A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient

6:30 am. “Rise and shine,” but this is debatable– you simply just breathe and walk, in this kind of a desperate mental fog,  (Simply put, ‘there will be no sunshine for you today.’) But, this only just seems to really matter to us, who have no hope.  You exchange brief greetings with your roommate, which only just seems proper, even at this level.  We are given “ratty” old surgical scrubs to wear through out the day.

We head down ‘en mass’ to the cafeteria.  I see the servers on the line, I notice that they avert their eyes from us as we form a hungry queue.  Sometimes, they will give us choices: “bacon or sausage?”  To a mental patient, this can be a Gordian Knot of complexity.  So the line moves slowly, as we try to sort out this conundrum.

There is no coffee for us, as patients.  It has been two weeks for me, and I dream of a cup of hot coffee, with cream.  Some of the attendants drink Pepsi, although it is done hiddenly, but we all know it.  We resent their liberty, especially when we have none.  There is a question of equity, with us, which has been violated.

8:40 am.  We are all race to be the first in line for our morning meds.  It almost seems we are afraid they are suddenly going to run out.  I get my Seroquil, my lithium, my Zoloft.  Additionally, because I am ‘post-op’ brain tumor, I am given a mild stimulant called Provigil to help me think clearly.  I have no idea if it works, or not. (I rather have a cup of coffee.)

We then gather into a day room full of clunky and ugly furniture.  It is big, and the chairs encircle a grimy tile floor to make a large open space.  This is not an orderly place, as people are wandering about, some stare at the wall or at a fake plant in the corner.  It is noisy, some even shout.  Others just “rock” back and forth to a song that only they can hear.  A few of us lie in “fetal position” of hiddenness, just wanting to disappear.

The thought occurred to me one day, of a ‘giant aquarium.’  It was constantly moving, swirling about.  If you stopped moving, it meant that you were dead.  Everyone was moving, and oblivious to the others who were also moving.  This seems to explain much.  (You will need to accept the ‘aquarium’ idea if you really want to process the moment.)

On one of my stays, weeks went by before I realized that this particular meeting actually existed, but I was very confused and seriously beyond any correction.  I was really struggling with clinical depression, so meals and meds was all I could manage.  When I finally figured this out, I quickly joined the fish bowl.  It was both good and bad.  But mostly good. Finally as bleak as it was, I started accepting reality.

11:00 am.  One thing you do notice is a lot of disjointed conversations.  You would speak to someone and 10 minutes later they would answer.  And for the most part, conversations would be muted, whispered to people.  As if there was a conspiracy involved, and a certain appropriateness must be taken. We were a paranoid bunch.

Sometimes an attendant would turn on the TV.  I can remember watching cartoons and just maybe I would think that they were communicating to me in code.  We did have a VCR for movies, but because one guy urinated into the machine, it shorted it out.  So, alas, no more movies.

During one stay (and there were several) I was suicidal.  The staff watched me like a hawk, sitting at my door out in the hallway. But I was desperate to cut my wrists, so I stood up in a chair.  I took down a clock and wrapped it in a blanket, to muffle the sound of breaking glass.  I managed to slash my wrists deeply and often, before the nurse came in my room.  For a moment, I brought an excitement to the staff.  And perhaps a certain meaning to me.

When you’re in a psych ward your days are beyond tedious.  One day is like the next.  The psychiatrist comes to see you for 10 minutes, and it is a high point of your day.  You discover that any new explanations, or treatment plans are done solely by the doctor.  That is one of the first cardinal rules on the ward.  Ask a nurse or an aide, and they invariably dodge.  But the psychiatrist “rules the roost.” Everyone follows his decision. This is useful to know.

1:00 pm.   Suddenly a young teen girl with schizophrenia, screaming and pounding her head against the wall has now becomes the focus.  Every couple of days this happens, and in a twisted way punctuates the drabness of the day.  She is artfully restrained by the staff and taken to “the padded cell.”  We are all told it is for her own protection,  but we as patients, we all rally behind her fight.  When she makes a break from the nurses we all cheer her effort and want her to escape.

The second cardinal rule of the floor is that you don’t “stick out” in any way. Creating an issue is never tolerated, whatsoever.  Demanding more TV time, or coffee, or a newspaper will hardly ever go over well.  Just before Thanksgiving, 2003, I timed my meeting with the pdoc to raise an issue of a fresh cup of coffee.  There was a nurse present at our meeting, and she had to respond to the doctor’s order that I was to be given coffee on Thanksgiving morning.  The next morning the coffee was delivered, but the nurse insisted that she would set in a chair next to me until I finished.  Nevertheless, it was a glorious moment.

3:00 pm.  I soon developed auditory hallucinations.  First, I kept hearing a CB radio, squawking constantly.  A few days later, I started to hear a telegraph, “dit-dot-dash.”  They both were very loud and insisting that I pay attention.  Also, I would have 3 or 4 moments of seeing black and hairy spiders climbing at me.  They were so real, and even volitionally know they were not real, I still panicked.

4:30 pm.  They’re other issues as well.  I basically hated phone calls from family.  When they did come they always seemed intrusive and seemed to work against the thinking on the ward.  When a few friends did visit, I would be abrasive and rude.  Wishing they hadn’t made the effort.  I imagined their hearts processing me and my need to be there, and it disturbed me.  Since I lived about 300 miles from the hospital, it took effort on their part to try to see me.  Looking back though, I wish I had been nicer.

8:48  pm.  Getting ready for bed.  It seems that is what I have waited for this all day.  These are moments I have started to live for.  Sleep = oblivion.  I fade to black, and life is paused.  There isn’t any issues for me to figure out.  For eight hours, I find peace,  Sleep is a deep mercy, a gift given to us from the Father.  Those of us, who struggle hard against the dark, understand the “gift” of grace in the form of sleep.  Depressives very often crave sleep. We often want to hide into it, as if doing so would solve our problems and issues. For me, sleep was the only time I was free from the ward.

I want to sleep, to close my eyes and to be gone.  I suppose that is true, for all of us who want to “commit suicide by sleep.”  We seek oblivion, and long for the moment when we can “check out.”  We want to be forgotten and overlooked. We deeply want to be erased, and move directly into forgottenness.

When we have been committed to the ward as patients, we will probably be shaken to our core.  Our insertion into a diverse floor of mental illness, will always introduce us to deep desperation. We are jolted that there is a darkness that is pursing us far beyond what seems is right.  We must call out to Him who can save us.

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

 

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The Gift of Caffeine

Some funny sayings I like:

My blood type is Folgers.  ~Author Unknown
All the coffee in Columbia won’t make me a morning person.  ~Author Unknown
Do I like my coffee black?  There are other colors?  ~Author Unknown
Conscience keeps more people awake than coffee. ~Author Unknown
Way too much coffee. But if it weren’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever. ~David Letterman
Decaffeinated coffee is kind of like kissing your sister. ~Bob Irwin
Caffeine isn’t a drug, it’s a vitamin! ~Author Unknown
Caffeine is my shepherd; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake in green pastures:
It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.
It restoreth my buzz:
It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,
I will fear no Equal™:
For thou art with me; thy cream and thy sugar they comfort me.
Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of The Starbucks:
Thou anointest my day with pep; my mug runneth over.
Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the ‘House of Mochas’ forever.
~Author Unknown
Given enough coffee, I could rule the world.  ~Author Unknown
I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.  ~John Van Druten
Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.  ~Author Unknown
I wake up some mornings and sit and have my coffee and look out at my beautiful garden, and I go, ‘Remember how good this is. Because you can lose it.’    ~Jim Carrey
Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.    ~Edward Abbey
Give a frontiersman coffee and tobacco, and he will endure any privation, suffer any hardship, but let him be without these two necessaries of the woods, and he becomes irresolute and murmuring. –  U.S. Army Lt. William Whiting, 1849

Send me your favorite “coffee quote”! -Bryan

 

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Catching Light

Early this morning I sat on the deck drinking my coffee. It’s Alaska, and although the snow is gone it was still 32 F. It’s clear and crisp. I could hear the cranes on Beluga Lake nearby. I truly love it when the sun makes its entrance– everything seems to wake-up, either to sing or just to catch the light.

The bare trees still have a purpose. I suppose they’re just waiting. They warm themselves. I’d like to think they are content to be in this season. (They must, because none have left 🙂 ). They seem to glow when the sunlight meets their bark and branches. I’m thinking a dozen things all at once– kind of like an old coffee percolator.

Today is an eventful day for me. I’ll be flying all the way up to Anchorage to see a neurologist. He is supposed to tell me about my tumor, and all the odd peripherals which come with it. The MRI shows something, but no one here will give me a straight answer. Maybe they can’t, I don’t know.

It’s like I’m a tree catching and absorbing the light. It has been given to me for this moment. It is a blessing and a joy. And I too am waiting.

“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
    which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.”

Proverbs 4:18, NLT

ybic. Bryan

Coffee, With a Shot of Truth

by Julie Anne Fidler, BB Weekly Contributor

I am sitting across from one of my best friends in a trendy little café, sipping coffee as we always do. We have been good friends for years; we can tell each other things. We can screw up and make amends. We know each other’s heart. We both love Jesus and came back to our faith after an extended period of wandering away. She is single and wants to be married. I am married and want to have children. There is a lot we can relate to, except for one issue.

My friend is depressed. I have never known her not to be. I’ve never known her to be suicidal, but she suffers from mild depression most of the time. It permeates her life and while she doesn’t see it as a nagging issue, I do. We have never had a conversation in which she does not bring it up. To her credit, she handles it well. In fact, I’d say she handles it better than I do a lot of the time. She is a social bug who constantly thrusts herself into activities, whereas I am more of an isolationist when I’m depressed.

No, the issue is not how she handles her depression. The issue is that she does not want to acknowledge her depression is an illness. She is stuck in the place I was in for so long – believing that if she could be a better person spiritually, she would not be depressed at all.  We’ve had “the talk” many times. I’ve told her about my own trials and tribulations and I’ve gone so far as to look up and explain the brain chemistry behind depression. She always insists she can handle it on her own.

It’s a free country and we can’t force anyone to take medication if they don’t want to. I would even go so far as to say that while I think my friend is suffering needlessly, the fact that she is able to “maintain” and lead a productive life shows that medication might not be a dire necessity. I’m hoping that one day she realizes that 25 mgs of something won’t make her any less of a person or any less of a Christian. But it’s not my place to force that pill down her throat.

When does mental illness go from being a nuisance to a life-snatcher?
Throughout my life, I have had my share of strongholds and I would even venture to call some of them addictions. At one point I realized that whenever I was depressed, stressed, or angry I would automatically reach for the wine bottle. 2 Peter 2:19 says, “…people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” That single verse influenced me to change my behavior, and I believe it can be applied to mental illness, as well.

Jesus Christ came to free us of our sins, but also to free us from all the things this world uses to hold us back and keep us down.  That is the beauty of Christ – we don’t have to wait until eternity to reap the benefits of being Christians. Jesus came to give us life and life more abundantly. That abundant life is, however, a choice.

There are different severities of mental illness. Not everyone needs the same thing. I need insulin for my diabetes, but my husband doesn’t take anything at all. Some choose not to seek help for their problem and that is their prerogative, but when does it cross over into foolishness? When someone asks me how I knew it was time to get help and seek a mental health diagnosis, I tell them I knew it was time when my problems ruled my universe and I lost just about everything and everyone I had. I had become a slave to bipolar disorder, and it had mastered me.

I used to believe that mental illness was in no way a spiritual issue, but I’ve come to realize that it is very much a spiritual issue. God never promised that life would be easy for believers. Come to think of it, the Bible tells us the exact opposite.  But if you examine the Word of God, you will see that the Holy Spirit gives us gifts and abilities that enable to us to have inexplicable joy in the midst of painful circumstances. Are you facing your circumstances with a sense of hopelessness and despair? That’s not from the Lord.

Does your entire life feel hopeless? Do you despair when you should be having joy?  Take a look at 2 Peter 2:19.

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are slaves of things that will be destroyed. For people are slaves of anything that controls them.”

Are you a slave to hopelessness and despair?  Then maybe it’s time to reexamine your views on seeking help.

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Julie Anne Fidler is a contributing writer for Brokenbelievers.com.  She comes with a humble and understanding heart for those with a mental illness.  Her writing gift is valued greatly.  Look for her post weekly, on this blog.
She keeps a personal ministry blog at mymentalhealthday.blogspot.com.  Read more there.