Part 10: The Positive Parts of Day Two in a Psychiatric Care Center
Continuing the Surviving Bipolar Series.
This is Part 10 of the Surviving Bipolar series. To read the story from the beginning, start here.
In the last post, I shared some struggles I faced on my second day in a psychiatric hospital. While it was tough, there were some positives.
This is the rest of what happened that day.
Learning Through Activities
We also played some role-playing games.
Communication was the theme for the first one. The process was supposed to teach us how to be more successful in conveying what we felt and hearing what other people were saying. By acting out our assigned roles, we were to learn how to stop building walls around ourselves.
The group leaders passed out cards with our assigned roles. Introvert me wanted to run and hide.
My role was that of a husband arguing with his wife at dinner.
I did my best to portray my character, probably getting a little too into the role. During a manic phase, I could believe I was anything. I wanted to set a great example, but my character snapped at my pretend wife as soon as she pointed out the flaws printed on her character card.Start Today!
My head knew we were in a role-playing game, but each of her stabs felt personal, stirring up the worst things my voices accused me of. So I struck out with the precision of a brain surgeon and “won” our fight.
Except, I didn’t really win anything.
My “wife” got so frustrated with my verbal tirade that she got up and walked away. A twisted part of my brain celebrated the victory, but even then I knew how awful that was.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud after our scene when the group discussed how angry I appeared.
Of course I was angry. For days, every little thing had poked at the beast inside me. They asked for a real-life argument, and I gave them one. They opened a door, and I let my rage monster run free.
Needless to say, my first session was unsuccessful.
Later in the day, I apologized to my actress wife. She played it off as no big deal, but made a point of never sitting near me in any activity after that. Her avoidance made my heart hurt and reaffirmed the negative chorus in my head.
True growth would take years.
I was 23 years old, and the idea of dropping my walls just because a group of patients felt I was too angry was ludicrous to me. My walls took 23 years to build.
Two days in a hospital would never be enough to bring them down.
Learning About Other Patients
Even though the group labeled me as angry, I connected with many other residents. Here are two people I met on day two.
My first roommate, a nice blonde-haired guy a little younger than me and equally skinny, didn’t make it through my first day.
He drove himself to the hospital, clearly coming down off a bad drug trip, and an orderly escorted him into my room some time after lights out.
Chad* was so antsy he couldn’t sit still. During the night, he would lie down on the bed, toss and turn, jump up and stare out the window. Then he would walk out in the hall and be gone for a few minutes, only to come back and do it all again. Chad was a big part of why I never slept on my second night.
The staff wanted Chad to sign a document agreeing to a 72-hour hold.
Chad was a repeat visitor to Happy Valley, and knew if he didn’t sign the form, he could leave on his own timetable. He checked himself out of the hospital before the day was over.
Chad was a walking mess when he left. My small circle of friends wondered aloud if he could safely drive his car out of the parking. I often wonder what happened after he walked out of those hospital doors.
I also met Betty on my second day.
Betty was a grandmother, a sweet, silver-haired woman, probably in her early 60s. Betty was a kindred spirit, and we both felt it from the moment we met.
She was the epitome of a Southern lady. Even in the hospital, she fixed her hair and lipstick every morning, and dressed in formal slacks and silk blouses with colorful cardigans. Betty looked more professional than the hospital staff and was much kinder.
My second day was the second to the last for Betty. She was afraid to go home, but had reached the end of what her insurance company would pay for.
While she had depression, her biggest struggle was an addiction to painkillers.
For years, she had hidden her addiction from her family and friends, silently fighting her monsters while keeping a smile on her face.
We talked for a couple hours that night, Betty telling me about her grandkids as I handed her tissues to wipe her endless tears.
Before I would leave the hospital eight days later, I too would receive an addict label, though it would prove incorrect. While I understand addiction and have had an unhealthy obsession with various things, alcohol was never the problem my case worker thought it was.
Betty’s biggest fear was that her husband and children would never trust her again.
She was terrified she’d never be alone with her grandchildren again and that they would scrutinize her every action for the rest of her life. Repeatedly, she used the word “failure” while we talked.
I remember reaching out and squeezing her hand. It was the only comfort 23-year-old me could offer, but she smiled and thanked me.
Betty didn’t share what finally caused her to seek treatment, but ended every story with the admonition to never undervalue my family and friends. Her tales made me grateful for the loved ones I had waiting for me. I knew people loved me, and the ones who truly mattered would accept me, bipolar disorder and all.
The hospital rules demanded we not make connections or contact each other when we left the hospital. Many blatantly ignored the rules, one couple even getting caught in a romantic act, something that’s apparently common in psychiatric care centers, but Betty and I were rule followers, so we obeyed.
I never learned Betty’s last name and can’t remember her real first name. In my journal, I only refer to her as an older woman and a grandma.
In this digital world, I imagine the whole connection thing is different now.
I want to believe Betty left the hospital a new woman and stayed sober for the rest of her days, but I’ll never know for sure. She left the next day, taking a small piece of my heart with her.
Much of day two was an emotional roller coaster. I ran through a gamut of emotions, including anger, compassion, frustration, and love.
I never saw my doctor or a caseworker.
When a nurse gave me my morning meds before breakfast, she told me I would see both of them before the end of the day. Yet, neither appointment happened. No one gave me a reason or any clue when I would see either person.
The lack of information was probably the most frustrating part of being in the hospital. I’m a take-charge person, but had no control over when or where things happened.
Much of the staff felt patients didn’t deserve to know anything. The few kind workers tried to share what they could, but they were often as uninformed as we were.
The Depakote Journey
On that day, I also started my journey with Depakote.
I know the medication has helped many with bipolar maintain stability, but the only good thing it did for me was to make me gain weight.
When I checked into the hospital, I weighed 116 pounds. I’m 5-feet, 9-inches tall, so 116 is far below my ideal weight.
Unfortunately, the weight gain didn’t stop once I got to a healthy weight. Instead, I gained nearly a hundred pounds in the next 12 months.
Weight gain is the biggest complaint I hear from patients about Depakote, and it’s the main reason I stopped taking it. When I finally convinced my doctor a few years later to let me stop, nothing about my mental health changed.
Keep in mind that each medication reacts to each person’s body and brain chemistry. Just because it was the wrong medication for me doesn’t mean it won’t be the right one for you. One of my friends swears it’s the best part of her treatment regimen and has been on Depakote for years.
At the end of my second day, another nurse gave me a pill to make me sleep. No one told me what it was, but it finally did the trick. Somewhere around midnight, I drifted off to sleep and slept for a whole six hours.
It felt like a miracle.
I’ll share more about my third day in the psychiatric hospital in my next post in this series.
Until next time, keep fighting.
*All names have been changed.
Read Next: Part 11: Seeing a Doctor, Learning About Anxiety, and Connecting in Group Therapy: Day 3 in a Psychiatric Hospital