What could become of someone with a severe mental illness? Several things, I’ve discovered, can come about in someone’s life who is constantly labeled as “crazy” by the stigma of mental illness.
The person with an illness that has required 24/7/365 treatment can either A) The hardest option: Live a full life, using coping skills to get through episodes of mental illness attack, being coached and coaching themselves on living an ever-increasing independent life. B) The much easier option: live a defeated life with no hope beyond the next moment, feeling alone and beyond reach for help. I have lived option B; in fact, I lived it for ten years. It was always easier to lay rotting in despair than to rise above the circumstances and live an abundant life. By “easier”, I don’t mean “easier to deal with”. I mean “easier to settle for because life is just so hard”. Life is hard for everyone; I’ve seen people deal with significantly worse situations. However, I do not want to minimize the life of someone with an illness in the chemical realms of the brain because it is not easy for a second to deal with; it’s a living hell.
Now, I want to share my story with you in another way..
Since I struggle so strongly with OCD, I thought blogging and putting my story out there would really be helpful in my struggle. I graduated from Marshall University with a degree in Creative Writing, and I wrote the following nonfiction essay that was published in EtCetera, Marshall’s literary magazine. I was mentored by a wonderful professor that believed in me and my story. I gained so much self-confidence about sharing my story because of being published, and I was so well received by others that I knew I had to continue! So, without further ado, here is “Pandemonium’s Order”.
“Mom, I need to go to the hospital,” you say on the phone to your worried mother as you stand frantic in your dorm room during your freshman year of college.
“No. You don’t. You’ll be fine,” she replies, out of shock.
“Okay, mom.” You hang up the Nokia old-school cell phone and head to your Math 099 class in distress. You have anxiously checked your phone for text messages in class when you finally receive,
“Get ready. I’m taking you to the hospital.”
The mental hospital. The mental institution. The psychiatric ward.
Fear overtakes your mind as you realize that the time has come that you must face the demons that have taunted you for four years.
You pack your clothes and wait for your mother to arrive at the university to pick you up. You drive down the street holding your mother’s hand while she drove. She tells you to give her your cell phone.
You arrive at River Park Hospital and walk in to find a receptionist at the front window. She says, “Can I help you?”
You say plainly and quickly, “I am admitting myself.”
You know at the young age of nineteen that you feel alone entering a hospital while most people your age are enjoying life.
She leads you down a quiet hallway with framed flowers on the wall as you feel the evening darkness outside.
You and your mother enter a medium-sized assessment room where you sit down on a couch that looks comfortable but is stiff because of your tense muscles.
The nurse walks in and asks you why you are here. You tell her everything you can think of about your symptoms as your mother holds your hand tightly but nervously. You must tell her about your fear of guns, knives, cleaning products, and imaginary poisons.
“Wait here,” she calmly says, “I am going to call the doctor and see if he wants to admit you.”
Sitting in the room, waiting with your mother and drinking 7-UP in a Styrofoam cup, you tap your foot and wonder how much time has passed since the nurse left to call the psychiatrist.
She finally returns with a plastic hospital bracelet that has your name hand-written with Sharpie and the name “Dr. Spangler” written under it and ties it to your wrist. It is now that you realize you are booked to stay in the hospital.
You say goodbye to your mother. “You’ll be fine, honey,” she says as she hugs you. “I love you,” she reminds you, although you already know.
Dare to think about how you are staying in the psychiatric hospital for seven to ten days.
You’re thinking about how it feels to be strip-searched. I don’t want them to see me naked! No one but my mother has seen me naked! Your naked body, under a hospital gown, is being stared at to make sure you don’t have any weapons on your person, things that you could use to harm yourself or someone else. Another nurse opens the front of the hospital gown she asked you to put on and stares at your bare flesh. You do not have anything on your body that would cause an uproar, such as a razor blade.
You put your clothes back on and, closing the door of the bathroom behind you, and the nurses ask, “Is your bra wired?” “Yes”, you say, and then after you have to give them your bra as you stand with a shirt on with no bra under it, you watch in horror as the nurses gnaw and slice your expensive nude-colored Victoria’s Secret bra.
You meet Dr. Spangler after you wake up on the second day of your stay. He says, “Bless your heart” when you tell him your fears and symptoms. You realize then that he is an empathetic doctor and that he is going to take care of you.
Jillian, the new psychologist at the hospital, with her long and wavy brown hair, flowing skirt, and employee ID necklace on, walks into group session where you and the other patients are learning coping skills together. You are immediately drawn to her because she seems to genuinely care about mentally ill people.
“If any of you need to talk, I’ll be in my office,” she says kindly.
You walk into her office and sit down before her desk, being handed a pamphlet describing OCD and treatment options.
You talk to her about why you’re there and how badly you want to be normal.
Is the hospital really equipping you to deal with your OCD in everyday life?
You don’t believe so, unfortunately, because they don’t do anything but put you on medication and talk about your prognosis. They don’t provide you with the therapy you needed. The only two people who genuinely help you are Jillian and Dr. Spangler.
Don’t forget the manic-depressive Tom, who is extremely attractive since he shaved his beard. He is trying to kiss you while getting cookies and milk in the kitchen during free time. He says afterward, “I’ll give you a kiss later when the nurses aren’t watching.”
“Major Payne” plays from the VCR as you cuddle with Tom under the blanket you brought from your bedroom. Don’t forget how the nurse tells you that if you and Tom continue to mingle, you’d be sent to the geriatrics unit with the old and senile people.
Therefore, you must steer clear of him until your discharge even though you like canoodling with him. You imagine leaving the hospital and keeping in touch with him because you wrote your phone number on a scrap piece of paper from a coloring book in the common room and gave it to him. He’s not going to call me.
Don’t forget how you are going in and out of the psychiatrist’s office and up and down the hallway to the nurse’s station to get your morning and evening medications, knowing the routine you have to follow. In your fuzzy socks and long johns at 6 AM you wait for your Ativan and wonder what the day ahead will bring. Will I get to do something else besides sit around and watch TV, filling out crossword puzzles and reading books?
Don’t forget OWP’s.
Off Ward Privileges..The time of day in which you are allowed to exit the locked unit of the psych ward and go downstairs to the run-down cafeteria to eat mushy spaghetti and drink Tru-Moo chocolate milk. Remember how this was is upgrade from having your meals sent to you on a covered tray, where the mush was even mushier?
Heaven forbid you remember passing the people in their separate room in the cafeteria who were branded mentally insane, walking back to the elevator in your leggings with the nurse who are just ignoring the “crazies” and their nurse. They are people who had done “insane” things, like murder and rape. Don’t even think about them and how seeing them is scaring the ants that are already in your pants.
Check to make sure the silver-knobbed door is locked; walk back from down the hallway back to your dorm room to wiggle the knob, realizing it was locked the entire time. Repeatedly check to see if your alarm on your iPhone is set; get out of bed right before you fall asleep, and in the dark, search for your phone, click the screen on, and search for the alarm, only to find that it is in fact set for 9:30 AM. Stay far away from weapons and cleaning supplies. Move your foot away from these items so none of them come in even the littlest bit of contact with your body. Confess every single little thing you do or think to someone who can reassure you; call your therapist to confess to her that you cut someone off in traffic and your franticness that the police are after you.
You remember when you were diagnosed at fifteen. You remember the scary symptoms. Death in general scares you to no end. You used to be afraid of killing yourself.
You were afraid when you hung your towel on your shoulders that you would wrap it around your neck and suffocate yourself.
Your daddy’s mindset is, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I found someone who can help.”
Try not to think about how you are kicked out of college until you can provide a note from your psychiatrist saying you were safe to be at school and that you are not a threat to yourself or anyone else. Try not to think about the several times the counselor at the university, sitting in her windowed office with you on the couch in front of her, tells you to seek hospitalization for your absurd thoughts and fears.
You are at St. Mary’s hospital’s emergency room only to show how you don’t want to be there. You are crying and you almost scream. You are in an uproar, saying “I don’t wanna be here!” because you are afraid of being locked up and having a mental hospital record, like “crazy people” have. You fuss and carry on, only to be sent home with instructions on how to get better in an outpatient setting. They tell you to stop taking the Lithium you have been taking and come back if things get worse.
None of those attempts work.
Dr. Spangler pulls you into the small, beige-walled assessment room in the main ward of the locked unit where you ask about your schedule for the rest of the week. “And Monday,” he proclaims, “discharge!” You are excited at this moment because it is here that you realize you can leave the hospital because no one thinks you are crazy enough to stay any longer.
Back home, do not pick up the phone and call your boss again. She was probably napping when you called her and that’s why she sounded so impatient and annoyed.
Put down the phone and do your homework and stop worrying that you’re going to get fired for calling your boss on her day off just to see if you’re on the schedule for next week when you said to your other boss that you’d just call Monday and ask.
Make sure you lock your door the first time so you don’t have to come back and check to see if it’s locked and risk being late. Your precious valuables will be fine in there, you have to tell yourself. But what if someone gets in my room and steals my iPad and bank statements? Turn around once you’re already outside the building. Walk back inside. Go all the way up the elevator. Turn the knob that’s already been locked once.
Set your alarm and check it only one time as opposed to the four times you check it before falling asleep to make sure you won’t oversleep, therefore humiliating yourself the next day. Make sure it’s set to the correct ringtone so it will be loud enough.
Make sure it’s set early enough so you can hit the snooze three times so you don’t have to get up and endure the day as early as you should. Sleep as long as you possibly can before you’re forced to get out of bed. My bed is just too comfortable to even get out of!
Make sure you don’t move in the direction of cheating on your boyfriend. After all, you are naked and the shower is running while a boy sneaks in to the bathroom with his girlfriend when he isn’t supposed to. Be certain that you don’t have any impulses to get out of the shower, run over to this boy, kiss him, and drag him into the shower with you. You wouldn’t want to act on the horrible thought you had of having sex in the shower with someone you didn’t know, would you?
Stay away from Clorox Bleach, Windex, and the imaginary rat poison on your foot that you are afraid to come across even though there is nothing like it anywhere around you. It is easy to come across cleaning supplies because they are in your mother’s kitchen and you use them to clean up after dinner, but you must make sure they don’t get into anyone’s food or drinks. Keep your mind focused on the task at hand and make sure you don’t invite any thoughts of poison on your foot that isn’t ever going to be there into your head. You worry that the rat poison has been put on your foot without your knowledge and you are concerned that you carry it around putting it on people’s food. You obsess and worry about contamination by items that are not present in the room, and if they are present, you freak out that they are touching you. You don’t want anything to do with any of these chemicals because you’re terrified of them. You think they’re bad and you shouldn’t think they’re bad if used properly. Use these objects properly, like you know you are going to.
While you’re trying to live, don’t think of all the ways you could die.
Don’t go near a gun or a knife. You’re afraid of them, so afraid that you want to cry every time you see one in person. They’re bad, you think, and they’re only used to do harm to others. No, they’re not. They’re used to cut chicken for your chicken pot pie. They’re used to make sure the cow you’re eating doesn’t suffer when being put down, so you can have it for dinner. They’re used by your daddy to bring home venison. Don’t be afraid of these objects that are harmless if used correctly. Crazy people use them unwisely. You’re not crazy, remember? They’re not going to hurt you or anyone else.
Don’t forget how your daddy came to pick you up the Monday after your ninth day at the hospital.
You are saying goodbye to the nurses who took care of you and are even saying goodbye to the other patients in there with you. Michael, the violent chain-gang thug who got sprinkled with tap water to get baptized when a pastor came to visit, clung to you and said, “I love you”. You say, “I love you too”, knowing you’ll never see him again even though he also has your phone number. Will he call me?
They wish you well and you should remember giving some of them hugs because they all struggle and you could relate, even if in different ways. Think about how desperate each of their situations are and how desperate yours is. Your situation has placed you in a place you need to be in right now. Remember that.
A year and a half after being discharged from the hospital, you see the psychologist you’ll never forget, Jillian, at Wendy’s restaurant. At first, you don’t speak to her because you’re afraid of being embarrassed. However, she finally walks up to you and says, “You did it”, after introducing herself to you once more and asking about how your life is going now. You felt an immense amount of pride at that moment that she remembered you and sees your progress just by looking at you.
Worship God at Baptist Campus Ministry with the loud band singing, “Oh praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!” Raise your hands in praise as you stand in the midst of one hundred and fifty other college students who have different issues than you, but they still have issues and they still struggle. Remember all that God has brought you from.
Pass River Park Hospital every time you drive down 6th Avenue.
Remember it with your analytical brain that imagines what it would be like to go back.
Reader, thank you so much, if you got this far with my story!
I’m going to start on a book proposal to pitch at “She Speaks” conference in 2o17.