This will likely be one of the hardest series of posts to write because it was one of the hardest experiences of my life. However, people have been curious about two things: 1) how I ended up being admitted into the hospital and 2) what’s it like to be in an acute psychiatric ward.
So let’s start with the first. While I was in a major depressive episode, which is not uncommon given I have Bipolar Mood Disorder, I got into an argument with my partner. The discussion did not go well, and I ended up even more depressed. I allowed myself to fall into the darkness and let suicidal ideation have free rein on my brain.
You would probably not have noticed I was in bad shape if you talked to me. I went to my son’s music recital, went to my music group practice, cooked dinner and did everything that was expected of me. But I did it all with the thoughts that “maybe this will be the last time I play this song” and “how should I leave my five-year-old son a note?”
After about three days of being unable to control these thoughts, I called my therapist with the hope that he would recommend I reschedule my appointment or offer some quick fix that could stop the ideation. Instead, after I told him about my weekend, he told me to go to ER for an emergency evaluation.
I was not happy and I was not surprised either as even I had realized I was a danger to myself. Granted, I did not have any firm plans to kill myself, in large part because I could not figure out logistics. I wanted a quick, painless death that caused very little gore and distress to someone finding me. That’s a super high bar to set and pretty much rules out every method. The rational me knew this, and the irrational me kept digging for an answer. However, both the irrational and rational me agreed that I was in severe pain and did not want to be in pain anymore.
After speaking with my therapist, my spouse drove me to the ER, where I was met by my therapist and quickly triaged. It appears that those coming with thoughts of self-harm get preferential treatment – they do not want to keep you waiting because the longer you have to wait, the more likely you will simply get up and leave. They rolled me around in a wheelchair, which I tried to refuse, but it was so that I wouldn’t get up and run away. It became clear real fast that shit just got real.
After some blood work to “check your electrolytes” (which included checking me for all drugs and alcohol as well), I was stripped down and given a hospital gown. I had to hand over all my personal belongings, except for my cell phone, to my partner, and I was wheeled over to a secured area to wait for an emergency evaluation.
The emergency evaluation was one of the most intense exams I’ve sat for, and this is coming from someone who sat for the bar. By this point, my partner had left to pick up our son from school, my therapist returned to his office, and I was on my own in a room sitting across from two doctors, a resident, and two medical students while wearing nothing but some undergarments and a flimsy hospital gown. This arrangement essentially made the situation go from really bad to a fucking nightmare. I started to regret making that phone call to my therapist. I was put more and more on the defensive about my thoughts and emotions. The barrage of questions ran the gamut from boilerplate like “how often do you think about killing yourself?” and “did you actually hold the pill bottle in your hand?” to accusatory such as “why do your doctors think you have bipolar?” and “are you actually taking your medication everyday?” The longer the evaluation continued, the more it was apparent I needed help.
After “failing” my evaluation, I was given a false choice. I could either voluntarily admit myself to the acute psychiatric ward on the hospital's 13th floor or be forcibly committed, by court order, to their acute psychiatric ward on the 13th floor. At least with a voluntary admit, I could immediately demand to be discharged within five business days. So I checked myself in.
After signing myself up to be admitted, I waited for a very long time in the secured waiting area. The staff let me charge my phone, which I used to frantically text people and to call my partner who, unsurprisingly, was not happy about this turn of events. He was on the phone to the doctors and hospital staff trying to figure out why I was being admitted and when I would come home. He was doing this while being a single parent to a confused child. Our son wanted to know, why didn’t Mommy pick him up from school today?
I tried to choke down some hospital chicken with congealed gravy during my wait – I had not eaten in almost 24 hours. It was awful even as hungry as I was, and I actually wished I had just continued my hunger strike. I wished I continued a lot of things during that long wait, including just suffering in silence and in pain.
Finally, I was taken upstairs and checked into the psych unit, or “the unit,” as the staff and patients called it. I turned over my phone to protect other patients’ privacy and got my clothes back. I was led to my very stark, but somewhat spacious room. They also gave me a bag with some toiletries and showed me around the unit, including where towels and bedding were kept and where I would eat my meals.
The hospital I was admitted to is one of the best in the city, and their psychiatric unit was no exception. I had a private room, and they had a lot of amenities, including free phone calls, computers with internet access and round the clock nursing services. Even though I was in an excellent facility, it still felt like a prison. I couldn’t leave. Even if I wanted to, I could not leave. Short of a court order or my untimely demise, I was not walking out of that building.
For the first time in a long time, I finally cried.
Continued in Part 2
about the author
My name is Dana Johnson and I am the creator of the Mood Check-In blog.