I have been hospitalized in psychiatric facilities more than I can even guess. My rough estimate is 80 to 100 times since the age of 18. Usually I was there because of cutting, but there were times when I was so debilitated by depression or so consumed with racing thoughts, that I was unable to function in “the outside”. I have always felt very vulnerable in this world and anxious by the day to day life. Things that seem trivial to some make me crumble in fear. Things are much better now, as I have worked very hard on healing but at times I get a reminder of what it was like within the confined of hospital walls.
At 22 years old, because I landed myself in the psych hospital monthly, I put myself in my state’s facility. I thought that a long-term stay might fix me. I always saw myself as broken back then…in many ways I was. I think that I was hoping the doctors could glue the pieces of my heart back together again so that I could carry on. I was there for a short time for what stays usually are in that place. Three months and I was so starved for the love of my family that the psychiatrist thought it best if I was released. Those months, though, were the longest I have ever known. What is ironic is that I have very few memories of that place which is for the best.
I do remember feeling defenseless. I was very medicated on old anti-psychotics that I developed trembling limbs and involuntary movements in my face . My body was so slow that when i walked I shuffled and had so little energy that lifting my foot enough for the next step was a slow and arduous process; it’s coined the Thorazine shuffle. There were others on the ward that did not like me. One girl regularly told me in expletives, that I should die. Another used her size as intimidation to get me to give her my belongs. She also exploded into rants late at night and I had the misfortune of sharing a room with her. I remember I tried to stay up throughout the night and if I dozed I would jolt wide awake at any sound.
Day after day, 50+ people in a room with two televisions on different stations with there volumes cranked up. I believe it was enough to make any person crack. This and other memories are such a small part, I suspect, of what went on there in the state hospital. I have faint memories of the grounds outdoors and one blurred picture in my head of being in restraints. The two things that bring my mind back to these moments are the smell of coffee mixed with the odor of stale cigarettes, maybe that is why today I neither drink coffee or smoke.
These things happened and it was a horrific time of my existence . When I reflect on certain hospitalizations, my heart burns and tears bulge in the corners of my eyes. But then…I have to remember that I am shaped by my experiences. I was not weak during these times, but just the opposite…incredibly strong and resilient because I survived. I not only survived, but I grew and now thrived! I would not change my life in anyway. I have gained from my losses and built on what was taken from me. I am who I am because I thrive in adversity!
Monty, Madison and Sherman are just a few of my recovery supports. These supports listen at anytime and no matter what I say they love me. In my darkest moments just knowing they rely on me for life has kept me alive. Yes, I consider them my children even though they are not of the human kind. They are my furry and feathery pets.
Through the years of my illness I have had pets. Their enthusiastic unconditional love is always apparent If it is my ferrets licking my chin or my bird climbing up onto my shoulder I knew they needed me.
I have been inpatient in psychiatric hospital 80 plus times during my dark days and the one thing I always made sure I packed in my bag was a scrapbook containing pictures of their precious faces. During these stays I would covet that book, flipping through the worn pages I saw hope. My longing to see them again turned into determination to get better, to move forward and integrate back into society.
Being released from the hospital was always overwhelming. Although I felt ready to go back out into the world it never failed to seem overstimulating. After being in the mundane setting of a hospital, where all I seemed to do is eat, sleep and take medication the outside world moved at an unsettling speed. It was coming home to my sanctuary and holding their soft little bodies is when I knew life was worth living.
Dissociation has been a counterproductive coping mechanism I developed from childhood. I often have times when I feel outside my own body and have difficulty returning. One of the tools I use is cradling my pets in my arms, using all of my senses to help bring me back to myself. It never fails that the pattering of their tiny hearts brings focus on my own beating heart returning me to feeling alive.
If I was a psychiatrist I would prescribe pets as part of the medication regime. I would write a script directing myself to hold at least one pet, several times a day. I would recommend laughing at their antics, care for their needs and have a heart to heart conversation everyday.
I was 28 years old when I finally moved out of my parents home and burst out into the world with vigor and fear. I had spent 10 years in and out of psychiatric hospitals with my emotions blunted by medications. My time was spent mostly doing arts and crafts and partaking in group therapy where I would process my goal for the day. Life was… dull. How did I find myself housed in the walls of institutions? Let’s look back to high school at the young age of 17.
I had many wonderful friends and a great family. I was to graduate soon and then off to college. My life looked promising and exciting on the outside. Internally, though, was a rage so volcanic and an anxiety that never let up. There was so much pain contained in a body that was without a voice. The truth was I had never developed a voice to express anger because to me it was an unacceptable emotion that I did not possess. Little did I know my “bad” emotions were seeping out in ways that were far more destructive than words.
My rage turned inward and I was repulsed by my existence. I found things so wrong with myself that facing each day in my body was unfathomable. So I self-destructed by taking razor blades to my arms and keeping food from my lips. I spoke with my actions of self-harm and an eating disorder. In my delusional world, everything was under control and I could live with myself.
I wore long sleeves and baggy clothes to hide my secrets. My arms were never exposed to the outside world because I knew they would not understand. I wept, but with my own blood instead of tears. My weight-loss I concealed with bulky outfits. I was undercover as a happy young woman, though inside I was a mess. This is how I lived for a year, until the day the silence broke…(to be continued).