Guess what I did last week?
I got admitted to a psych unit. Again.
I’d been more up and down than usual for a week or two, and it culminated in an obsession with suicidal thoughts. If you’ve ever been in that place, you know that sometimes it causes panic (or at least, it does in me).
And panic sucks.
Especially when you can feel it all throughout your body, right down to your toes, when you can literally feel it getting more and more intense. It’s like a sense of impending doom.
I awoke at 4:30 a.m., after three and a half hours of sleep, and I immediately noticed the thoughts and felt the anxiety. I tried to regulate my breathing, which often helps – but my anxiety was already too intense. It was just too hard to focus on “slowing down”.
I did try a few things before resorting to taking a Xanax. I called the DBT hotline* bright and early (I’m just glad I didn’t wake Linda up) and mumbled some things that may or may not have made a lot of sense. We agreed that doing something to distract myself would be beneficial, such as coloring, a crossword puzzle, reading (for fun for a change), going for a walk, and a few other things.
*(The clinic I go to has set up a 24/7/365 “DBT Hotline” we can call if we’re having a hard time using our skills, can’t figure out which ones to use, etc. I have found it pretty useful.)
Lucky for me, CeAnne woke up early that day, too. I heard her rustling around in the bedroom around 6:30. I hate when I have to throw something so serious in her face first thing, but I know it’s in my best interest to talk about it. Plus, how can she help me if she doesn’t know what I’m thinking and feeling?
She handed me a .5 mg Xanax, which started working within about fifteen minutes. Thankfully, it did its thing. Soon enough, I was much calmer and able to consider the rest of my day.
**Maybe it’s important to say here that everyone reacts to suicidal thoughts differently. Some people panic and get dramatic; others take it in stride, use their skills to address it, and move on; still others don’t really seem to react at all. They just let the thoughts boil and brew. These are the ones that scare me the most, because for all I know, they’re working out a plan in their heads.
I’ve been through all of these responses, multiple times. This particular time, as my brain kept spinning around this invasive, destructive thought, I started to become obsessed with it. That’s not good, so I started to panic (inside). It’s really amazing to me how you can feel like you’re falling apart on the inside, and yet no one would know it to look at you. Masks – we all wear them.**
So, despite the fact that I felt calmer – my breathing slowed down, the knot in my stomach lessened – I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. Luckily, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist just a few hours later. I figured we’d talk it out there and see what happened.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
Like so many doctors (especially in matters of life or death), the fabulous Dr. Nelson errs on the side of caution. After we talked about it, we came up with a half-assed plan to get me through the next few weeks and through my family reunion. But because my moods have been so obviously up and down the last few months, and because my stress level has really kind of skyrocketed recently, and since I rated my suicidal thoughts at a 7 out of 10 earlier that morning, he had Kris, his awesome nurse, call 911.
I was in the ER at Fairview Riverside (part of the University of Minnesota Medical Center) about thirty minutes later.
Now, I could totally launch into a tirade about the very sad state of mental health treatment in this country, but I don’t really feel like it right now. I will at some point, because it’s a very important issue and it needs to be addressed and resolved – but not right now.
I will say that this emergency room experience was, comparatively speaking, short and sweet. Well, maybe not so sweet, but it was short. And it was much less like a prison infirmary than the one at Southdale. I once spent over thirty (that’s 30) hours in a psych emergency area at Southdale before they found a bed for me – thankfully, it was at Riverside and not two and a half hours away – which, believe it or not, happens.
That was, quite literally, one of the worst experiences of my life.
Several years ago, I took myself to the ER, waited in the “psych holding tank” for hours, and then was shipped by ambulance to a psych unit sixty miles away because that was the nearest inpatient bed available. So much for having visitors.
This time, though, I got to the ER around 11:30 a.m. and was upstairs in a room by four o’clock. I think that must be some kind of record.
After going over my med list (name, dosage, last time taken) with no less than four people and giving a very brief description of what was going on in my head, a psych tech showed me around the unit and then to my room.
Of all the times I’ve found myself in a psych unit, I believe I’ve had a private room once, and that was only because they weren’t full. It seems that every unit has at least a couple single rooms, probably for people who are out of touch with reality (that’s what psychotic means). Or for people who don’t play nice and have behavior problems (that’s pretty rare, believe it or not).
At any rate, I had a roommate again this time, as usual. Her name was – yeah, like I’m going to tell you her name! Even though I don’t know a thing about her and I will never see her again, it still feels like it would be a disservice to tell you even her first name.
Truth be told, we only spoke a few times. She seemed nice enough, but I was confident I wouldn’t be there long, so I made no effort to fit in. Besides, she spent a lot of her time sleeping.
It had been a long, emotional day, and I was tired. I went to bed after talking to CeAnne on the phone around 9:00 p.m.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Have you ever slept in a hospital bed?
Let me rephrase that – have you ever slept in a bed in a psych unit?
Hospital beds aren’t too terrible, for the most part. But psych unit beds really bite the big one. They’re about four inches thick, with little give. Housekeeping just slaps them on top of these immovable platforms, gives them hospital corners, and we’re all set.
The pillows are worse. Some hospitals may differ, but none that I’ve been to will let you bring in your own pillow. Something about allergies, I think. I have a feeling it has more to do with contraband.
Anyway, I didn’t get to see a psychiatrist this time. I saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She seemed pretty cool. She actually spent quite a bit of time with me. She covered both sides of an entire sheet of paper with notes about me, my history, and what brought me there.
I was feeling much, much better by this time. Not a suicidal thought in my head. So, at the end of her assessment, I asked her if I could go home. Two minutes later, I got the go-ahead. Of course, I couldn’t just leave right then. Oh, no. Leaving a psych unit is more difficult than getting into a psych unit – in most cases.
I needed to wait for some paperwork from my nurse first. Theoretically, I could have left a few hours earlier than I did, but I didn’t have a ride yet.
Normally speaking, you leave with either a new med or a change (in dosing) to your existing meds, so you need to wait for the pharmacy to send up your new med. Unfortunately, that can take a looooonnngg time.
CeAnne finally called me from the hospital parking lot to say she was on her way up. I was free to go, after just about 24 hours.
My shortest stay ever – and not very common.
I feel fine now. No self-destructive thoughts, nothing too intrusive popping into my head.
I know the thought of going into a hospital – for any reason – scares the bejeesus out of most people, but I, for one, am grateful I have somewhere to go when I feel unsafe.
Being stable is highly underrated.