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She's Not Psychotic; She's Just Really Freaking Sad

I didn’t know if I possessed the gumption to share my story with issues around my health for a long time. For years I suffered from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Guilt and shame forced me to hide in the shadows of serious depression exacerbated by years of no sleep, untreated trauma, toxic stress, and an anxiety disorder. The following recounts my stay in a psychiatric unit.

I’m obsessed with jail shows. During sleepless nights I can binge watch entire seasons of Lockup or another program with a similar premise. These last two days I essentially sat on my couch immersed in the lives of hardened criminals, amateur dealers, addicts and white collar convicts. I feel a strange sense of fellowship. Like I know them… like we met before in a dejavu scenario.

I know the feeling, intimately, of living in an institution. I argue my brief stay in a mental health facility felt eerily similar to those serving time in jails and prison. Before I start the debate I in no way wish to diminish the hardship of those imprisoned or detract from the necessity of incarceration. My goal simply lies in sharing my experience as someone not allowed to leave, under surveillance and stripped of personal freedom as if I committed a crime in asking for help. When they tell you to reach out and ask for life saving assistance the support you find should not rest in judgment, but ultimate care. Instead, when one drives herself to the ER on the brink of suicide, the last thing she needs is sanity shaming. She’s not psychotic, she’s really freaking sad; but damn... people jump quick to assuming constant instability and dancing on the edge of psychosis.

I sat in the Emergency Room for hours. A camera fixed on me as I sat in the bed sobbing and shivering. People shouted outside the doors, addicts refused help, and the constant radios of police and personnel kept my ears buzzing. My phone died hours ago. My heart raced, my breathing struggled to regulate and my arms stayed covered in goosebumps. The noise felt deafeningly silent. I don't know how to describe this juxtaposition.

I just know the empty feeling as a long, lost friend I try not to reconnect with.

"The Cuckoo's Nest:"

When I entered the facility I sat in a cold, yellowing concrete room with a camera directly on me. I sat for hours waiting for intake. The woman who had left me in the room opened the heavy metal door and smiled as she handed me a stack of papers to sign. As a person who prefers to feel informed, I started reading each document. She stopped, smiled and rushed me through by summarizing each form; intake personnel had no time for an actual informative process. I hurriedly signed each form using a flimsy pen clearly designed to “keep people safe.” Yet with each signature I didn’t feel safe at all.

I shuffled through a hall lined with heavy metal doors and signs with cheesy cats urging its reader to “Hang in there.” Oh god… what have I done? I just agreed to staying somewhere with an orange tabby cat as the lead motivator. A cat poster is supposed to help save my life?

My eyes felt crusty from crying and drooped from the sheer exhaustion of deciding I needed to save my life by any means possible. I undressed in an empty white room while a woman examined every square inch of my body for marks and signs of self-harm; I didn’t have any. A sleepless patient sat in a chair and peered in through the wide open door. I’ll never forget the violation of that stare from across the hall. The nurses wrote down numbers, observations, noted my extremely high blood pressure. They asked me to quickly sign a whole new set of forms. A 2 am I signed my life away as the nurse smiled complimenting my eyes. I dressed in paper scrubs so thin I felt completely naked. My boobs started chafing as I was not allowed to wear a bra. If I wanted new, safer clothes I needed to ask someone to bring me some. Who the hell am I going to call to bring me some clean underwear and a sports bra? I have no one. I listed no one on my contacts at intake.

They offered me a pill so I could sleep. At 3 am I swallowed a pill, of which I had no clue what it was, in an effort to forget.

At 6:30 am a handsome counselor called into my room to wake me. My eyes, still crusty, refused to open. I heard people shuffling, snorting loogies, passing morning gas, and hollering to peers down the hall. The counselor returned… I needed to get up or I’d be marked as non-compliant for the day. Still groggy from medication I stumbled through the white hall in my plastic shoes and paper clothes. The men took immediate notice to my lack of bra gazing too long at my nipples through the paper scrubs. I need clothes. I need them now.

We walked through a series of locked doors and hallways, single file, to breakfast. The food, a miserable mess of powdered eggs and stale toast, lay uneaten on my plate. I sat alone taking in my surroundings. Frequent fliers, homeless, addicts, and mothers. So many mothers sat at the tables lost in thought over gray eggs and sour orange juice. The nurses and counselors took more notes: I was marked as a non-eater. The rest of the day I heard nothing but suggestions to eat at appropriate times from several staff.

I immediately observed my peers and the staff. Participants that slept, stayed quiet, or lingered in their rooms trying to read on the thin foam bed faced possible longer stays due to “lack of engagement.” Loud, boisterous folks identified as “covering up actual feelings” and deflecting to avoid coping. Addicts suffering withdrawals were constantly monitored. Everyone looked like hell. I needed to start crafting a game plan if I wanted to leave here on my own terms. I needed to believe “Hang in there” meant adaptability and I wasn’t hanging by thread.

"I need that damn cat. HELP ME CAT! I don't know how to balance on this f**kin' ledge. I don't know how long I can hang on. Please cat! Jump off that poster in the hallway and save me. Someone... save me. "

I walked with my arms crossed, covering my breasts. A man flashed his penis to me while I read a book in the dayroom. He laughed. I scowled.

The constant frigid cold and cement walls provided no comfort. I sipped hot water and used a blanket as a shawl. I listened to counselors fumble through therapeutic exercises in group. The participants threatened to walk out if someone didn’t come in and “do this better.” Power struggles loaded with Love and Logic principles commenced. I remained silent.

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