What’s it like being hospitalized in an inpatient psychiatric setting—or the fifth time? Well, it certainly is neither easy nor comfortable. I had my fifth stint this past week after months of severe depression that brought me to places that now feel unimaginable. My negative thoughts told me such horrendous things about myself, that looking back now, I cannot fathom how I got through my days.
What made my stay even more difficult was that I am a wife and a mom to a 7-year-old girl. Being away from my family is not easy, especially when my visits with my husband are watched and I only communicated with my daughter on the phone. At times, it was simply heartbreaking for me to think of my daughter and feel so disconnected from her. As I have written on Kveller before, having a mental illness often makes parenting even harder than it already is.
What was accomplished during those seven days in the hospital this past week? I was safe, for one thing, in a controlled and locked environment that was fully staffed with milieu counselors, nurses and doctors. I was at one of the best psychiatric hospitals in the country and felt grateful to be at a teaching hospital. My doctor was known to me, as was many of the staff from prior admissions.
I also was able to focus on myself in a way I have not been able to for months. I knew I should have been doing this earlier in my illness in the spring but because of all my obligations, and for other reasons, I simply was unable. While in the hospital, I went to therapy groups and participated in them. I worked hard on myself and while I felt sad, lonely and afraid, I got through my time there.
I made a treatment deal with my doctor which included having ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) three times during my hospitalization to help pull me out of my misery enough before I was able to start my new anti-depressant. He explained that needed to be a two-week window in between stopping my old anti-depressant and starting this new one. This was a tough deal to make, not because I did not know that ECT would help, just as it has in the past, but the short-term memory issues as well as the high degree of anxiety I experience before each treatment entailed a sacrifice.
I did it though, as I knew I was at the bottom of a very dark and scary well. I needed something to finally provide some sort of safe passage out of it.
While many daily things we take for granted need to be requested in the hospital, I was actually happy to have them in place. I did not mind asking for a cup of coffee in the morning and I did not mind asking for more towels. These were things I had a right to and I advocated for myself. Right before each ECT treatment, I was bossy toward the nurses and especially the anesthesiologist, reminding the nurse to put on the oxygen mask once I was under as well as making sure the anesthesiologist knew to give me Toradol for my head.
I explained, with ease, that “I get bossy when I am anxious!” They accepted this and made me feel as comfortable as possible and well taken care of. While I had a difficult time after the first ECT due to a different anesthesia that was given to me (planned as it is supposed to cause less cognitive side effects), I did have some tough times that particular day (unsteady on my feet, needed two counselors to help me get to the bathroom and stay with me as I was so unsteady on my own) but was able to feel my mood lighten by the end of that day.
This hospitalization was more mellow than the one I had in the fall. The other patients were quieter and I made some connections to other folks around me who were in similar places within their illnesses. This helped the days go by and even provided some laughter in this strange setting at a difficult time.
Was this my last hospitalization? I cannot answer that. In fact, no one can answer that. Right now, my focus is on being home with my husband and daughter as well as taking the time to become steadier, seeing my therapist and my psychiatrist, and taking my medication. I can’t take on much more right now. It is a difficult transition being home after being in the hospital and I need to remind myself of that when the going seems tough. The last thing I need is to give myself a hard time and push myself to do things that I am really not ready to tackle.
It was a tough week, but I am glad I was safe and taken care of. I am very happy to be home with my family, and I look forward to not necessarily picking up where I left off—but rather finding a quiet and safe space for myself right now.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.