This is a true story. It’s my story. It’s about as frank and as honest as a girl can get. But I think this story is a testament to failures of mental health care in America. If you want to know the back story you can check out The Darkest Night of The Year. I chronicle the day I was *this* close to suicide. It was a scary day. I felt like I was out of options. I knew I needed help and I called for help. What I didn’t do was detail my experience that night. My experience in the Psych ward was a little traumatic.
Okay, traumatic isn’t the word. It leans towards melodramatic as it rolls around my word palate. Maybe it’s a phrase. I’ll explain. I was talking with my mother and I said before I checked myself into another hospital, I would go somewhere and quietly kill myself.
I felt like a criminal.
It was dehumanizing.
She laughed, because that’s what my family does. My mother and I have an AWESOME relationship and I have always been able to express myself to her about anything without fear of what she might say. We talk and laugh about the most inappropriate things. We tend laugh at things that make us uncomfortable because we don’t know what other reaction to have. But I know she has me on lifetime suicide watch now. I think she would ban me from everything pointy, pokey and sharp if she could.
The triage nurse was great. She talked to me about her life and how she kept sane during an insane time in her life. On a personal level I don’t think people realize how patronizing that is. That worked….for you. Because it was your life, not mine. I didn’t get upset because I knew she was trying to help. But I digress. I know there are procedures and safety measures that hospitals have to follow through with in order to keep staff and patients safe. That night I found myself saying “But I drove myself here” ….a lot.
After the hospital realized why I was there they sent a security guard to escort me to the little padded room. He was about to handcuff me, until the triage nurse told him it wasn’t necessary. As we were walking, I could see him looking back at me from the corner of his eye. After about the 5th time, I smiled gently and said “I’m still back here.” He replied, “I just want to make sure you were still with me. Sometimes I get runners.” To which I responded. “But I drove myself here.”
I had to give them my wedding band and engagement ring, earrings, necklace, bra, purse, backpack (I brought my backpack because I didn’t know if they were going to keep me for 72 hours or not). When asked why I had to take off my bra, I was told it’s because some people try to hang themselves with their underwear. I replied, “Why would I come all the way here to kill myself? I came here for help. I drove myself here.”
Then I asked if I could keep my ring and my kindle. I figured I could read while I was waiting on the doctor to see me. They were fine with me keeping my ring but I got a lecture about my kindle and my purse.
“Why did you bring all that stuff with you?”
“I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. I’ve never done this before.”
“Well do you have anyone waiting that you can give that to?”
“No, I drove myself here.”
“Well you can’t take that stuff upstairs with you. This isn’t a resort. You can’t come here expecting to relax. A lot of bad people are here. People that will steal from you or hurt you. This ain’t club med.”
At that point I was ready to say forget it. It was as close as I had ever got to hurting myself and as close as I had ever got to getting proper help and I was ready to say forget it. I wasn’t expecting to be treated like a guest at a hotel, but it would have been nice to be shown some compassion. I drove myself there. I WANTED the help. But even if I wasn’t a voluntary check-in, compassion should still have been in order.
Without compassion, I can imagine a lot of people say forget it. Who wants a security guard giving you a sideways stink eye because he thinks you are some kind of a nut that is going to take off running and screaming through the hall?
Even in a place where people go to get their mental health problems fixed, the stigma of mental health issues is strong. How many other people would just rather quietly commit suicide instead of seeking help because seeking help means being dehumanize?
I find this so discouraging. We should all find it discouraging.
The point is, I wasn’t nabbed by Batman during a bank heist and dropped off at Arkham where the guards will strip me, shower me with a fire hose and throw me into a padded cell with only a straight jacket to keep me warm. I DROVE MYSELF to a hospital for help and I still ended up feeling shame. Shame for letting my mental condition get worn away. Shame for needed help in the first place. I drove myself.
This has to change.
If I had a broken leg, I’d get treated with nothing but respect and care. But I was about to get handcuffed!!! For what? Because I felt like hopeless enough to know that I needed someone to intercede on my behalf.
A silver lining.
There was an act of compassion that night. A nurse saw that I was lying on the cot, balled-up in a knot shivering and she brought me a warm blanket and actually tucked me in. I fell asleep shortly after that because I needed rest. But my point is how many people deny themselves care or follow-up care because they don’t want to be treated like they are crazy?
Still, this has to change.
No one should ever feel that their only option is to quietly commit suicide because the folks at the hospital make you feel crazy. Especially when all you want was help.