In the days leading up to my psychiatric hospitalization in March, I was extremely unwell. This might seem obvious, as otherwise why would anyone suggest a hospital stay? I guess it seems like a surprise to me, because I’ve spent many, many years experiencing varying levels of unwell, and even at my previous worst (which was extremely bad), I don’t think the unwellness was hospital-worthy.
I spent days feeling depressed, anxious, restless, hopeless, irritable with everyone about everything, and completely unable to focus on anything for more than 15 seconds. My mental state was compounded by the fact that I’d spent the past month doing my highly physical job while in pain from injuries – first a sprained wrist, then a nasty fall on the ice – neither of which got the medical attention they warranted.
I landed in the hospital by going to only my second real counseling appointment (third if you count the 90 minutes of torture known as an intake interview) and confessing to my counselor that I had spent the past week researching the details for my suicide plan, and would be headed out the next day to purchase the gun I’d be using to enact it. I knew this was the kind of thing that would get me locked up – in fact, my backup plan in case I chickened out on telling my counselor was to have a friend call the cops to come take me there involuntarily.
So, all this is to say that at the time I entered the hospital, I was pretty damn crazy. I use the term crazy affectionately. I know some people find it offensive, but I, as one of the crazy people, just find it to be effective shorthand.
Once I entered the hospital, I felt like I didn’t belong. In fact, I looked around at all the other patients and thought that, while I seemed like the craziest person in the room on the outside, in there I seemed like the sanest. So it was difficult to adjust to some of the logic of the place.
A couple of days into my stay, I was doing a crossword puzzle. Really, I was doing dozens of crossword puzzles, and skipping over the many puzzles in the book that had been partially filled in by others. I encountered one puzzle that had a single word, “AGAVE”, filled in, and decided I was okay with completing that one despite the fact that someone else had started. I worked all around that word, finishing with the intersecting clues, and was stumped when I knew the answers but they didn’t fit. I finally looked at the clue for the one that was answered, and found that it was “Discovered (2 wds.)”. The answer should have been “DUG UP”.
Suddenly, I realized where I was and thought, “Oh right, crazy people!” Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that someone might fill in a completely illogical word in a crossword puzzle. After that point, everything else started to make more sense. There was a sign I’d been staring at for days which read, “Please do not put food in the drawers or cabinets.” I just kept thinking, “Why do they need that sign? Who on earth would do that?” Now I was able to answer with, “Oh right, crazy people!”
Then I was meeting with a psychiatrist who was reviewing my file with me for the millionth time. It stated that a part of my suicide plan was to pin a note to my chest requesting that one of my kidneys be given to a loved one. He looked at me very seriously and asked, “Does she need a kidney?” I was only baffled by the question a few seconds, wondering why on earth I would write such a note if she didn’t, before remembering, “Oh right, crazy people!”
It was this kind of revelation that really underscored my conviction that I was in the wrong place. I mean, yes, I showed up at the inpatient unit in the throes of a suicidal despair. By the next day, though, I didn’t want to kill myself anymore, and I was eagerly jumping into the group activities and reading books and writing drafts of blog posts. They kept asking what had changed, and emphasizing that they hadn’t done anything for me yet. I genuinely thought the answer was, “Now that I’m here I have hope for things getting better.”
I spent several days there participating, making notes on the experience, being fascinated by what I could overhear. I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m not sure I really need to be here, but it’s great for some writing ideas.” In fact, I thought to myself, “I’m kind of like an investigative reporter.” Imagine my reaction when I picked up a book soon after I was released and read in the examples of delusions: “Feeling that you’re in the hospital as an investigative reporter.” Perhaps that abrupt change of mood was mania after all.
I clearly didn’t see it as mania at the time. I mean, sure, I was constantly in motion, unable to sit in a chair without frantically tapping my foot, and blasting through the questions in Trivial Pursuit Junior. However, I was surrounded by people who were so heavily drugged that they couldn’t think straight, and spent half their day napping or staring at the television with glazed eyes. How was I to know that my contrasting level of energy was in any way abnormal?
This energy led to me taking charge in group activities. One day we played a game called Social Bingo. Each square on the card had discussion topics, such as “What is your prized possession?” Before the first number was called I had answers prepared for every question on the board. So when we were asked questions about how we wanted to play, I was the one jumping in and making decisions for a group that would have otherwise sat in silent indecision forever. “Do you want to number your own cards or use the pre-numbered ones?” “Let’s use pre-numbered.” “Should the next round be regular lines or coverall?” “Regular lines.” “Do you want to play a third round?” “No, I think we’re done.”
Being so filled with energy made me extra alert to small connections between events. In the course of this game, one young woman in her late teens or perhaps very early twenties answered “I feel best when people _____” with “compliment me”. A few more numbers were called and she daubed the square that said “Share what the greatest compliment is that you’ve received.” Her answer? “No one has ever complimented me.”
I looked around the group with tears threatening to well up in my eyes, wondering if anyone else had connected her two answers. They seemed unaffected. I kept hoping to daub “Give someone in the group a hug.” so that I could hug her, but alas that number was never called.