It’s National Suicide Prevention Week. This week has always meant a lot to me, as someone who has dealt with depression and mental health issues her whole life. I’ve also had people very close to me try and commit suicide, and I’m so glad they failed. My family has always had mental health issues- I don’t feel like I’m letting any skeletons out of our closet, as things like this are starting to be talked about more, genetics play a HUGE part in mental health.This is not about my family, though, it’s about me. I just wanted to give some background to those who might be reading this and didn’t have any idea.
On the morning of July 2nd, a Thursday morning, after a frantic call to my doctor and my mother, sobbing into the phone as I sat on the toilet, trying to keep myself from swallowing pills and from waking up my boyfriend from the sounds of my choked breathing, I went to the ER at Summit Hospital. My mother met my boyfriend and I downstairs and we all went in together. As we were pulling into the parking lot, my mother was trying to reassure me and at that moment I couldn’t stop shaking and crying.
The beginning of the week had been a blur. I don’t remember being at work at all and when I would get home, all I would do was cry and tell my boyfriend how much better off he would be without me. I sent rambling, incoherent text messages to friends over Facebook, worrying them only to tell them I was fine in the morning. The mornings were ok because I knew that I had to make it through work, I had to put on that mask and be strong. I’ve always been very good at ignoring things and plowing ahead, and work was no different. I’m a quiet person at work, having my headphones in usually keeps people from talking to me.
The night before, though, had been the worst. My boyfriend didn’t know what to do, he just kept holding me and letting me wail and reassuring me that it was just my new medication. The new medication was a HUGE factor, but I had been letting all my feelings and anxieties sit below the surface for so long that the side effects from the medication was all it took for me to snap.
I want to tell you about my experience at the ER, but mine was not a typical experience. I was treated horribly, like I was less of a person, because they heard ‘suicidal thoughts’. I want you to know that this is NOT the rule, but the exception to the rule. The way I was treated by the hospital staff was atrocious and I will leave it at that and skip ahead to the Psych Ward and the five (there could be so many more than five) things you learn on 72-hour hold in the psych ward.
1 You can kill yourself with an infinite number of things that you have never imagined.
I was admitted very late at night, so I didn’t get the full speech of all the things you cannot have, as everyone was asleep and they had to be very quiet while admitting me. I heard the whole list the next morning, though, when a new patient was admitted. Here’s the short list: shoestrings, drawstrings, the wires in your bra. You had to turn in your plastic eating utensils before you left the cafeteria or the break room on the ward. There were sensors on the bathroom doors, so you weren’t allowed to hang towels on them, lest you try to hang yourself. The showers had no rods or curtains, for the same reasons. You had to aim yourself under the spray of water and try as hard as possible to get all of the soap off of yourself, because the knobs was built into the shower so it didn’t stick out. Door knobs also turned, but did not stick out from the door. Every shower was lukewarm, because if the water got too hot, you could injure yourself. The toilets had no seats, the sink had no faucet. Mattresses were all foam. Candy had to be individually wrapped, though that never made sense to me, as you could try and choke yourself with the candy, but I didn’t question it. Pencils were not allowed unless they were given out by the nurses and given back as soon as you were done with them. Games couldn’t have small pieces, so the only game we had was Jenga. All of these things made sense and were necessary, but I had never even contemplated them before.
2. You are going to meet people who will change your life.
My first full day in the ward, I said absolutely nothing unless I was spoken to. I was so scared and I was so angry, I was afraid to speak. I didn’t want them to have any reason to hold me, because 72 hours could turn into a week, I had been told by fellow patients. We were shuffled off to breakfast, which was surprisingly good, but we were only allowed to sit in certain sections. There was the suicide ward, of which I was a member, then there were the alcoholics/drug addicts, then the people who were there for anger management. I sat with no one the first day, ate my rubbery eggs and listened to the people around me talk.
There was a girl, I never learned her name since she left the day after I got there, so I called her Bulbasaur. She had a really nice Bulbasaur tattoo on her neck, and when I told her so, she scowled at me and rolled her eyes. I decided that not talking to anyone was still a good idea at that point. She was there for partying, I heard her tell another girl. She drank a lot and was a compulsive liar, I could tell just by some of the stories she told in group. Bulbasaur would stare at all the men in the groups, since the groups were all segregated and all of the different wards would mix based on which groups they thought you would need to attend. My first group was dealing with anxiety. Hilariously enough, I’ve never felt more anxiety than on that day, the first group I was in.
Bulbasaur was there and she kept staring at Shaq (the nickname I gave to a super tall black man who was there to save his marriage/anger management counseling). She was obvious enough about it that he said something to her about it after class. She shrugged and said that he looked some dude that she had banged at the last party she was at and was later arrested because of driving home drunk from said party. He assured her he wasn’t, and that he was married and she continued to follow him around the center. She was one of the only people I met there that didn’t seem to want any sort of help. She had been in places like this three or four times to avoid jail time.
After group, which you have pretty much all day, you’re allowed to watch TV or color, basically free time. This is where I met Big Yellow. She was this amazing black woman who wore nothing but a yellow sleep dress the entire time I was there. I had finally started talking a bit, as my doctor had pulled me out of group to talk to her that afternoon and it looked like I was going to get out on Saturday. Well, Big Yellow was talking to me about Pink Hat (who always wore a pink hat- I’m super clever, I know), who had put it on CMT. She ‘hates country music, and almost everyone’s crazy ass’. She goes on to tell me not to take anything Pink Hat says too seriously, because she doesn’t remember half of what she says. Pink Hat would be having a nice conversation with you, you’d say something, she would give you a hair-raising scowl and turn around and leave. This happened to me twice while I was there to which Big Yellow says “Don’t mind her crazy ass- CMT is awful!”
It was snack time that night, and since it was Friday night, the cafeteria is closed down and they deliver food to us. We have to eat it in the break room, but we can have as much of anything we want. I’ve made friends with another person by this point, Flannel Pants, who was a super nice guy who was going to be released to a group home here in Nashville soon. Well, he was trying to get me to try a packet of peanut butter with chocolate syrup poured on top and I told him that I had been doing low carb before I came in. I might ought to tell you that everyone there called me Blue, because at the time, my hair was, you guessed it, blue.
At hearing this, Big Yellow locks eyes with me from across the room and she says, “Blue, you eat WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT. Look where you are, girl- eat whatever the hell you want”. My eyes teared up a little bit and I proceeded to eat ice cream, a banana, peanut butter packets covered in chocolate and a brownie.
3. Smile and Play Jenga
On Friday, since I was told I would most likely be able to leave the next day, I warmed up completely. I began speaking in group, I was animated- I felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We had a free period, that was gym. The gym had two backboards that didn’t have rims, a badminton set and some footballs/basketballs. Most people just went because they would bring the radio and let you listen to it for 30 minutes. It was another chance to talk to Big Yellow and Flannel Pants, who I had quickly grown fond of, so I went. Big Yellow and I took a seat on the sidelines and some of the people from the addiction ward played badminton. Pink Hat had a friend, No Belt, who’s pants wouldn’t stay up to save her life, and they started dancing. It was one of the worst things I had ever seen, since No Belt was also No Bra, but it was the first time I had seen true joy in that place. Me and Big Yellow started cheering them on and this is when I met Mustache Jesus.
Now, Mustache Jesus is an example of how smiling can help and hurt you. Big Yellow and I were still watching the dancing and a man in a robe and bright yellow socks (most people just walked around in socks) comes over and I give him a smile. Big Yellow’s eyes get wide, as if this was a mistake and Mustache Jesus grabs my hand. He proceeds to tell me this fantastical story about how he doesn’t belong in here, he needs to get back to his wife. Now, his wife has died, but his brother, Fred, was supposed to take care of her, because she had his Mason ring, but she was buried with it. He had to get out and dig her up before Fred did.
I was engrossed in his story, mostly because I hate being impolite, which luckily, wasn’t a problem for Big Yellow. She keeps loudly saying “YUP, that’s good, MHMM, alright now, get on” until he shuffles off and starts shaking someone else’s hand. She looks at me and sighs “That man is crazy as hell, don’t smile at him no more”. Wiser words have never been spoken.
After gym is visitation. My mother and my sister come to see me. They brought me new clothes (I had the same ones on since early Thursday morning), a Snickers they didn’t get to bring in and my sister had brought me a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so when they left, I was in a fantastic mood. I was in such a good mood that Flannel Pants and I decided to play Jenga. He told me that as long as he had been there, about two weeks, no one had played any games. I told him what a tragedy this was and we proceeded to play ten games of Jenga, the last being the most epic game of Jenga every played.
As we continued to play, more and more people from the ward joined us. They were all standing around and laughing and we had almost beaten the floor record of new levels made without knocking the tower down. We all got so excited that by the end, the night shift nurses made us put the game away, as we were exciting everyone too much. Big Yellow muttered an expletive under her breath as he walked away. We made thirty new rows and as everyone was shuffling off to go to bed, Flannel Pants hugged me and thanked me for playing with him. Big Yellow said it was the best day she’d had in a long, long time and that tomorrow night, she wanted to play. I went to my room and cried, because I hoped so much that I wouldn’t be there tomorrow night.
4. Happiness is a Jolly Rancher Away
The first night I arrived, there was a guy that was still awake and he came up and introduced himself to me. He actually called himself the Candy Man and pulled out a bag of Jolly Ranchers from his pocket. He gave me a handful and said that if I never needed anymore, to let him know. Also, he told me that this place wasn’t all that bad. The next day, he didn’t get out of bed all day, as he was sick from all of the meds they were giving him, but he still popped his head out for dinner and gave me some more Jolly Ranchers. Sometimes, the smallest things can make a huge difference.
5. Life is worth it, no matter where you are.
The very moment I realized I wasn’t going to get to leave with my mother and boyfriend, I wished I had never set foot in the ER. I wished that I could have accessed that small part of my brain that was still sane, that could still form rational thoughts and convince myself that I was okay. I realize now, looking back, that I ended up exactly where I needed to be. I knew I sounded crazy, I knew I wasn’t making any sense, but you’re not thinking when you’re like that. People say “I could never kill myself- it’s so selfish. They must not have been thinking about their families and the people who love them”.
THEY’RE NOT. They can’t think about anything except how much it hurts, how their brain is shouting at them that they’re not worth it, they should give up, they make everyone’s lives worse. Their rational brain is locked away and is just forced to watch as the depression, anxiety, medication, etc. takes over. Someone who is suicidal isn’t rational and can’t really make decisions for themselves at that point. And as scared as I was, and as badly as I wanted to get out of that place, that’s where I needed to be.
The medication left my system, I started feeling better and listening in group and all I wanted to do was get out and live. I hadn’t felt like living in months and here I was, so ready to jump back into my life and love everyone in it.
If you need help, ask for it. It’s going to hurt and it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be worth it. You don’t always have to be strong, let other people take care of you. Take that mask off for a little while, because we need you. The world needs you. Maybe that’s the sixth thing that I learned from the psych ward.
6. You might not realize it, but the world needs you, so much more than you know. Ask for help. Don’t let depression and anxiety silence your voice.