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.

*

kyrie elesion, Bryan

 

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As Risky as Cigarettes? A New Study on Sleeping Pills

“He gives to his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2

At http://www.Brokenbelievers.com, our focus is mostly on the spiritual realities of being disabled, and yet a believer in Jesus. We honestly need these things as a man needs air. They are  things that we look into, and are crucial to our spiritual survival. Yet sometimes we encounter something on the physical/medical side that is important enough to merit our attention.

The latest off the wire, is a recent study on prescription sleep aids. For many years, our doctors have strongly suggested that if needed, we take a sleeping pill to enable us to “rack out.” A lot of people use them. In 2010, between  6 and 10% of adult Americans used a sleeping aid. Recently, researchers took another look. The drugs tested were Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta and Sonata. These, and a few others were tested. If your really interested, you will find the report on WebMd.com.

What they found was that users of these drugs to promote sleep faced a 5.3-fold higher death risk. They also had a 35% higher risk of cancer, the study found.  That made me perk right up.

The study was conducted at California San Diego which commenced in the early seventies. I encourage you to dig this up, and especially if you are taking a sleeping aid prescribed by a doctor. It could help you to decide on taking these meds, or not.

Perhaps, the issues are not substantial or significant to you. I do confess that the results are provocative.  And yet they do guide us into a fuller understanding. I have taken “Lunesta” for almost 4 years, every night.  My psychiatrist has explained to me that in his mind Bipolar Disorder can pretty much be a sleep issue and we need to treat it as such. Hence the Lunesta. But my shrink is not alone on this.

I suppose that I must admit a fear of  not being able to sleep. Sleep has been quite honestly the state that has carried me through many of my issues. I guess when I do sleep, I retract many things, and my “decks” are cleared for new ones.  The fear of losing this ability to really sleep, keeps me from not taking seriously the Lunesta I take every night. Inside, I just can’t see giving it up, in spite of the statistics.

In many ways, I suppose that sleep has become my deliverer. And as a believer, this should scare me. Jesus, after all, has redeemed me. He has done the work, after all. And yet I look at sleep as a sort of deliverance from my difficult issues. I don’t know what you are getting, but right now I’m sleeping 10 or 11 hours a night. And somewhat rarely I’ll take a 1 or 2 hour nap in the late afternoon.

“At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me.” Jer. 31:26

Something funny: I once saw this posted on a wall in a church nursery, and thought it was very humorous, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” 1 Corinthians 15:51.

The study is reported yesterday on http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20120227/sleeping-pills-called-as-risky-as-cigarettes

Beauty Sleep

by Julie Anne Fidler, BB Weekly Contributor

Sleep is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Of the many bipolar symptoms I’ve dealt with over the course of my life, sleeplessness has been the toughest. Until I started taking a med called Seroquel, I never slept… ever. I remember telling my doctor that I had no recollection of a full night’s sleep. For nearly two years, Seroquel was sedating enough to provide me with rest. Rest isn’t the word for it. I was semi-comatose because of it, not that I’m complaining.

But the sedating effects wore off and for the past few months I have been stuck between three different kinds of insomnia. There are nights I can’t fall asleep at all and I spend the next day feeling like I’m battling the flu. Some nights I fall asleep only to wake up in the wee morning hours, long before the sun has even decided to wake up for the day and I can’t fall back to asleep. And other nights, I can’t fall asleep until the wee morning hours and I end up sleeping during the day.

Last week I could not sleep at all. I tried an over-the-counter sleep med that did squat. I cut out all the caffeine in my diet (I have a pretty bad coffee habit), and nothing would work. The result was a few days of relative instability. The rubber met the road for me, so to speak. I was feeling miserable, both physically and mentally, and the last thing I wanted to do was praise God or crack open my Bible. I didn’t want to do anything. I have a lot of hobbies but none of them appealed to me.

But I knew that if I wanted to pursue this ministry of helping others with mental illness, I had to do the things I told everyone else to do. And, so, I did. Reluctantly. Little bits at a time. I called a dear friend and mentor of mind and she prayed over the phone with me and I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tears still fell, but I knew “mourning may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Of course, I knew I needed to do more than that. I knew I needed to solve my sleep problem. Man, everyone likes to make fun of Michael Jackson, but I get it. Not that I would ever inject Propofol into my veins, but I understand the exhaustion and frustration he must have been feeling. It’s hard to be human when you feel like a walking zombie.

I am now the proud owner of a bottle of Ambien. I was a little scared when my doctor prescribed it for me, because I have a friend who once hallucinated on it and thought her bed was surrounded by fairies. (At least it wasn’t ninjas, Taliban, or Chuck Norris.) I kept thinking, wow, the last thing I need is to hallucinate. Here’s one symptom I haven’t had yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I’m happy to report I have not hallucinated. I’m also happy to report that for the past three nights, when I go to bed, I fall asleep quickly and stay that way until morning. I’m even happier to report that I feel like a real person again – not a zombie, not emotionally unstable, just me. You know – normal crazy.

Far be it for me to leave you without a lesson, so here it goes.
Sleep disturbances are very common in people with mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. If you’re waiting around for it to get better or avoiding having to take another pill (I’ve been guilty of this), give in. God made separate days for a reason. When you can’t sleep, they all blur into one big, never-ending day and it’s hard to see the newness and fresh hope of morning when every day is just an extension of the last. It makes sense that a malfunctioning brain would make for a malfunctioning body clock.

God wants you to have rest and hope. So, if you are not experiencing that today, make plans to get your life back.

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 www.mymentalhealthday.blogspot.com.  Read more there.
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