Why don’t we talk more about hospitalization??? I’m not talking about for surgeries or broken bones, I’m talking about psychiatric inpatient care.
I held SO much fear over the idea of being hospitalized. I had in my head, ideas of straight jackets and locked hard rooms with a single window… padded walls. I honestly thought that going into the hospital meant that I would be spending more time alone in my own head, which was pretty much the scariest thing I could imagine.
So, the day we went to the dreaded emergency room, I thought I was committing myself to actual hell. The thing is though, I knew for a fact that my life depended on it. I knew I couldn’t expect my poor dear husband to keep me safe when I wasn’t controlling my suicidal impulses any longer… and I knew I couldn’t have him holding the role of my caretaker when I was so destined to make him fail.
The first time we went into the ER. We waited a very long time. It is unfortunate that the ER was the only way to be admitted because it isn’t really a pleasant place… and even more unfortunate is the fact that most people waiting to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time have no idea what is waiting for them where they are going…. I just kept thinking: the behavioral ward of the ER is the scariest place I’ve ever been… and the place they are going to send me is going to be a million times scarier…
That first time in the ER, they should have done so many things differently. They should have made me feel safe, they should have asked questions beyond what was on their little form. They should have reassured me that I was brave, that I was doing the right thing, that I was going to be ok. But they didn’t do those things, and in that little, sterile, metal triage room, where the bed itself and everything else was nailed to the floor, I slowly lost my nerve.
I didn’t lie to them when they asked me the questions on their form. I was not dishonest…. but when they asked the question “have you tried to take your own life”… I didn’t exactly volunteer the information about the medication, and the cabinet, and the fact that I had already downed one bottle of liquid painkiller and that I knew I wouldn’t stop myself in the future…. I didn’t, I couldn’t, the words just wouldn’t come.
They shouldn’t have sent us home but the did… And late that night, in the car on the way home, somehow, some way, I was brave enough to tell my husband what had actually happened (all he know was that my therapist had said to him GO to the hospital)…. We finished the drive home and waited out the night. G did not leave me alone that night, for even a second day. The next morning, I dragged my sobbing, but desperate self, back into the car. Which, I will tell you right now, it was even scarier this time because I had seen that ER, and faced that fear, and I didn’t know if I could do it.
There is a quote that goes something like this: “Bravery isn’t being fearless; it is being afraid and doing it anyway.” I can’t for the life of my figure out who said it, but going into the hospital that day again….. Even when I knew the fear that lived there… That was maybe my truest act of courage ever.
That day in the ER we spent something like 8 hours, after being admitted, waiting for an ambulance to come take me to the facility. Man, I wish that they would have done more to make that time less scary, I wish they would have talked me through what to expect, that they would have given me some anxiety medication. Something. Anything! But instead, it was me, my husband and his strong grip of a hand to hold. Waiting, for an eternity to take on our biggest fears.
He pleaded with them to just let him drive me the 15 mins across town… But they told him it was a safety concern. Then when they did load me into the ambulance, they left me in there, alone! Do you know the first thing I did? I will never ever forget this sensation. As soon as I was alone, terrified waiting for the ambulance to drive me away, I started looking for ways to die again. I started imagining myself RUNNING out of door they left open and escaping to find death somewhere. It is not a pretty thing to say, but it is SO the truth that I can’t forget it. I can’t not say it, because the truth is, that is how desperately I needed that help. That is how intensely I needed that ambulance ride to safety.
I didn’t plan to make this whole post about the ER, but now it is, and I think that is how it was meant to be. I do wonder if that is what holds so many people back from getting the help they need? The uncertainty about what is coming, the fear of not being taken seriously. The idea of a sterile cold room where things are nailed down and you don’t know your own destiny? Although those two times in the ER stand out as some of the hardest moments of my life, ever. I would do it again, and again and again and again, because that scary place was the gatekeeper to my mental wellbeing. If I could do it over I would… but I would also walk in those doors and be explicit, I would ask for what I need, I would use words I now know like PTSD and severe anxiety, I would never ever hesitate to say out loud how serious I was about taking my own life.
I am going to tell you all about the place they took me, because we do not talk about it enough… we see it in movies and television and we only know the worst of it. Tomorrow I’m going to tell you all of it, and I think it will make you feel better… because, spoiler alert, that place they took me, that inpatient psychiatric hospital that sounded like the scene for a horror movie… It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been… It wasn’t a place of straight jackets and lockdowns… it was a place of warmth, and real saftey… there was kindness and compassion and community. There was medication… there was sanity. There was life. That place for me was life.
I promise to tell you more. But if you or a loved one are living in fear of that place DON’T BE, if you are scared of the gatekeepers at the ER remember that you can to speak up, tell the truth, and be just as urgent and insistent with your words as you feel down in your soul. You CAN do hard things, and I know this feels hard, I know taking a loved one there or asking to be taken there sounds like the hardest thing you will ever have to do. But it will also be the best thing you ever have to do.
Stay afraid, but do it anyway. Here from the other side, remembering ever so clearly what it felt like to be where I was, I can tell you: you will be ever so glad you did. <3 <3 <3
*Please remember: if you are in trouble, and thinking about suicide, don’t wait, reach out. Here call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website here. Also, don’t be afraid to walk into that emergency room. To call 911. This matters, YOU matter.
Oh man… this post… it reminds me so much of my experience of going to the ER for my mTBI. I’m so thankful for all the times I’ve been to the ER for myself and my kids and they were so good… and… man… there’s room for so much improvement. So thankful (and proud) you went back and forced that door for inpatient!!!!