Recently, I was asked (as were many) by The Mighty to participate in the game Inpatient online. This is a choose your own story of a young woman who voluntarily admits herself to the inpatient psychiatric unit at a local hospital. Talk about hitting close to home. The simulation was extremely similar to what I went through back in 2006 for Severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and in 2015 for yet another Major Depression episode. While ‘playing’ it, I would periodically nod my head and exclaim internally, “Oh my God, that is how I felt!” or “Yes, exactly, that was what group therapy was like!”
The story takes you as Jessica, through the first 72 hours of being inpatient. This timeframe, 3 days, is typical for an inpatient stay as most insurances do not want to cover you for more. At the end, Jessica is released and she is ready to resume being in the real world. She is about to call her job to see if she still has one.
Strange, but I would’ve like to have continued Jessica’s story after being released. Why? Because the hardest thing to do after being inpatient is to return to the real world. Everything is so different whether you are in there for weeks or just a few days.
My first stay lasted 12 days, almost two weeks in the two bleak corridors designated for us mentally ill people. In the beginning, I didn’t believe I needed to be there. All I needed to combat the vomiting, delusions, and plans to run away was food. I just needed to eat. There was nothing wrong with me. I thought this even with three prior MDD episodes. I was so desperate for help though that when a stay in short-term psych was presented to me after visiting the ER for a panic attack, I took it. At this point, I had lost so much weight from not being able to eat and although not suicidal, I had almost completed plans to leave my husband and newborn.
Slowly, I realized I needed to be there and accepted it. I didn’t notice at the time, but there were a few points throughout my lengthy stay where the hospital seemed to be, how should I say this, kicking me out? I was there over the Thanksgiving holiday. They thought I was doing well and allowed me to enjoy the holiday at home with my family. If you were allowed home visits you were close to the finish line with being inpatient. What should have been a pleasant holiday (I love Thanksgiving) became very overwhelming for me. I returned a hot mess. Strike one for my insurance company. I had several consultations with psychiatrists, even one with a group of them asking the same question over and over, “How are you? Are you going to hurt yourself? Are the meds helping?” A nice nudge to get me out the door. Finally, two days prior to being discharged they basically told me:
“We can’t keep you any longer, your insurance won’t cover any more days.”
And there it was, the hospital was kicking their foot into my ass. Bye-bye! Toodles!
I would love to say I was thrilled by this, but I was downright petrified.
The hospital provided me with a safe haven. A place where my only focus was on myself, to get myself better. I didn’t have to try different medicinal cocktails while taking care of my newborn, making dinner, keeping the house relatively clean and squeezing in some work here and there. All I had to do was be there, in the moment. Take the medications and track how I felt. I feared returning home, I feared returning to what I was before. The thought of being the sole caregiver to my daughter for 18 hours a day had me shaken. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go home and I had to.
The day came, discharge day, and my mother came with my baby girl to pick me up (My husband was at work). She was getting my paperwork in order. My favorite nurse came in to speak with me, to see if I had any concerns and wish me well. I lost it. Tears were cascading down my face. She looked at me and questioned what was wrong. I told her I wasn’t ready. I told her I was scared to be alone with my daughter. I told her I wish I could have company especially in the twilight hours. She replied that I had to speak with my mother and tell her everything.
When my mother entered back into the room, seeing me worked up and sobbing, she instantly asked me what was wrong and I told her. It was decided for that week, before my mother-in-law came to visit, that I would stay with them along with my daughter.
I remember exiting the hospital that day. I was buzzed out of those two bleak corridors I called home. I was still very alert and anxious. I was beginning to hyperventilate and I continued to weep. I wanted to run back in, to beg them to let me back in, to the safety net of the short-term psych unit.
It’s hard to re-enter reality when your brain is so disturbed. Insurance companies tell you that you are better and can go home. The hospital, being forced to release you, and needing the bed, waves goodbye and good luck, knowing full well you should still be inpatient. Things seemed different my first few days out. I felt paranoid. I wondered if anyone who saw my eyes could tell I was just released from a psychiatric unit. I wondered if this apathetic, robotic, medicinal zombie state would be the new me. I wondered if I would ever be able to not look at my tiny baby with fear.
Over time, the fear started to go away.
I became a human again.
In early 2015, when I could sense how far I was falling into the Twilight Zone, I knew I needed my safety net. I knew I needed to go back to the psych ward. I had to be able to focus only on myself. After admitting to my psychiatrist and eventually the hospital psychiatrist that I wanted to hurt myself, that I didn’t know what I would do if I was alone, I was granted a voluntary stay in the unit. It was the same walls I left a little over eight years ago, and I felt safe.
My stay this time lasted only five days and would’ve been less if that Monday was not a holiday. And although I was better equipped, and felt more like myself, I was still a bit scared to leave. Once I left, reality returned… work, raising my daughter, responsibilities. All the old feelings of fear came back.
But you know what, those feelings didn’t last as long. If I ever need the care of the Inpatient Unit again, I know I’ll be scared to leave, but that I will slowly ease myself back to the real world with my support system, therapy and self-care.