Yucky, cloudy, icy, ick I had to drive through to get to my treatment today. This was the easiest part!
I’m sharing this blog post about the “revolving door of the psychiatric hospital” as a true statement of my authenticity, and we will come full circle in how much progress this means for me.
I have been doing less and less Facebook lately as my energy reserves have been on “fix engine now” light. I haven’t had a ton of energy except to lay here and think for nearly a month since my Epstein-Barr virus exploded. Epstein Barr is what causes mono or glandular fever. 95% of the world’s population will test positive for it. Of those, a few will get mono in their teens or early 20s. It’s considered extremely rare to have it activate over and over. This past month I have physically felt worse than the first time I had mono. I’m not contagious, but the best way I can describe something so mysterious is that I feel like I have the worst flu ever and can hardly move. I think it has sent people running to the hills as you hear “flu” and no one wants to come around as much as I try to tell people it’s not contagious and really really have needed company. (I’m submitting an article to be published about what it’s like to be an extrovert, chronically ill, and physically alone. More in that later, and I have had people checking in, I think they are just afraid of what I have).
The assignment was given to me to think about how far I have come in life and to turn around all those negative ideas about myself as it’s lies as I’ve mostly been laying here and guess she thought it was a good use of my time as I have been shivering away the days. Being mostly alone when you love the company of people and using lots of distractions to not have to be alone to think made this a nearly unbearable exercise as I’ve had plenty of emotional upheaval lately that has bordered on soul shattering.
I have cried and sobbed a lot as I couldn’t understand why my new circle wouldn’t respond to me. Why people would ask what I needed and simply wanted some company, which is too much for most. I would go to others, but I haven’t been able to move and even with neurological improvement from my stem cells, I can’t do a flight of stairs. People I know live upstairs. People I know hole up and watch tv to cope with hard times or purposefully isolate. I want to chat. I want to read books, but I just laid here doing my assignment, sometimes happy with having positive thoughts fill my head instead of negative ones. Sometimes I was so angry at the person who gave me the assignment that I think really high fever was giving me deleterious thoughts about a lot of very kind and gentle people in my world. (Oops. High fever will make the gentlest of us angry and a bit whacko as I have had the “pleasure” of recognizing these past few weeks. I mean I killed a spider, and I never do that even, but I didn’t have the patience to get it out of the bath when I needed it to just go! So I can add spider murder to my crazy couple weeks!😉).
So I read from a plethora of different philosophies and spiritual teachings lately. So many ideologies say that this new decade was going to be full of growth and giving and regeneration and new community and exciting opportunities… I hope it’s happening for you as it sure hasn’t for me in many ways, nor anyone I know. I think it’s why no one is coming around. Everyone is in their own pit.
So back to the psych hospital reference. A dear distance friend said on their feed on Facebook they were going to the psych hospital again. This is many times since we were blessed to meet a couple years ago. Extreme trauma is the cause. Other dear friends have been in the psychiatric hospital or dealing with serious and deep depression and anxiety that makes me so sad as people don’t reach out. We feel we can only show our best selves to the world. I have been in that club, but I have learned a short visit or a quick actual phone call gives me enough connection to sustain this time of physical agony that will always affect your mental health. Those connection moments cheer me up hugely!
I want to tell my own story of the revolving psychiatric hospital door as I want mental health to be normalized, but more importantly seen that we need to make HUGE strides in how we treat the mentally ill, as guess what? We are human, and if you are in such a low place that you are in a psychiatric facility, you need kindness, not to be treated in humanely or like a shell of a person who isn’t struggling.
I believe anyone who has endured long lasting trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood has probably encountered the psychiatric system on some level if your support system is lacking. I did the revolving door of psychiatric stays for a long time.
Over the past couple years that I’ve been sick and had a LOT of time to think, I began to ask myself why? If you’ve been to a psychiatric hospital, you know this drill. If you haven’t, you might be horrified with how it generally works.
So you show up at a facility feeling so ashamed to even be there as you feel like if you just did this or that better or were a decent human, you wouldn’t be there. You usually show up and a cold receptionist asks what your problem is, if you go voluntarily. For me, I always felt suicidal. So you get sent to a barren waiting room where they take all your things so you don’t hurt yourself. So now you have nothing to comfort you, sitting on a hard chair, often with other people just as miserable as you, so the energy is terrible. After you say you are suicidal and have great insurance (I’m not sure if that was a curse or a blessing 🤔), you have to stay to get assessed. There is no saying never mind or “feeling better, bye!”
Many of these places are understaffed and overworked, so you might sit and wait for hours to days (especially in the ER), where like I said they take everything, including your phone. You might get offered some crackers or applesauce or some cranberry juice in a little plastic container if you’re lucky. You feel your absolute worst and basically you are ignored. The exact OPPOSITE of what a hurting person needs. I know I couldn’t have necessarily said what I needed in that time period in my life, but if someone would have just sat next to me for a few minutes, I might have felt less ashamed and embarrassed to be there.
In my assessments, they often seemed irritated with me and lacked compassion. So why would I go through all of this and do the revolving door? Because, if you actually get to a decent place where a couple people actually care, you start to feel important. (Psych techs are highly underpaid for what’s expected of them and there are some caring ones, but you can tell there are plenty who are just burnt out as the general psychiatric population IS difficult. I know I was plenty difficult for a long time.). For me, what I reflected on why I ended up there so many times is that I was never taught emotion regulation by my parents. Something small on an already bad day could tip the scale really easily. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted someone to listen and see how much emotional pain I was in. The other thing in psychiatric hospitals, is that someone comes around every 15 minutes to see if you are safe. What long term traumatized person ever had someone care about their safety?? You also get 3 meals a day offered each day, even if it’s crappy. I might have been abused by people with money, but what many don’t understand is that rich abused kids can be subjected to nutritional neglect too. The other thing is that it’s attention. It’s usually horrible attention for doing negative things, but you are actually seen by people for your hurting. The more you say you are hurting and do negative things, the more attention you get. I never won the prize for being the best at negative attention seeking, but I might have stood on the podium a few times. 🏅 And probably the best part about my revolving door psychiatric hospital days is that I could connect with other patients who hurt as much as I did and were just as misunderstood.
I had the good fortune of ending up in some really good places where I can look back at how much staff cared about me. I also ended up in some very horrible places where tears for real grief for so much loss were met with yells and screams to stop by staff as it was “inappropriate”. I also ended up only one time in a place where I feared highly for my personal safety.
I just talk about the reasons why I believe I did the revolving door psychiatric hospital thing for many years as I have been really really really sick for nearly two years, and it’s given me lots of time to think about how I lived my past. Instead of going crazy, which I often feel like I do when the grief comes up, I have a beautiful circle telling me it’s normal, and I’m normal.
If you were to ask how many psych admissions I’ve had since my teen years, I couldn’t tell you. I honestly don’t know? I do know that I was hurting and didn’t know how to get past the hurt, so I went to a place that in many ways replaced the things my family never gave me consistently, food, a sense that someone cared, attention, safety, and in a strange way that you can only understand if you have been there, community that was kind of equivalent to family.
Did I learn much at the time in those places? No. I definitely wasn’t ready to. I remember one place where a therapist would start a meditation, and I would immediately walk out, which is so funny as I have started leading individualized meditation for others based on specific needs and find myself in meditation constantly to manage my physical symptoms to get relief. I live in a pretty constant state of mindfulness. I know now that people saw potential in me, cared about me, even looked up to me. I have been told by many professionals I have run into over the past couple years that saw a very broken Lizzie a long time ago. They are really proud of me now!
I’m grateful to say that even with all this physical suffering I’ve been going through these past couple years, I have learned to tolerate the distressing emotions. I can regulate myself pretty efficiently. I notice gratitude more than what is wrong. I genuinely work to ask for help in appropriate ways. I enjoy attention for the positive and not the negative. I’m definitely a work in progress.
And so for the past near month where my physical misery has been beyond difficult and seriously have just thought about skipping out on life as it does pass through my mind when I get REALLY sick that it just feels so unfair to have overcome so much to be here, stuck mostly in my room feeling horrible wishing I could do something to help people and attain my own goals.
I know my brain has stayed relatively clear, well except for those high fevers, and I’m still sane, still fighting for a better me and my health. I still do yoga each day even if it is only 5-10 minutes of light stretching and even if all I have the energy to do is think, I’m good at it and been working on my assignment to look how far I’ve come and to tell the nasty thoughts that are lies that enter my head to “buzz off” (with slightly stronger language maybe 🙄).
I know a few mental health professionals subscribe to my blog. I assume you are the good ones, but maybe share this blog with the ones that just get frustrated with “us” as we are probably more frustrated with ourselves compared to how much you will be with us. We come at our most vulnerable saying with a bowed and shamed head, “help me?”
And if you have dealt with lots of very difficult patients. Some of us change a LOT. Some of us get the gift of getting so sick that we stop and examine everything about our existence and those tiny seeds of kindness you planted might not bloom immediately, but with enough support, sometimes we turn into the biggest and strongest and most beautiful trees you have ever seen simply because when I showed up at my most vulnerable in my lowest of lows, you just went slightly out of your way to make that hard chair I sat in for hours just a little more comfortable with a tiny smile or a warm, itchy hospital blanket.
I know if I ever enter a psychiatric hospital again, I will go with a head held high to offer hope, not to be admitted. But for those of you still caught in the revolving door, it’s ok. Go as many times as you need to save you. Saying you need help is an extremely brave act.
And the sun always shines brighter after the storm.