Day 2 in a Psychiatric Hospital: Adjusting to a New Reality (Part 9)
Part 9 of the Surviving Bipolar Series.
When you receive a bipolar disorder diagnosis, it brings its own sort of trauma with it.
Either you know nothing about the condition or the bulk of your knowledge has come from the media. The problem with the latter is that news networks want advertising income, so they only show the worst bipolar stories. Those traumatic tales drive more viewers to their network, and more people means more money.
A bipolar diagnosis may even make you think your life is over. I know, because that’s how I felt.
The Surviving Bipolar Series is about the beginning of my journey with bipolar disorder. If you’re new to the series, you can read it from the beginning by clicking here.
In this episode, I’ll tell you about my second day in a psychiatric hospital.Download Your Copy
Day 2 in the Hospital
When we last left off, it was the end of my first day in Happy Valley, my fun name for the hospital I was in. Earlier that day, I received my first bipolar diagnosis. The doomsday section of my brain went into full throttle, and I imagined the rest of my life with me as little more than a drooling vegetable.
I truly thought my life was over. Happily, I was completely wrong, but it took some time for me to figure that out.
Before I go on, you need to understand that time passes differently when you’re in a psych ward. You still have normal meal times, but the rest of your day is so different from everyday life that it’s hard to keep things straight. Try as they may, the staff seems incapable of getting everyone to sleep at the same time. There’s always a group roaming the halls or filling the common rooms. It’s a smaller group during the overnight hours, but someone is always up and usually moving.
My first journal entry on day two reads, “Wow. It feels like I’ve been here for a week already. If it weren’t for this book, I would totally lose track of day and time.”
I’m a busy person, and always have been. Trying to fit too much into my schedule is part of what got me into trouble with bipolar. I thought I could work a day shift, hang out with friends from dinner time until 10 or so, and then work another shift during the night. Most days, I was sleeping 2-3 hours, if I slept at all.
I recognize now that part of my constant running was really about me fleeing from myself and the scary things in my mind. I was afraid to face the darkness, so I kept my life overflowing with activities.
To abruptly go from days with almost every minute planned out to hospital life sent my mind spinning.
Adjusting to Hospital Life
While the hospital workers scheduled regular activities to keep us occupied during the day, there was also a fair amount of time where we were free to do as we pleased.
Some spent the free periods sleeping while others gathered in small groups in the common areas. There was always a group scattered around the two TVs on our level, but I struggled to sit still. I ended up spending most of my time with the smokers. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, but smoking breaks were the only time they allowed us to go outside.
Knowing there is a locked door between you and the outside world tortures your mind. For my sanity—what little I had left—I took every opportunity to step outside.
While to outsiders, I often look like a people person, in reality, I’m a painfully shy introvert.
Social anxiety has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, even before I knew what it was. Meeting new people and having to telling them about myself has always triggered an internal panic alarm. In school, I seldom gave presentations, often convincing my mother I was sick on the days I was scheduled to give a talk in front of other students. I gladly accepted lower grades if it meant I could stay invisible at the back of the classroom.
Also Read: Chronic Illness Has Turned Me Into a Liar
Being in a hospital didn’t change that.
In fact, on my second day, I wrote, “I experienced true ‘group’ therapy today. It was interesting. I can see it’s a wonderful concept, but also incredibly terrifying. I tried to talk, but found it difficult to find my words in front of so many people.”
There were only about 10 people in my group, but it was too many for me to handle. I didn’t know where to look and so spent most of the time staring at the floor or picking at the bottom of my shoe.
Side note: some people have issues with seeing the bottom of your shoes. The group leader repeatedly told me to put my feet on the floor, but then I’d forget and do it again. I felt bad that I was making someone uncomfortable, but I felt powerless to stop myself.
I was less than 24 hours into my adventure with bipolar disorder, and suddenly a group of people wanted me to talk about it. Then, others wanted to talk about their suicidal feelings and have me share mine. Even though that was the reason I was in the hospital, I wasn’t ready to share my darkest secrets with a circle of strangers.
The other challenge with group therapy was the attendees changed every day. Patients left and new ones came, making my anxiety stay on high alert.
The hospital staff still thought I was a danger to myself, and rightly so, since just the day before, I had threatened to end things.
At least one member of the staff checked on me every 15 minutes. They carried a clipboard with my name on a page full of small boxes. Each watcher would glance my direction and initial a box on their sheet, marking off another 15-minute time slot. Sometimes, I barely noticed them pop their head into a room to verify I was there. Other times, they took a seat right next to me and wrote notes in paper files while I tried to pretend they weren’t there.
None of the staff were chatty, so their close proximity did little more than increase how uncomfortable I was.
As I mentioned in the previous posts, I barely slept in the two weeks before being committed. My first night in the center, I was too angry to sleep. I spent the few hours I was horizontal glaring at the camera in the ceiling. The second night saw little improvement. Although I was in a regular room rather than a suicide-watch cell, I couldn’t get comfortable.
My body twitched as my muscles tried adjusting to a different bed. The newly christened bipolar brain in my head stayed on high alert, jerking me awake at every sound. There are lots of random noises when you’re in a psychiatric institution, even in the middle of the night.
Then, of course, there were the 15-minute checks. Each one woke me up as the door creaked open and the glaring white light from the hallway filled my room.
There were a few positive parts of that second day. I’ll share more in the next post.
Until next time, keep fighting.
I’m Bipolar. Sounds dreadful.
It was rough but probably saved my life. Thanks for your comment.