I have been in the psych ward a few times .I decided to share my experience in one of the times I have been in a psych ward. Let me first say, not all psych wards looks like the ones you have seen in the movies and tv shows. Depending where you live / income and if you have insurance. If you do have insurance, how much they are willing to cover. Some psych wards are super-duper nice. It looks more like an affluent vacation retreat. Some psych wards looks as creepy as the ones you see in the media. Then there are the one that are just okay. You’re not living like a celebrity life, but it’s far better than living in a dungeon.
What people don’t know, if you’re feeling suicidal, you can go any emergency room and state you have tried to harm yourself. As much that is a “fun” fact/tip, it is awkward as hell. Cause you see a waiting room filled with people who has something physically wrong with them. Kid with a broken arm, a woman who is about to go in labor, an old lady who is in pain, and man who clearly has a high fever and keep throwing up in a bucket and etc. Here I was standing in front of the nurse who has a “Oh boy, I wonder what’s wrong with this one” facial expression. I will admit it’s a bit embarrassing to lean over and say, “Hi… I… uh… tried to kill myself” Of course there are series of questions the nurse has to ask. How suicidal you’re feeling, when did you trying to kill yourself, are you still feeling suicidal, do you want harm others, how long you have been feeling this way, and etc. Depending on your answers, they will omit you quickly or you will be waiting for your turn for quite some time. I forgot the answers I gave, but I remember I didn’t have to wait that long for them to call my name. I guess my answers were not code red, but definitely a burnt orange… lol!
I went in and the nurses asked the same questions and more. They wanted to know details on how it was triggered, did I have history, do I take pills to treat my mental health and if so what are they, have I been taking them and have I been consistent, who’s my psychologist and psychiatrist, and etc. They kept me in a room where I just plainly laid down and was monitored by a nurse to make sure I don’t do anything stupid. After what feels like a couple of hours, they woke me up and asked the same questions again to check if there were any improvements. There were improvements but not to their standards that seem “passable”. So then I was transferred to the other floor. The floor where all the “special” and “happy” like myself go to. Yes… their psych ward sector.
Filled out paper work, had to give up my clothes and wear their stupid hospital wear. Which thankfully it wasn’t open in the front or back AND those comfy worm socks. Love those socks! I had to give up all of my possessions including phone. Of course I asked if I can write down my important contacts information before giving up my phone and they kindly let me. I remembered making 2 calls. Before they had to give me the MTV Crib tour around the place. One was to my third oldest brother. Telling him that I am alive, safe, and the hospital information. The second call was to my childhood best friend. I didn’t think she would pick up, but she did and her voice was shaky, scared, and confuse when she answered it. All I said was hi and then she immediately cut me off and I got the yelling of the life time.
“What were you thinking” she yelled for the whole galaxy to hear. “I was SO worried! Why would you think about doing such a thing?” she continues shout. Then a silence has thicken the atmosphere of our conversation. “ Are… are… are you okay?” her voiced cracked. As soon as I was about to respond I heard her cried. She is the type of person that keeps to her emotions to herself. If you see her vulnerable it’s because she trust you and comfortable around you. Though I have seen her cry it was rare. But out of all the cries this one was the worse one. Through the weep I heard a broken heart. “I’m her best friend. My job is to make her feel better from the men who will break her heart. Not to cause to cause them” I thought. I felt more like shit. From the corner of my eyes I saw the nurses were giving me a cold look for using their phone that long. I quickly consoled her and provided a way to reach out to me.
The nurse gave me a tour and explained the rules. No shoelaces or anything that has string. Obviously no blades, including razor blades. If I want to shave I would have to request from the nurse and that nurse has to find another nurse to accompany you to watch you shave. Even if you decide to shave in the shower, yes… they must be there and watch you shave. As soon as you’re done, you must give back the razor to the nurse. No touching. PERIOD. Not even a hand shake, fist pump, or high five. Keep your hands to yourself at all times. I am sure there were more rules, but those things stood out to me the most and I’ll explain why later.
They keep a tight schedule. There is a certain time in the morning to use the showers in morning, afternoon, and night. Everybody has to be at their room by 10 o’clock for bed. There were a 2 or 3 hours timeframe to grab breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every morning after shower and breakfast is the same routine. You must go to morning group talks. Think of it as an AA meeting but for people with mental illnesses. Since there is a lot of people they divide the people into groups 5. But even doing so, each group has about 20 people. There fore it will take all morning for everybody to talk. Don’t worry, there is a 10 or 15 minutes break to get through the rest of the people.
By the time that’s done, of course it’s lunch time! Lunch is pretty long… about 2 hours. It’s that long to give patients not only to eat, but also take a shower, call a family member/friend, and ask questions to the nurses or doctors. After lunch there is some sort of activities depending on the days. From what I remember Wednesdays and Fridays are art and music days. Tuesdays and Thursdays were days for physical activities. Mondays were one activity and seeing your doctors and social workers about therapy, meds, and progress. I forgot how was the weekends. I sure there was something.
Later in the evenings everybody chill in the lounge. There was only one television so everybody has to agree on what to watch. Also, the nurses are there to monitor what you’re watching. Anything that may ignite a trigger cannot be watched. Anything with violence and sex is out of the table. Anything that has crude humor was also off the table. It’s bad enough that there are many people with different taste agreeing on something to watch. But 90% of the time majority agreed upon usually is declined by the nurse. If speak up to the nurse, tv privildge is revoke for the night. Continue to retaliate, then… well.. “happy” room you go.
This is a big deal because technology is not allowed! No tablet, laptop, and NO CELLPHONE. Not even visitors are allowed to bring those during visiting hours. So of course television is the biggest thing in the psych ward. You’re bored as hell, because activities end early and dinner starts early, so there is this big time gap between dinner and bed time. Luckily the lounge does have books (not great books), board games, and coloring books. Very helpful to keep you occupied. Plus eventually you make friends with at least one person. So hanging out makes the time goes by faster.
Just like school and work, of course there is a clique. From my observation the cliques goes like this… the substance abuse codependents. These people are… uh… intense. These individuals are the ones that have mental illnesses, but they are also alcoholics and drug addicts. The mental illness alcoholics are intense, but the drug users are more intense. You see, what the hospital does is actually give them drugs and then slowly decrease the dosage as time goes on. Because to have their patient going cold turkey while battling with whatever mental illness is asking for chaos for not only the staff but also their patients. To avoid that, they do what is necessary to get them clean. Now… certain people on certain days will give a bit of push and shove.
For example, Emily (changed her name), wasn’t happy when they decreased her dosage. She stated this was not the conversation she had with her doctor. Emily claimed the doctor and her had agreed on a different approach for her treatment. As soon the nurse checked the chart and see the doctor put in a decrease, Emily was not a happy woman. Imagine 4’10, skinny, female jumping over the desk like a frog to choke the nurse. Even though three big, buff, dudes immediately came in and pulled Emily off, they were not able to pin her down. This little woman was no match for these three big dudes. Eventually, a needle inserted and she eventually calm down and they took her to the “happy room” with a nice cool white jacket the makes her hug herself tightly. I have witnessed several Emily incidents with different patients. So you get use to it.
Then there is the schizophrenic clique. Obviously there are people who have schizophrenia. Just in case you might not know, schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation. But even this group is divided into two. There are schizophrenics which their disorder is not so heighten. Like Nicole (changed named) for instance. She claims she see demons, monsters, the devil and so forth. When you talk to her, she appears to be a “normal” person. Maybe due to meds and coping skills, she manage to not freak out or freak out too much on an episode. Then there are the ones that are to extreme. Like George (changed name), when he’s usually talking to himself, running around claiming a giant dog is chasing him, and time strip himself naked because he thinks he’s on fire.
The elders… yes, even the elders are at the psych ward. I am going to guess they are there because they are near to that point of life when they will have to accept their time will be up. I bet they look back and have many regrets of their choices which led them to the path they are at. They have lost many friends and don’t have family or a supportive family. To continue to live just seems pointless and they just want to end their life already. I feel bad for these individuals. I just want to give them a big hug and say, “Just because you’re older does not mean you’re useless”
The “kids” … no, no, no… they are not literally kids. They are as young as 15 and old as 25. To me, they are just kids. I also want hug them as well. Just say, “I know there is actually more pressure for younger folks now then back in the day and it seems impossible to hold up to these high standards. And you know what? You’re right. So fuck the standards and just be the best you. You’re going to fail and make many mistakes, but that’s how you become the adult you want to grow into. Don’t stress, everything will fall into place” Obviously the this group is divided into 3. The high schoolers, the college kids, and post college/graduate school.
The eating dis order individuals stick together. It’s very interesting watching them. The bulimics usually encourage the anorexics to eat, while the anorexics try to convince the bulimics to keep the food in their body system. While at the same time the both are learning the same coping skills and proper diet. It’s like a ying yang thing, but they balance each other out. It’s cute. But there are a few bad apples in the group that will promote each other bad habits, but eventually they learn the hard way.
Then there’s the category I fall into, I suppose… all the bpd, bipolar, anxiety, depressed, ocd, and ptsd are kinds thrown in together. Just the sub cliques are evaluated of personalities and common ground. Since I am a socially awkward, shy, and geeky, then I tend to gravitate to those peoples. I’m also a black woman so I gravitate to them. Not a lot of us in the pysch ward, but it’s good to vent out how the shampoos and conditioners in the hospital does not carter to natural hair… lol!
Even though there are cliques, usually for the most part, everybody gets along. No matter what illness you have we are all in this together. We all been through things and currently working out our kinks. Acknowledging this made us help each other out in the ward. Who would of thought being around “crazy” individuals, would make you feel so normal? It’s like being in a community where you’re finally being understood and not so alone. You create a strong bond with these individuals. Which brings back to the no touching rule.
Remember Nicole? Well, she was having a stressful and depressing week. Since she have arrived to the ward, I’ve never seen family or friends call and/or visit her. She usually has to go through this on her own. I can only imagine it’s extremely difficult and was not surprise when she stated this was 11th time being in a psych ward. It’s hard to manage your mental illness without a solid support system. So every patient there were her new family. So when there was a day she stopped in the middle of the hall and just cried, it was concerning. You can tell she needed someone to hold her, but the rules clearly stated no touching. I was talking to her and try to calm her down. But nothing. So my inner Momma Bear came into play. I hugged her. Hugged her so tight so she can’t deny she never been loved before. I heard a nurse from the distance shouting, “No touching!” I kept holding her. The Nurse repeated himself, “No touching!” I held onto her. Then I heard aggressive walks coming hastily towards our way. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t care. Nicole needed this hug. And I knew she needed it as soon she started hold me back and dug her head into my neck. “YOU KNOW THE RULES” he shouted as he continues to speed towards us. Before you know it I felt an aggressive around my waist trying to pull me off of her. I kept holding and she held tighter. The more he tugged the more we clinched our bodies together. We didn’t want to surrender. Who cares about the rules? We all want to be held and times feel so hopeless.
But eventually another nurse grabbed her and try to pull her off of me. We were losing grip. We tried our hardest to stick together. Unfortunately, the nurses were winning. As soon we were detach Nicole cried and screamed so loud for all gods to hear. Her tears of sorrow had become tears of hope, then quickly to anger. I have never seen her react this way. The nurse who pulled me away rush to her to help the other nurse to pin her down. Like a ninja a third nurse can with a needle to silence her. It was clear she going to go to the “happy room”. I was caught off guard when one of the nurses forcibly grabbed my arm going the same direction they are taking Nicole.
“Wait… where are you taking me?” I demanded. The nurse kept looking ahead and kept dragging me. “Where are you taking me?” I shouted. She looked at me as answered, “You know what you did. No touching”. And without missing a beat she continues to pull me away. I said, “She needed a hug” She ignored my explanation. I said it louder. “She needed a hug” She continued pull me. “She NEEDED a hug!” I shouted. The nurse would not budge. I kept screaming, “SHE NEEDED A HUG! SHE NEEDED A HUG! SHE NEEDED A HUG!” Before you know it, I felt a prick on my neck. Things where becoming blurry then dark, then… black.
I woke up feeling tight and constricted. I looked down and all of the sudden I’m wearing the famous white jacket. My head jumped up and I noticed the padded walls. I am here… I never thought I would make here, but here I am. Felt so cold. I don’t know if it’s because that was the temperature of the room or that how I felt emotionally. Felt abandon and forgotten. I didn’t understand how my power of touch would cause more harm than good. I was frustrated and angry. Then I became worried because I didn’t know how long I would be here. I cried because the room physically represented my emotions at time. Dead, cold, and unhopeful. It was a definite mind fuck. I burst out into tears refusing I was wrong. As I whimper, I whispered, “she needed a hug” over and over again. Until I was about to shut my eyes I said, “I needed a hug”
What seemed ages later, the door sung open. The same nurse that dragged me here, removed the jacket and walked me to the cafeteria. I didn’t see Nicole there. Nobody has since the incident. I was worried. I didn’t spot her until the next morning as I was walking to the shower. I ran to her with such relief. As soon as I approach up to her, she was scared. I said good morning and tried talking to her but she kept backing away from me while looking down at the ground. I decided to get closer but the closer I have gotten the more she backed up. One of the nurses strongly advises that I go take a shower and let her be. I didn’t get it. Does she hate me? Did she think this was my fault? Should I have let her cry in the middle of the hallway? She kept her distance from me for a week. It was devastating. She slowly turned around and we were friends again. I wanted to ask her what happened, but I was afraid it would trigger her so I didn’t ask. It was just nice to have my friend back.
As you can see, the psych ward was a place of a community and making a second family, but it had it’s down side. It was just as complicated as our minds. I don’t like rewinding to that time period, but I want to share my story to hopefully kick this imagery that people think about psych wards and their assumptions about the people who are in there. People have this notion, we are animals ready to kill people or do extreme actions. Come to find out its bunch of people with big hearts, because they know what pain feels like. They know it’s like being judged and misunderstood. They know what it’s like to be at the edge. They wouldn’t want to wish that for anybody.
These are people who usually care TOO much or once cared so much and have been betrayed. They love to laugh, dance, and just want to feel human once in a while. Sick of the darkness they have been for all this time. At the end of the day, they are no different from you and I. We are all just people who are trying our best. Some people it’s a little more difficult than others. But once you realize we are all people then the stigma can start to break down. Then you will finally realize we all are just trying to adult one day at a time.
IF YOU NEED IMMEDIATE HELP, PLEASE USE THE FOLLOWING:
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Live Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
FOLLOW ME ON THE FOLLOWING PLATFORMS: