I will never again be able to think about Halloween without remembering where I was on October 31st, 2014. I’d written a short post here saying that I’d hit bottom and was going to the hospital, then after my psych eval I sat in the “safe room” in the ER for six looooong hours waiting to be transported to the inpatient psychiatric unit in the next town. I remember riding through the tree-lined streets, watching all the happy trick-or-treaters from my cramped space in the back of a car that had doors that didn’t open from the inside, and missing my grandsons with whom I’d much have preferred to spend the evening.
I remember being greeted by the security guard who searched me and the admitting nurse who showed me around the unit. Both of them were very kind and non-threatening…and then, horror of horrors, I met a nurse I used to work with on the medical/surgical floor at another hospital. I didn’t recall her especially fondly—she was not the warm fuzzy type of nurse at all—but she was the one who put on my wristband and took my vital signs while we made what small talk I was capable of on that night.
I remember being quite dismayed that I could not have a fan in my room (it was HOT in there) and that there wasn’t even a clock by which I could tell the time. Oh yeah, duh—electrical cords were a big no-no because you could hang yourself with them, and of course there were no outlets anyway because some long-ago patient somewhere had probably managed to electrocute himself. Suicidal people can be tricky that way, and I was reminded of this fact when I tried to hang a sweatshirt and jeans on the hook in the bathroom only to have it bend down and dump everything on the floor. My room was searched for contraband at least once daily, usually in the early morning hours—the CNA smiled and called it a “safety check”. And when I tried to save a spoon for cocoa, I was nicely but firmly instructed to go get it and bring it to the nurse for counting. All of which served to remind me that in the inpatient setting, I was someone who couldn’t be trusted…and believe me, when you’ve spent a good part of your life holding others’ lives in your hands, that feels really, really weird.
I didn’t like being in this situation. I didn’t like being locked up. But in a rare moment of clarity early in my hospitalization, I realized that I was safe, and that if I didn’t take a breather from my life on the outside and let people help me for a change, being in there wouldn’t do me any good. So I went to groups and attended all the meetings and talked to my treatment team every day. I listened to other patients’ stories and didn’t feel as bad about my own predicament after hearing some of theirs. And as time went on, I began to feel like maybe there was hope after all and found myself taking pleasure in small things, like a shared laugh with my peers on the unit and a good cry during “The Fault In Our Stars”, a movie the nurses had rented for us.
Now, a year to the day after my admission, I know that I have come a long, long way. Even though nothing is perfect (and Dr. Awesomesauce STILL doesn’t agree that my bipolar is in full remission), life is one hell of a lot better than it was then. Much of it has to do with the fact that God and/or the Fates have evidently chosen to smile on me a little more often, but also that I’ve made peace with the illness as an ongoing part of life—it’s not something that will ever go away entirely, and I will have to be on guard against relapse forever. I’m fully cognizant that more hospital stays may be in my future, and that this whole thing will probably have to be fought out all over again.
But I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made over the past 365 days. After all, the road to recovery is long and hard…and sadly, some folks don’t get there.