make him stay.
When I was released I went home to the husband, who I was still mad at because of the awful way he treated me before.
And here’s the thing.
I was right to be mad.
He treated me like I was being crazy when I wasn’t.
He was scared.
I get it, I really do.
I told him if he ever treated me like that again I wouldn’t be able to forgive him for a long time.
It would be like letting him hit me twice.
He struck the first blow.
It’s on him to never do it again.
And he agreed that he acted out of fear and said things he no longer means.
Because we always mean what we say, we just don’t always mean it for long.
I quit my new Software Engineering job because it was obviously negatively affecting my mental health.
When I started looking for jobs I actually looked for ones I thought I would enjoy.
I decided I didn’t care about not using my degree as expected.
I like teaching people new things.
I like watching a student, at any age, have a lightbulb moment.
I like reinforcing old concepts in order to build towards more complex concepts.
I just… like it.
I especially like specializing tutoring approaches to a particular student who might be struggling.
Everyone deserves to feel accomplished and capable and I love giving that to students.
I recently got a job at an in school tutoring company.
I will start soon and it’s a great program.
They work during the school day with a group of up to 5 kids in order to help them with math.
I’ll be working with middle schoolers and I am pretty damn excited.
I know it will be stressful but I’m hoping it’s a good kind of stress.
I really don’t want to have a manic episode anytime soon but I think I have proven that mania doesn’t care about stuff like that.
It comes up based on so many factors as to be mind boggling.
I just want to be stable enough to avoid hospitals altogether.
Because as comparatively lovely as my last stay in one was, it was still a psych ward.
It’s like bubblegum flavored medicine.
It’s really not that gross but you can still tell it’s medicine.
Medicine you would gladly avoid for the rest of your life.
Checkout out the audio version of this on my Spotify “Podcast”