Part 13: Watching a Meltdown and Opening Up In Group Therapy
Continuing the Surviving Bipolar series.
When we finished up Part 12, I felt like I was slipping into a drug-induced coma. The new meds my doctor started me on were finally making me rest, and sleep was all I wanted to do. It was Friday night, my 4th night in a psychiatric hospital. I slept soundly for probably the first time since I got there. Once asleep, I found it hard to wake up again.
I wrote a couple of brief entries in my journal about that Saturday and Sunday. Group activities must have been minimal, so I mostly wrote about how I started watching several movies and slept through the end of each one.
I had turned into one of those drooling, sleeping blobs I saw on my first days at the center. Other patients came and went, but they were nothing more than meaningless blurs I saw through half-opened eyes.
My body and brain were exhausted, and the months of running nonstop finally caught up with me. Even the writing in my entries shows how out of it I was.
Surviving Bipolar is a monthly series where I share the early days of my journey with bipolar disorder. You can read the story from the beginning here.
Watching a Meltdown
By Monday, things started to clear up. It started about 1:30 a.m. when I got a new roommate. To say he was the roommate from hell would be an understatement. He bounced around the room like a rabid raccoon. Words came out of his mouth nonstop, though most of them were senseless. I tried to ignore him and drift back to sleep, but he demanded a spotlight and audience.
He took turns scratching at his arms and destroying things in the room. He pulled the drawers from the dressers, breaking the front off of one of them. After stripping the sheets and blankets from the bed, he stood the mattress on end against the window. He even went through all of my things, pulling my clothes from my drawers and tossing them around the room. Part of me knew he was too dangerous to confront, so I let the ranting go uninterrupted.
About an hour before breakfast, I got out of bed, shaved and took a shower, and headed to the dining room. It’s unclear what happened, but by noon he was gone. The gossip mill on the floor spun stories of how he talked the staff into letting him leave. I wondered if they moved him to a more secure facility or even to prison. He needed to be in a safe place where they could control him.
The reality of watching a man meltdown in front of me made me realize I was making progress. Even if it was only baby steps, I was in a better place than where I started just seven days prior. Knowing that gave me some hope.Start Today!
Opening Up in Group
Group therapy is part of every day when you’re in the hospital. While I remember nothing about our group sessions from the weekend, I took center stage on Monday. I imagine the group leader grew tired of watching me sit there, disconnected from the group. So, she started Monday’s session with opening the floor for my fellow patients to ask me questions.
I hate being the center of attention. It’s why I struggle so much with making videos or doing Instagram Live events. I’m much happier writing my words and letting others read them at their convenience.
There’s no hiding when you’re center square, and it still surprises me how I responded once I was there. A few of my fellow patients discussed how I was hiding until one finally asked if anyone really knew me.
As you know, I’m prone to wearing masks, and this trend goes back as far as I can remember. What really surprises me, though, is how open I was that day with a group of strangers. I told them that no, for the most part, no one knew the real me. I kept myself hidden because I had to.
My mind was a swirling wind of chaos that I couldn’t let out because I had to be the good son. I had to be the one who kept everything together. Until I couldn’t, that is. And when I finally crashed, my downfall was public and humiliating, but it also saved my life.
As difficult as it was, I finally opened the door to showing the real me to others. Later, after I left the hospital, I would share many of my hidden monsters with my friends, Margaret and Patrick. I learned to share my darkest secrets, including the memories of being sexually abused as a child.
My head was full of haunting memories I didn’t want to face, but that were, unfortunately, a part of me. I had to learn to accept those painful parts before I could move forward. Opening up in group therapy that day started me on the path to doing the hard work, and I’m so glad I did. In some ways, it was the beginning of my journey to creating the Speaking Bipolar website.
On Monday, as part of our Alcohol and Drug session, we had a special course on coping with relapse. The topic for the day was how to make progress and move forward. The key came down to three letters: H O W. Each letter stood for a vital step of the process.
- Honesty about the problem
- Open mindedness as to treatment
- Willingness to work hard to overcome the problem
First, you have to be honest with yourself and others about the problem you’re facing. Whether it’s addiction or mental illness, admitting there is a problem is a vital first step.
Second, an open mind is essential. I never wanted to be in a psychiatric hospital, but I’m so glad I went. While some experiences were terrible, the stay saved my life. It also showed me new ways to cope with the chaos in my head.
Third, you have to be willing to do the hard work. And it may be the most difficult work you’ve ever done.
While relapse class was specifically for addiction, the same technique can apply to all areas of mental health. You can’t deal with your bipolar disorder until you’re willing to be honest about the way you’re feeling inside. You can’t find the right treatment until you’re open to all types of care. And you’ll never find the success you want unless you’re willing to work hard.
The staff finally got me up and walking on that Monday. Before I went to the hospital, I had been walking up to four or five miles a day. After two days of sleeping in contorted positions, my body was stiff and achy. As the mental cobwebs began to clear, I wanted to move again.
I walked a full 2 miles in the gymnasium during our free periods. The exercise soothed my muscles and made the wheels in my mind turn again. In my journal, I wrote about how my uneasiness and shakiness had subsided. I was starting to feel like me again, something that hadn’t happened in months.
It’s funny to think about now, but before I went to bed on Monday night, I wrote in my journal how I would never discuss my hospital stay with anyone once I got out. Even though I knew that going to the hospital saved my life, I wanted it to be another part of my past that I stuffed in a box and never talked about.
Sadly, that’s what I did for a very long time, and I regret it. I can’t help but wonder if I’d been more open about how the hospital stay helped me, if it would have helped some of my friends along the way. But I can’t go back and change the past. So, instead, I’m here telling you.
There are a lot of tough parts to staying in a psychiatric hospital, but if it’s the only way to save your life, it’s the thing you have to do. You can’t do anything if you’re not here to continue the fight. Try to always be willing to do whatever it takes, even if that means allowing yourself to be committed. A hospital stay may be one of the worst experiences of your life, but it can also save your life. It saved mine.
Because of insurance issues, my time in the hospital was coming to a quick end. I’ll write more about that in the next episode.
Until next time, keep fighting.
Hi Scott, do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t know quite what to do to help a family member who struggles with mental health issues?. I wrote an article “Random Thoughts in a Coffee Shop” in my blog about :a situation in my family. It’s heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to want to help, but don’t know what to do.
Hi Jenny, Sorry for the delay. I thought I responded but must have never hit publish. Helping a family member can be tricky, and a lot depends on if the person is willing to admit there’s a problem. Learning about the illness is always helpful. Let me think on this another day and I’ll get back to you.
I’m going to group therapy sessions twice a week right now. I remember being extremely nervous during my first session in the group. I’m so glad I didn’t let the nerves keep me from getting the help I need, because these group sessions are really changing my life for the better.
That’s great that it’s helping you so much. Group therapy is really helpful because it gives you both validation and direction and how to handle things. Thanks for sharing your experience!