Black Girl in the Psych Ward, Part 2
Updated: Dec 19, 2018
So Part 2 on that ass…
First off, apologies for taking so long to post this follow up. It was so very difficult to get through. I started and stopped, deleted and revised…it was hard not only to commit to sharing but to try to do so in a way that felt real and not edited for friendly consumption. Thanks for both your patience and the support/encouragement I received after the first post.
Ok, as I mentioned in Part 1, I am in a process of healing and recovery after my depression and anxiety reached a boiling point. The result was a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital. However, the journey from breakdown to admittance was one I will never forget. And, it was a glaring lesson in just how broken our mental health system is.
There is a stubborn shame that mental illness carries. It’s so persistent that despite my insides burning from self-hatred, regardless of my complete inability to find a glimpse of relief, I resist an admission of sickness. I try to frame it as moodiness, PMS, fatigue, anything but what it is.
I am an alien among the rest of the population. I am an imposter, skillful though I may be, living for the sake of what I believe to be sheer obligation. A duty to support and sustain the world as my children, my wife, my family and friends know it. A world where I show up with productivity and purpose, where I help locate lost keys and jackets, where I am interested in their days, where the cabinets and freezer are stocked with snacks and dinner options. It is a covert operation with the sole purpose of invisibility.
It’s the least sexy or glamorous way to be a spy. Only I don’t get the bad guy because I AM THE BAD GUY. I am the problem. Because I can’t fix myself. I cannot reset my mind to happy, or even content. I am literally living off excuses and living for the moments I can be in the dark with only my wicked, stupid self.
Let me pause to communicate that I am not explaining all this context to incite sympathy, or even understanding. I honestly don’t expect people to truly understand, as this is my process, my journey. However, I am revealing some of the nuances that those with depression and anxiety face in the hopes that their friends, family, partners, supervisors, and overall naysayers can pause to take a glimpse into our experiences.
We aren’t faking it.
We aren’t using it as an excuse for bad behavior.
We don’t enjoy the attention.
To imply any or all of these assumptions is the core of why the suffering remains in silence. Even if you think it, don’t you dare say it. You withhold that comment from anyone who trusts you enough to share their struggles.
Ok, so on to the process of voluntary commitment.
After days without sleep, the inability to sit still, the constant nausea, I first sought out my primary care provider to at least see if I could adjust my meds, or find some immediate response to at least calm down and be able to sleep. My regular provider was unavailable so I saw a doctor who had a same day appointment available.
My appointment was at 10am.
It was over at 10:15.
Why, you ask? Because he came in with his clipboard (while I was sobbing uncontrollably and mortified to even be in public), mumbled that I was on a really low dose and he’d call in a new prescription to double it. As I am trying to pull myself back together, he says to me,
“Why are you crying? What’s the problem?”
This humiliating and embarrassing question just made me more embarrassed and emotional. You have my file, jackass…you know I’m here because I said I was in crisis. Through snot and rage, I said, “I’m at a breaking point with my anxiety and depression. I can’t function. I’m afraid. I need help.”
To which he responded, “Oh. Ok. Well, I’ll call in your meds. You can come back or call if you have questions.”
And with that, he was gone. Outro. Ghost.
And I remained perched on that cold exam table until the tears that were blurring my vision subsided. Any hope I had of addressing and treating my condition without it going public seemed impossible. Even worse, I truly believed the shame that would accompany exposing my breakdown would literally dismantle my life, kill my career, drive my children away, inspire those around me to pity me rather than love me. Who the hell would choose that route?
This is the point at which I shower myself in lies and delusion. They are in no way complicated or intricate. Super simple statements that reek of bullshit, but allow me to cling to what I believe is my dignity. Here’s a few highlights:
Bitch, you’re fine.
If you put on a cute outfit and some makeup, your mind will follow.
Just get up. If you get out of bed, you’ll be fine.
You don’t have time to fall apart. You got shit to do.
What will the family say?
You know they already think you are the weird one.
You’re gonna fuck up the kids (even more).
Seriously, these and other iterations of these statements ran through my head like ticker tape. And as I fed the fear, it grew. As I unpacked everything I hated about myself, it began to come out of my pores. Like a drunk, my body had had too much poison, and it worked to release it. But I kept feeding my demon more ammunition, I kept putting my powder keg of a brain closer and closer to an open flame.
My wife pushed me to allow her to be my advocate, and that we had to at least try to find help.
Find help now.
So we set out on a journey to secure treatment for me. A shaking, delirious, sobbing, insomniac asking for urgent help to keep her from hurting herself? Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, right.
We spent the next 31 hours moving from Behavioral Health Walk-in, to Crisis Counselor, to Emergency Room. Once in the ER, I wasn’t offered any form of medication to help me stabilize. The physician who came to “examine” me, clearly didn’t even want to touch me. She couldn’t look me in my eyes, tapped some joints to check my reflexes, and then answered every request for info and help with, “We’ll have to see what the social worker says.” I checked in to the ER at around 1pm on a Friday. I got a “light sedative” at about noon on SATURDAY. I was out of my mind with sleep deprivation, the overall humiliation of having to recite again and again why I’m there (since it wasn’t of a physical nature), and oddly enough, be told they’re not sure I need commitment to a facility because I wasn’t “suicidal enough.”
Does this even seem real?
That overpaid doctor bitch couldn’t wait to get out of my exam room. It’s so very clear to me how someone having a mental health crisis just gives up and storms out of the ER. To go hide, go die. Because what’s left by way of options? If the very place all regular providers drive you to demonstrates in no uncertain terms that not only are they afraid of you, but they’d just prefer not treat, serve, acknowledge or speak to you, well then what the fuck are you supposed to do?
No really. I’ll wait. I would love to hear those who are suspicious of those suffering a mental health crisis, how they would react to this kind of treatment for chest pains. Or a broken bone. Or abdominal pain.
Mental illnesses is glamourized by villains in thrillers and action films, and sensationalized by extensive true crime programming, but the average, everyday face of mental illness looks like your neighbor, your supervisor, your child’s teacher, your favorite barista.
Stop looking away from what your heart senses is true: someone you know is hurting and they can’t find the words to seek help. And sadly, when they do ask, the request goes unanswered.
I thank God for the social worker that was staffing the ER that evening. She used her knowledge of the system to necessitate a full mental health assessment for me, and advocated through the wee hours of the night to secure me a bed in a psychiatric hospital. She literally saved my life by demanding that those who were tasked to serve me, did their jobs.
She reminds me to take my role of activist, friend, mother, wife, sister, citizen as synonymous with action. I am supposed to demand accountability from systems that discount and ignore the very communities that have built them. When I am tempted to hold my peace, I remember Sister Social Worker and I speak up.
Once my bed was secured I took a long ride up the freeway to a psychiatric hospital. It was a long ride because: 1) the damn EMT person was trying to chat me up with small talk (um, I just had a breakdown; not interested in what college you’re going to!); and 2) no hospitals in my home county would give me a bed. Again, because I wasn’t suicidal enough.
Arriving at the hospital, still shaking, terrified I made a mistake, I couldn’t have been more ashamed.
The third and final part: the journey and aftermath of inpatient treatment. Stay tuned.
Please feel free to share questions, comments, or any information as mental illness will continue to drown in stigma until we normalize it with conversation, respectful dialogue, and equitable resources.