On August 1st Ientered an inpatient psychiatric facility because on Sept. 31st I had a panic attack which culminated in a plan to take my own life.My mental health has been bad for years but there was a significant event which finally pushed me into the possibility of finally killing myself. I didn’t, ultimately, and when my wife found me the next morning she took me to the emergency room where they treated me and eventually transferred me to the Behavioral Health Unit where I spent the next four days.
I’ve been wanting to write this account since I was discharged, partly as a way of explaining why this blog has been inactive for so long, but also to try and compartmentalize the experience and process what has happened.Since this event my wife and I have begun a divorce, I’ve started taking anti-depressants, and I am in the middle of a complete re-evaluation of my life, my passion, my goals, and what I want my life to be.
What follows is a day by day narration of my time in Unit 400.I have shortened names to protect the privacy of those who were being treated alongside me. And certain details have been left out simply to protect people I love and care for.
I hope my reader does not find this essay as indulgent and sees it for what it is, merely an attempt to chronicle the worst four days of my life, and to try and see how it has changed me.
- My wife holds my hand as the nurse goes through the bag of possessions that I will be “allowed” to have in the facility during my treatment. She’s mad at me, and scared for me, and for herself. The nurse looks through the book and smiles at the Super Mario Book. I’m denied the book about the Greco-Persian War because it “could be upsetting” despite the fact it’s by one of my favorite authors. Once this is done I’m allowed an hour with my wife who sits next to me. I’m crying and I don’t want to do this but it’s already too late. One of the doctor has already checked my body for contraband, looked for any signs of self-harm or drug use.
- Another doctor, a nice man with a thick African accent comes in. He explains how the treatment will work, mostly group therapy exercises and some one-on-one therapy. If they think I am better they will discharge me. I am a voluntary patient, so I can leave at any time, but if I do this it will be “against medical advisement.” This is a fancy way of saying Insurance won’t cover anything.
- I tell him about my panic-attack. About the plan to end my life (I was going to cut my wrists using a knife from the kitchen). He listens quietly. Assures me that they can help me. He leaves. I sit with my wife who remains quiet.
- The nurse finally comes and I start to panic but I stand up and follow her down the hall. I stop at one point and look back to see my wife. She gives me a small wave and I try to smile. We go through security doors and it’s a long hallway to Unit 500.
- I enter the room. It looks like a waiting room in a hospital. There’s a large television set up on the wall. The chairs are made of plastic and filled with concrete so it’s hard to move them (also means it’s hard to throw and attack people if you freak out). There’s a stack of adult coloring books and a bucket of markers in the corner next to some “couches.” There’s a single door which leads to a small, and I mean small, outside patio. And on the wall by the television is a large chalk-board where someone has drawn rainbows, bible verses, crosses, an invader Zim, and best of all a super-trippy looking turtle.
- I’m shown to me room where I see that I have a room-mate There’s a shower room with cold grey tile and blank white walls. We’re given slivers of soap and a single towel to dry off. My room is by a window that’s cold. The nurse tells me the time for group therapy and leaves. The ceiling is three times my height so every sound is amplified.
- I crash on the bed. It’s hard and feels like concrete and the pillows are mostly made of plastic bags. I turn off the light. Lie down. And I cry for a long time.
- There’s a knock on the door and a nurse informs me that it’s time for group therapy. I get up and hold up my pants. We’re not allowed to have shoe-laces or belts because they could be used to hang ourselves. I shuffle to the main-room where people are talking. The crowd’s a mix between young people (early 20s and late teens) and the elderly (early 60s through mid 70s). A woman wearing a nice blouse and a generally cheery disposition announces that group therapy is about to start. I follow her to the room as the rest the group shuffles in. The exercise that night is “Perception of self.” She tells us that the way we build ourselves in our mind is the way we ultimately see how we believe others see us and that we need to see ourselves honestly and love ourselves. We read some poetry, draw self-portraits, talk about our experiences. I try to talk because I know it will show that I want to get better. Because I do.
- Therapy ends. We go back to the main room. I sit at a table and some of the people say hello. The first is an older woman named [MI]. She has psoriasis and talks and talks and talks. The other one is a young woman named [HA]. She’s only eighteen and graduated high school a month ago before she was here. She reads her bible a lot and transcribes passages into her notebook. [JA] is a young guy, probably early 20s, and talks a lot about weed and drugs and keeps his hair up in a bun. [RD] is an older guy, at least 60, with long grey hair and honestly he looks like Charles Manson but he’s really nice. I notice the swastika tattooed on the inside of his elbow and I try to ignore it.
- I get a phone call after dinner, it’s my wife. She sounds really sad, almost crying. She tells me about our cats. Mortimer, the chonky tabby, is sleeping on my side of the bed. Huckleberry and Sonya are at my Mom’s place. She says she misses me. We end the call. In about 15 minutes my mom calls me. She’s crying. Asking me lots of questions. I try to sound strong and fight back the tears. Make lots of jokes. She tells me about reading to her kids at the school where she volenteers. We eventually hang up. I go to my room and cry again.
- I go to bed early. My roommate comes in, his name is [RO]. He’s an old man who mumbles. I try my best to sleep but the bed is uncomfortable. I’m cold. I don’t have ear-plugs. [RO] begins to moan in his sleep. This will eventually become cryng and screaming in his sleep. The nurse knocks on the door every few hours to check on us. I spend most of the night crying wishing I was home and holding my wife and my dogs.
- Today is my first full day. When I enter the main room I tell the RN about my roommate and ask if I can change rooms, I’m told no. I grab a cup of water and sit in the room and start to color from one of the books. I color everyday after this. [HA] the young teenager sits next me and transcribes from her bible. She says she wishes we could have worship everyday. [MI] sits next to me and tells me that she’s written a poem about and would like to read it. It’s long and ramble and all about god and Jesus. I tell her thank you and keep coloring my deer-thing.
- We have breakfast. I sit with [HA] and [JA]. Breakfast is eggs and bacon and cereal. We’re not allowed knives so we’re unable to spread the butter and jelly onto our biscuits. We’re allowed coffee and [JA] puts close to 30 packets. We’re not allowed to drink caffeine. We have to leave the unit and return the unit in a line like grade school. An RN takes us back and forth.
- After group therapy we take our medication and I get a call from my wife and my mom. My wife is quiet on the phone and mostly talks about the cats, Mortimer misses me and sits on my side of the bed all day. Mom tries her best not to cry and tells me she’s absolutely going to be there today. I hang up and cry and go to my room and cry some more.
- I begin a book, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan. The nurses thought tis would be uplifting rather than the “depressing” book about the Persian war. It’s not a bad book, but [MI] interrupts me a lot telling me about her fiancé and how she’s going to be discharged soon and about her sister-in-law who doesn’t like her and after a while I begin to get frustrated and stick to coloring.
- We have group activities and a nice man called Jimbeau teaches us about handling problems step-by-step. It’s difficult mostly because some of the patients are older have been heavy users so they bumble about. We get led back to the unit.
- [JA] gets the remote and changes the channel to a music-rap station. I bob my head to some Kendrick Lamarr and he and some people laugh at me but I don’t care. I like it. They give me the nickname “Baby.” It’s a term of endearment believe it or not.
- A woman enters the unit, she’s in her late sixties with grey hair and she looks really bad. She shuffles about. Can’t talk. A beadle of drool hangs from her lower lip. A nurse has to accompany her everywhere.
- [HA] offers me a magnate for my book. It’s a little cross that seals on either side of the page.
- I hear a loud scream coming from beghind the nurses’s desk. [JA] informs me that it’s coming from Unit 500, the unit right next to ours. That’s the unit for the psychotics. The screaming gets a bit louder. [JA] tells me a story about how he was in there briefly and there was one woman who would laugh while she drew circles on her face with a sharpie.
- Visiting hours come. My mom and my wife enter the room and I can’t believe how happy I am to see them. I show them the pages I’m coloring. I show them some of the people I’ve met. Mostly though I sit with them both on either side of me, holding their hands. I cry a little bit. The hour passes by and I have to watch them leave. The unit feels so small.
- That afternoon we have “recreation” period. The RN leads us down the hall to Jimbeaux. We can read books that are mostly falling apart or else untouched. There’s ping-pong. Some of the older ladies paint crosses. I ask for a pencil and some paper to draw. I’m only allowed to have a single pencil. If I need it sharpened I have to ask Jimbeaux. The hour passes by so quickly and soon enough we’re back in the unit.
- We’re told to pick out a movie. [JA] and [KA] one of the new people wants to watch Grumpier Old Men and I’m down but [MI] asks for X-Men First Class. I’ve never seen it before so I vote for that. [JA] tells me he’s watched it almost every night since he’s been here. The movie is great, but I realize now my memory of this film will be watching it in a mental hospital.
- I take a shower. Go to bed. [RO] cries in his sleep before he starts to scream.
- [HA] is sitting by herself reading her bible. I sit next to her and start to read about how Nintendo began its launch of the Super Nintendo System. [MI] sits next to us and [HA] sighs. We listen patiently for a while but then I ask politely her if she could color or read a book since it’s so early. She looks sad and apologizes and goes over to somebody else who’s just woken up. [HA] and I agree she’s nice, just a bit much. Everybody drinks coffee and waits for group therapy. Somebody breaks out Uno.
- [BA] falls in the early morning and we notice it before the nurses do.
- My wife calls me and I talk to her. I mostly just ask her questions. She’s really quiet. Tells me about the cats and her job. After that Mom calls. Tells me Dad’s doing okay, just worried. My sister is worried sick about me and I feel like shit. She says she’ll see me later.
- It’s Saturday so the staff is short and there’s not a lot going on. We watch T.V., mostly music, play Uno, wait for group therapy, read.
- Group therapy happens and we’re told to talk about what we’re looking forward to. The person leading the group is a different person. They’re always a different therapist with a different exercise. This woman has curly hair and wears a jungle print on her blouse. I tell her I can’t wait to see my dogs and get back to my job. [JA] says he can’t wait to get out. When the therapist asks how he knows he’s going to be released [JA] mentions he’s been lying to the doctors. He thought group was confidential. When she tells him she’s required to tell the doctor [JA] freaks out. After group he starts to cry. We all try to comfort him but he gets up and leaves. One of the psychotics from Unit 400 screams. Then we hear a loud series oft huds from our wing and screams. The RN’s go to the hallway where our bedrooms are. [JA] comes back after a while. He tried to kill himself.
- We make small-talk about what would happen if the people from Unit 500 burst through the door. We all suspect we’d be murdered horribly.
- Visiting Hours happen. My wife looks really sad. Mom looks like she’s trying not to be. My wife is quiet and I ask mom if she can give us a few minutes. I ask my wife what’s wrong. She tells me something, and at that moment our marriage is over, I just pretend like it isn’t. After that we sit together and talk until it’s time for her to leave.
- That afternoon a new woman comes in, she’s my mom’s age and she’s a mother of a special-needs child. She’s sweet and kicks my ass at Uno.
- I notice that whenever I take a shower that, apart from the near lack of privacy and the freezing cold tiles, the big issue is the fact that the faucet runs out of hot water after a good five minutes, and water sprays over the toilet seat. I use the toilet paper as best I can to clean it up but it doesn’t do any good.
- Mom puts my sister and Dad on the phone when she calls me that night. Dad is sweet and hides whatever fear he has. Makes a lot of teasing jokes and says he loves me. My sister is fun, but I can tell she’s crying and terrified. I tell her some fun stories and she tells me about work. I promise her we’ll play Borderlands soon.
- My roommate is quiet for some of the night, but the bed still feels like concrete and the pillows still crinkle as I try to sleep. I don’t dream, and I don’t cry either.
- [HA] and I have begun a list of things we can’t wait to have back in our lives once we get out. She misses butter knives for spreading jelly. I miss my belt. Real shoes would be nice too. She misses her bra. I miss my Keurig. She misses her dad. I miss my dog Huckleberry. And I miss the wind. And I miss the sound of trees. And I miss feeling the real feeling of space.
- There’s a new guy on the unit, his name is [LU] and he’s a body-builder and former prison security guard. He tells a story about killing an inmate several times, goes into how he lost control and cut upon this guys guts and how he doesn’t regret it.
- [JA] talks to some of the smokers about the nicotine patch they offer. Nobody’s allowed to smoke, but smokers are allowed one piece of nicotine patch a day. [JA] tells the group that when it’s run it’s course you can rip it off, chew it, and it will release one last burst of nictine
- The nurses inform me that I might not be discharged until Tuesday instead of Monday and that it might even be Wednesday. I start to freak out.
- This day is mostly reserved for Uno and we wind up playing a lot of it. Since most of the doctors are gone and its Sunday there isn’t the same number of mandatory group therapy but there is a spiritual service for those who want it. I don’t. I just pull the Aliphant from the Tolkien coloring book and start to fill in the scales on its armor.
- Visiting hour is better today. Mom tells me about reading to her kids. Edith talks about Huckleberry and Mortimer. They both can’t wait for me to leave. I show them my coloring. When they leave [LU] asks if the younger woman was my wife. When I say yes he says, “Damn, you’re a lucky man.”
- I finish the book about Super Mario that night and move onto the Console Wars. [MI] is driving everyone nuts. [JA] starts to make a kind of mooing noise whenever she walks by. [HA] tells him to stop it. I just stick to coloring.
- [BA] isn’t getting better. The spit from her lower lip is starting to stain her scrubs. It’s always dangling from her lip and when she tries to talk it just wobbles. She falls down again but this time her nurse is able to help her.
- On the way back from dinner we run into the kids from Unit 300. I didn’t know there were children housed in the facility. One of them looks like a little version of me and he’s wearing a sick-ass Batman shirt.
- The doctors inform me after group therapy that I’ll be leaving today. I try not to get too hopeful.
- There’s a fight right before group therapy. [MI] was trying to read one of her poems to a patient and [NI] one of the older ladies didn’t like it and started yelling at her. It spills over into group therapy and I sit between them while they argue. Dr. [S] patiently calms them down and group resumes.
- My mom and my wife arrive at vistor hours. I’m actually getting excited and they’re visibaly happy too. Before they leave I look up at the chalkboard and notice an empty space. I grab a piece of pink chalk and reach up for it drawing a little cartoon head. I make a word bubble and inside I write “Love yourself…Yo.” I feel happy and satisfied with it and return to them both. Mom tells me, while I was drawing, everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and watched me draw.
- [HA] and [JA] offer me their contact information. We’re not supposed to do this for valid psychological and health reasons but nobody really cares. I lose it later and feel awful.
- The doctors confirm that I’ll be released after lunch. It’s actually in the afternoon. I pack my paper-bag full of my possessions, sign the forms, and my wife and my mom lead me out of the unit. Everybody waves goodbye and I wave back.
- We go home, grab some food, and I feel the space of the world again. I hug my pups, and my cats, and try to feel comfortable. I take an unique and lasting joy in being allowed to use a butter knife again.￼
This ends my narration.
As I said at the start, I wanted to write this down for myself first because over and over again since being discharged I’ve thought about my five days in the BHC. There are some moments and details I left out of this record for the safety and privacy of others, and some details I have omitted because they are too painful to share. Simply put I spent four days cut off from everyone and everything that made me happy and loved and appreciated. My depression was a large factor in my ultimately entering the BHC, but I’ve realized more and more over the last few months that many of my choices, and some of the choices of those close to me, are what pushed me into that space. I don’t regret the experience, but I do wish there had been a better way.
I can’t promise my regular reader that I will continue writing, for my creative energies are shifting away from writing. But, should anything change I will try to post again to this blog for it has been my space to communicate to people I have never met what I’ve thought, felt, believed, and understood and it has been, in spite of everything, a little space which has brought me happiness.
Thank you for your time dear reader, and know that you are loved.