Anxiety Society: From the Office to the Psych Ward (and Back Again)
(This is the fourteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.)
Meet City. She’s spending her mid-to-upper twenties living and panicking in NYC. On the surface, she’s just like any other upwardly-mobile young professional living a busy life in a busy city: she has a college degree, she works in an office, and she loves coming home to her small studio apartment so she can play with her dogs.
We first met her last week in this post where she introduces herself and talks about her
one two three mental health diagnoses: Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar II and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.
City recently tried Pristiq — an SNRI medication that had previously done wonders for her. But this time around, it made her feel suicidal.
From City’s blog:
Last week I started having increasingly severe panic attacks which over the course of 24 hours progressed to severe depression and thoughts of suicide. For the first time in my life though, instead of acting upon these thoughts, I went for help. I setup an emergency appointment with my therapist and we decided after speaking that going to the hospital would be best. She called 911 and smoked a cigarette with me until the EMTs arrived and that is when it all went downhill.
Summer: What was the hospital like? Had you ever been there before for anything mental health-related?
City: This was my sixth hospitalization in the past 14-15 years. I was first hospitalized for anxiety and depression when I was 13 after a suicide attempt. While I’ve never been fond of the hospital, I saw it as a necessary evil. It was a place I had to go when things were really not going well or I had to transition meds…that sort of thing.
S: In your blog, you talk about your roommate when you were an inpatient the most recent time around. [Note: In City’s blog, she writes about how her roommate “didn’t like to keep her clothes on, would go on absolutely terrifying rants, threaten other patients and staff and tried to get you to give her things (like your bra or your shoes or your dinner)”]. How did that affect your mental well-being?
C: Oh. My. God. This last hospitalization was the worst. While I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting emergency treatment, this was really a frightening experience. My roommate was not only mentally ill, but also a self-proclaimed “crackhead” and the staff made close to no effort at protecting the other patients from her. As I was suicidal, coming off of meds cold turkey and already anxious and uncomfortable that just pushed me over the edge. I knew I had to get out of the hospital at whatever cost because frankly, I didn’t feel safe there.
S: That…sounds awful.
C: There was also no real therapeutic activity going on – just a lot of people sitting around being bored and crazy together.
S: Surely all of your hospitalizations haven’t been that bad — right? Did you ever see a therapeutic affect from admitting yourself (or being admitted)?
C: Ironically enough, this was the first time I actually did admit myself! Every other time it has been involuntary through the ER. That said, every other hospital stay was far more therapeutic than this one with active groups being run, separation and adequate supervision of high risk patients such as my darling roommate and other activities like yoga, outdoor time, etc.
S: Did that take a toll on your self-esteem? The involuntary admissions, that is? I mean, so much mental illness comes from a perceived lack of control. Did that bother you?
C: Oh yes. The best way to get me to freak the eff out is to tell me I can’t do something – like leave. Typically I’d bargain with the staff – change my status to voluntary and I’ll stick around. Don’t and I’ll make my hospital stay miserable for all involved. Really cute and super mature, huh?
S: So, where are you right now — I mean, not geographically, but in terms of treatment and recovery? How far are you from where you want to be?
C: Well, I am currently completely OUT of treatment. I have an appointment to see a new psychiatrist who is really highly reviewed in two days, so I am hoping that will bring some change. I am pretty far from where I want to be. While I keep it together for the most part, when I fall apart, I really fall apart.
S: Your blog says you work in an office. How do you get by on a day-to-day basis? You mentioned that you were diagnosed with Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia — how difficult is leaving your house in the morning? How do you manage it?
C: Oooof. Yeah, I work in an office and it is not easy. I’m actually dealing with some HR fallout due to my absences. My latest “trick” is to get half dressed the night before and get up less than 20 minutes before I have to leave.
S: How does that help?
C: This way I have to function on auto-pilot and I don’t give myself enough time to start thinking about anything and everything that could go wrong. I just go. If I wake up early, I leave early. I absolutely cannot sit around, have breakfast, check email, etc. – my brain will always find something to panic about and then I can’t go anywhere.
S: How do you deal with public transportation while commuting to work?
C: I have to have music. And sunglasses. And typically another distraction like a book or a game on my phone. The distractions are for dealing with crowded NYC subways to and from work but I listen to music pretty much from the second I leave until I get back to my door. It [wearing sunglasses] is like being an ostrich – if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.
S: I know that when I was dealing with panic disorder at work, I had a hard time sitting in my cubicle because it wasn’t a “safe” place to me — it reminded me of panic and stress and all sorts of bad things that made me want to flee to the restroom or the lunch room or my car. Are you able to sit down and get work done?
C: Actually, it was when my panic picked up that I started smoking again. I simply couldn’t sit there. Nowadays I can sit at my desk – but the anxiety will make it almost impossible to actually do work.
Stay tuned later this week for the final part of our conversation. If you missed City’s introduction, you can find it here.
Beretsky, S. (2012). Anxiety Society: From the Office to the Psych Ward (and Back Again). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 11, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/08/anxiety-society-from-the-office-to-the-psych-ward-and-back-again/