Like so many others, I looked forward to cracking into the new season of OITNB this weekend. I thought I’d kick back with a glass of wine and enjoy a few episodes. What I did not expect was such an abrupt reminder of my hospital experience.
Nobody panic. This post does not contain any spoilers.
I am in no way ungrateful for the things I learned during my stay. I understand that there are valid reasons for the various protocols and rules. That being said, the environment is eerily prison-like. Don’t count on keeping your dignity after having mug shots, enduring an awkward search, and carrying your belongings to your assigned bed in a brown paper bag.
The first flashback was triggered by someone cheeking their pills at med time. I’m not sure what the currency is in prison, but in the hospital, it’s cigarettes. As a non-smoker and generally compliant patient, I did not participate. Next is the overall lack of privacy. The bathrooms had curtains rather than doors, so you were never truly alone. If someone wanted to shave, a staff member had to be present. Rooms were kept locked during the day to “encourage participation” and keep us from isolating ourselves. A few minutes of privacy is not the anti-isolation, kids.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with what hit me the hardest. Family visits. When a person is physically ill and in the hospital, there are daily visiting hours, typically lasting the full business day and beyond. When your struggles come from the mind, you get one hour, twice a week. Your family member(s) are searched, have their belongings held by security, and escorted to the cafeteria. Your fellow inmates are escorted to the cafeteria in a line and closely monitored for the designated visitation time. Upon return to the inpatient unit, another invasive exam is administered.
This is not meant as a complaint about what was a very important terrifying time in my life, but rather a plea for everyone to take a minute today to be grateful. Be grateful for the few moments you get to yourself, for being able to perform basic hygiene tasks without surveillance, and for every second with the people you care about.
This morning during a guided meditation, I decided to really focus on the words. One segment in particular was like a slap in the face of wisdom.
If your worries are no longer relevant
Then you have outgrown your past
And it’s time to let go
What worries from your past are holding you back? What baggage can you finally let go of and move forward?
For those of you following me on my journey, thank you for sticking around. It feels amazing to have support. I’m working on putting together a mental health resources page so more people can benefit.
I saw my psychiatrist today for a monthly med check. As of today, I’m officially free of benzodiazepines after 8 years of use. The combination of life changes and coping skills has freed me from being dependent upon a drug that I didn’t think I would be able to function without.
The other major change in my life is that I’m pursuing interests that I never felt I had time for in the past. I’m taking a writing class, finally starting to write a book, and overall feel content. It’s amazing what time can do for healing.
People always say they wish they could go back and tell their younger selves that everything will be okay. In her latest book, “I Regret Nothing,” Jen Lancaster (my writing hero) puts it best:
“Honestly, I’m glad I can’t go back in time and tell myself it will all be okay, because I’ve needed to experience every high and low from the past decade to be not only where I am, but who I am, today.”
Thanks for the inspiration I needed to go after my dreams.
I wrote this piece almost 2 years ago after a great talk on PTSD and resilience. Looking back on this work, I’m amazed at what the brain is capable of following trauma.
Everyone experiences anxiety and bouts of sadness. Some take it in stride and appear to be virtually unaffected by these experiences. In other cases, anxiety and depression can be debilitating. It also varies for the person–you can be more resilient during a particular set of circumstances, but something else will leave you unable to get off the floor. You may eventually pick yourself up, but sometimes you don’t. How do you know when what you’re doing to cope isn’t enough?
Maybe you’re seeing a therapist once every two weeks and checking in with a doctor to make sure your medication is working. Over time, you notice that you’re not doing as well as you’d like and your doctor increases the dose of your meds. Say this happens multiple times over the course of a month and your dose has increased six-fold. Despite the journaling, meditation, and benzodiazepines regularly sliding down your throat, you still want nothing more than to hide from the world. Maybe you even wish to die.
It’s pretty clear in this case that the treatment plan was not appropriate for the situation. If what you’re experiencing resembles this in any way or if you have any thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call a crisis line. I will tell you firsthand that checking yourself into an inpatient facility is fucking terrifying, but it could save your life.
And you’re worth it.
It has been just over 2 months since I was discharged from the hospital and started outpatient therapy with someone I’ve been able to truly connect with. Today, my therapist told me that I am a totally different person than I was in March. What is different about me? I care for and about myself.
I used to believe that we had to live up to the expectations of others. Everything I did was to get that pat on the back from someone whether it was a teacher, boss, or my parents. I lived in fear of disappointing others, and because of that, I was never content.
Guess what? How I feel matters to me now. Nobody else is going to take care of you so you better make damn sure that you’re doing the job. I’m not going to do something just because I think it is what everyone expects of me. I’m going to forge my own path and be proactive. I will do things that make me happy. I’ve been raw and exposed about the struggles I’ve dealt with and what I really want is for some good to come of it. Most of all, I want to help people that are going through the same thing believe this incredibly important fact– You matter.