My first night in the psychiatric hospital at the age of 15 was probably one of the most frightening nights of my life. Not only did my roommate threatened to kill me but there were 25 other adolescent patients with the same ideas going on in their heads. At least in my mind anyway.
Being locked in was new to me. We had 10 acres of land at home, and I was generally always hiding somewhere. Especially when the fighting and drugs or alcohol came out. I never went inside until it was time for bed.
Anyway, I had no idea how this place operated or what was expected of me. The first morning, everyone got up and went to breakfast and I’m still in the room. Swearing I’d never go out of the room.
One of the techs came to get me and said I wasn’t allowed to go back into the room until the evening time. I remember some sort of speech about participating and earning points for privileges, etc.
When I went into the lunchroom, everyone just stared at me. They kept asking me the same question. “What did you do?” Apparently they all did something bad to get there?? Anyway, I just said “nothing” and looked at the ground. Of course, in my mind, I’m thinking, “What did I do?”.
I had no idea meal time would be such a big ordeal. I was admitted weighing 89 lbs. I was very thin. I guess what we call now, anorexic. I never ate at home. I couldn’t. Most of the time, I would try to eat and just cry. Anyway, I was immediately ordered 3 meals and 3 interval meals a day. Basically 6 meals. I didn’t even know it was humanly possible to eat that much food. But If I didn’t eat, I could not earn any privileges. For the first 48 hours, I was on suicide watch. I didn’t even know what the word meant. But what it meant there is one person following your every move. One on one everything. Including restroom breaks.
What a change from home. No one cared if was inside or out. No one cared if I ate or didn’t eat. But here, I was really important apparently.
The third day that I was there, Marissa’s boyfriend Danny went crazy in the lunchroom. He started screaming curse words and pulled his belt off and began swinging the belt buckle at everyone and everything. He broke some glass windows. He turned over tables. And scared me even more than I was already was.
Danny was immediately wrestled to the ground by 4 or 5 people and taken to “seclusion”. I did not know what that meant but I soon found out. I found this picture online and it looks exactly as I remember the seclusion room.
After breakfast, we would line up at the nurses room for medications. No one told me I’d be on medications. I was on anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, sedatives and sleeping pills. I kept telling them that I didn’t take medicine and didn’t need medicine and everyone laughed at me.
The medicines were liquid and all in gallon jugs. It was so strange to me. It only took me a few days to realize that all of those meds would keep me zoned out and not feeling much of anything.
After meds, was group time. Why in the world would you want to put 25 dysfunctional children in one room together? I had no idea what to say or do. I would just zone out and let them do their sharing and crying, cursing, or whatever.
We would spend a little time outside and then get ready for lunch. Lunch was more of the same suffering thru a meal and sitting with the crazy kids. After lunch was occupational or art therapy. Sometimes my psychiatrist would visit and I’d be with him for a few minutes. He never said anything really, except that I would be there for another week.
Then it was dinner time. More of the same lunchroom trauma. I hated going in there. I hated eating. I hated breathing.
After dinner, we would have free time. For me, that was my time to shut down. I would sit in the hallway and just stare at the walls. For those two hours, I didn’t hear or see anyone. It was just me and the walls. It was my only escape. One last group session before bed and off to the room with scary Marissa.
Oh and part of our bedtime ritual was to recite our diagnosis and symptoms and discuss our treatment plan. We had to say what we must accomplish in order to earn privileges. I think my symptoms list was 20 or more. I became a professional at identifying my flaws. It made me hate myself even more.
Down the hall were the adults. We weren’t allowed to speak to them. But they could see us thru the window on the door and we could see them. They seemed so creepy. Also, they would bring adults thru our wing to take them for electro-shock therapy. They would pass us looking so fearful and come out looking dead. I would usually just look at the ground or block it out any way I could. I always wondered if my adult life would be that. It made me dread becoming an adult.
The staff was another story in itself. A couple of them seemed professional and genuinely caring. But most of them seemed to have their own demons. Several of them were sexually involved with one another. Sometimes even making out in a seclusion room or a closet. One of the men took a special interest in me, and was always trying to help me escape, or get special privileges. Later, I will share more about him and how we remained friends after the hospital discharge.
The reason that I am sharing this part of the story, is that it truly was just as traumatic as all of those years of abuse. I don’t know how I survived it. But I did. I think I survived the same way I did everything else. Just shut it all out. Zone out. Don’t think and don’t feel and it will eventually go away.
There is definitely more to share about this place but I’ll leave it there for now. I don’t know how psychiatric hospitals are these days, and I hope I never have to find out. I definitely would rather die (or kill myself) than to ever have to be admitted to one of those places again.
Mental health care has come a long way. At least my journey with PTSD is very different than the care I had as a teenager. Mrs. A is respectful and kind and seems to genuinely care about me. She’s helping me become mindful and aware of my thoughts and self-talk. It’s all very new to me and enlightening. A lot of my behaviors were so programmed that I never even thought about my responses to people or sounds, smells, etc. I just reacted in that same child-like way that I had always dealt with everything.
I am a professional at turning off feelings. And even telling this story, I really feel like it’s not even a part of me. Like I’m telling someone else’s story.
But I’m determined to feel again. I’m determined to cry when I’m sad and laugh when I’m happy. For most people, that is an automatic human response. For me, it’s not normal and not done without a lot of negative self talk.
First, I have to conquer the freezing, numbing and zoning out. And then I have to feel and not run from those feelings. Only then, can I begin to sort out all of these things and believe that this actually happened to me.
This is MY story. This is MY life. And It’s not a secret any more.
Until next time – I am being MJ every day.