I have been hospitalized four times for psychological reasons; none of them pleasant experiences. I thought I would write a little bit about what that is like – being locked away from the world with other mentally ill people.
My first hospitalization followed a suicide attempt and there are a few things that stand out. First of all, you should know that when I am in that state – a state in which I need to be hospitalized – part of my mind has already left me. I cannot remember much that happens in the beginning. It is some form of mental amnesia, but memory difficulties are not uncommon to those of us with bipolar disorder, especially during an episode.
I know the staff went through the things my family brought for me and confiscated my razor and hairdryer, and every toiletry, such as my shampoo or conditioner, was given to me in a small Dixie cup when needed. They wanted to keep me safe from myself and were not going to give me the option of dying on their watch. I remember how small that made me feel, how untrustworthy, that I could not even have a bottle of shampoo.
Another thing that stands out was meal time. My first hospitalization, in California, was the nicest of the three. We chose from a menu our meals the day prior, learning to hang on for one more day to eat cold toast or soggy cornflakes. We were not allowed caffeine so the coffee was always decaf. Our diet was sugar-free and all our utensils and tray and cups were plastic to avoid the risk of anyone hurting themselves or someone else. I will always remember the way I relished that Frappuccino my parents brought me during a particular afternoon visiting hour and the deliciousness of the brownies my sister’s best friend baked for me. They were perfect in a perfectly complicated world.
There was a lot of therapy at this spot. I remember succinctly becoming aware of my surroundings while making pizza. It was occupational therapy – a version where you perform a task in order to save you from yourself. Up until that point things were vague and hazy. I remember bits of the Intensive Care Unit. Then I remember pepperoni pizza.
I also very much enjoyed movement group which took place after our morning group meeting. It was a far cry from yoga, but we stretched and breathed and it made something inside me still.
At three locations we were not allowed outside. After a while air grows stale. Did you know that? I do. I began to crave what was beyond the glass, the glass that everyone else took for granted, normal people, not “crazy” people like me. In my book I write about what it felt like when I was first released for hospital stay number one. I saw a flower and I had to touch it to see if it was real, to make sure I was real.
I know this may all seem jumbled, but that is how it is in my mind – jumbled. A series of sensations. Glimpses of memories. Whispers of names – and that is what I will write about next time. The people I met there. The people who, more than a decade later, have stuck with me.