Shackles, Faith and Hope (Part Three)

By March 3, 2016Blog

Author’s Note:

In January 2016 I suffered a bout of psychosis on par with that of my earliest breakdowns. Due to self-stigma I tried to present as “normal”, but this particular experience led to consequences which required emergency services and inpatient care.

This three-part series is meant to illustrate my state of mind at the time. Any misperceptions during my stay were due to the symptoms of my disorder. I mean to cast no aspersions. Each individual responsible for my care did their job to the best of their abilities. I am grateful for their kindness, and have the utmost respect for them and their profession. ~HBJ

[illustration © 2016 by Anna Grace] ____________________



The first things to go were my belt and shoelaces. I was issued a pair of scrubs because my sweatpants had a drawstring. My scarf, floss, and chain wallet were next—everything stuffed into plastic bags, then off to a locked cubby. I didn’t question why; the answer was obvious. I was here because I’d tried to kill myself. It was that simple. Whatever one’s diagnosis, when the choice is made to attempt suicide and that path gets interrupted, there is still a risk, sometimes a very strong risk, that the individual will try again.

The rooms were outfitted with video cameras. Lights and vertical blinds were controlled from the outside. Total privacy was a distant notion, but all the better, because—in my case at least—I knew deep down that I had no desire to die. I was following information given to me by Command Voices, the worst of my symptoms flared past super nova. A dark star named Dead Henry. So leave the shades up and the cameras on, thank you very much. Take away any nasty objects. I’m happy to have to ask for my floss. At least when it’s time for dental hygiene I can be that much more aware of its actual purpose in my life.

What was different right away was the attention the staff paid to every detail about me, my disorder, and how to work safely within the guidelines of the ward. I felt understood and respected. Cared for. Because I hadn’t slept I was issued a sleep aid. As I read my pamphlet on the rules of the wing, the previous day started melting away. The smart-bed whirred and contoured to my body. I hugged Murphy up and welcomed sweet dreams.

Next morning, a shower—my first in two weeks, with liquid soap and clean towels. The soothing heat of indoor rain brought comfort and tears of release as I washed away the days. How had it come to this, I wondered? How did the Voices manage to break through my resiliency? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. I was here now. I was safe. I could start to heal, maybe find the me that I had lost.

I asked a nurse for a journal and she offered me three colors. I chose hot pink, a color I associate with new beginnings.

From that journal then, chronologically, my story:

“Today was my first day on the ward. Ironically, it was two years ago to the date that I tried to starve myself to death and wound up in the ER. Déjà vu much? Anyway, I avoided being sent to inpatient back then by lying to the staff psychiatrist. I went home instead because I was afraid to be where I find myself now—except that where I am right now is superior in focus, purpose, and action to any step I have ever taken for my mental health.”

“My meds are being gradually increased. At first they make me feel a little weird, like drinking one cocktail and getting the effect of six. Thank heaven we have coffee!”

“I spoke with our psychiatrist who explained that the side effects of my particular meds can include sleepiness, blurred vision, increased weight, and in rare cases, tardive dyskinesia [involuntary, repetitive movements]. Let’s pray that doesn’t happen.”

“It hurts so much to see how much of ME has been lost inside schizophrenia. This—this hospital stay—is how I get my life back and reboot the possibilities of love and art in my every day. I feel hopeful now, though I’m a bit apprehensive with every increase in the dosage of my anti- psychotic medication…but then I do have schizophrenia. Tomorrow is a new day.”

“It took ninety minutes to make my bed this morning because I couldn’t find myself. Literally. Where am I? If I check with my Feelings Chart, then I’m fragile, ashamed, confused and frightened. I can’t concentrate. There is a lack of gravity-to-reality ratio. Looks like I might be here longer than anticipated. In the meantime I just want to get better.”

“Mood on the ward this morning is somber; two of our favorite mates are being discharged after lunch. Their integrity and humility are unparalleled. Their traits mirror our growing sense of community, family, and self- expression.”

“Five of us were walking in the courtyard this afternoon when I got a text from my sister, Joanne. It made me so happy that I started to cry. The group wrapped their arms around me and we laughed and cried together. My broken mind is getting some help, and so is my broken soul.”

“I am not real—the Voices keep saying that. Too many signals to track. It’s overwhelming. I feel like I’m being pulled apart. I still think I want to end myself, but at the same time, I don’t. I told everyone about this at Group Therapy this morning. I am not real. I’m not real at all.”

“I’m running on fumes. Three hours sleep. Stayed up counting bricks in the courtyard at dawn. Thinking a lot about self-harm and what it really implies.”

“Took a long, hot shower, put on my Batman yoga pants, and read some terrific information from my hospital packet on how to plan your day, how to be assertive, how to stretch, and how to BREATHE. Presented in such a way that I felt like I was in Group; really helped me feel connected. Wow— imagine that—this schizophrenic actually made friends! This is all new territory. Such a gift! I’ve come to know these people as my ‘family’ of sorts, each with their own unique perspectives and diagnoses.”

“Doc’s increasing the risperidone tonight and augmenting it with sertraline to help me with my anxiety long-term. Suicidal thoughts are still slightly present, but despite this, I have a good feeling about the path I’m on.”

“My meds are working. Schizophrenia is being untangled from the roots and downy fringe of my neurotransmitters. A new life awaits when I’m back in the world, seventy-two short hours from now. I’m excited. I’m scared. But I’m hopeful. I guess that’s as much as I can ask for, as I bring change 2 my very own mind.”

On the day of my discharge, one of the patients had drawn me a going away card. She illustrated her response to what I’d shared in Group about my Voices telling me that I was not real. The lead nurse pushed the buzzer to unlock the main door, and as I stepped out into the corridor, the artist handed me her gift. Four simple words, the meaning of hope: “You are not nothing.”


  • Deborah says:

    Hoping and praying for you, Henry. Just keep going. Your writing is a gift. Deborah

  • Monica says:

    Once again you bring awareness in a way that explains it for the masses!!! So happy you are moving forward with feeling better and I concur with the ‘gift’ you received “you are NOT nothing”—— and the gift you give us is very much something!!!!! Keep on keepin on my friend!!!! Look forward to your next blog…..
    Be blessed

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks, Monica. I write in the hope that people will read and understand this misunderstood disorder and mental illness in general. Putting a face on something so misrepresented is my goal, making things at least a little more tangible. Hope is what we have, and it’s a great tool to employ. Cheers!

  • Carol [email protected] says:

    Henry, your friend is correct. You are not nothing. You have been a bridge between me & the illness trying to steal my child. He wanted so much to tell me what was happening to him, but..was unable to put his experiences into words, and then terrified of sharing them.. He just finished 2 weeks of partial hospitalization, as a result of self harming. He’s doing a bit better. We have come a way, and still have a way to go. Thank you for your guidance, Henry. I’d be lost without you! You are a brilliant, kind man. ♡

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you, Carol, for your kind words and for sharing your son’s journey in your comments. It *is* difficult to put the experience of schizophrenia into words, and I’m sure he does his best. I am sorry that he had to spend time in hospital again, but it’s something that will ultimately help him, I hope. Good medical and psychiatirc care are immeasurable, as are love and guidance for those we trust. Bless you both. You are an example to others.

  • Mary A says:

    Your eloquence and courage radiates through the confusion and pain. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You give such a human face to a disease that has historically been subject to so much fear and stigma.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you, Mary. My hope is always to present a real face to the world whenever I can, helping others to understand what it is actually like inside this illness (from my perspective). The shame and stigma are hard to break, but I’m confident we can do it together by sharing our stories.

  • Linda V says:

    My nephew was finally hospitalized for 5 days and his story in the hospital is similar to yours, but he is still in denial about his illness. He has been out about a week now, but he still sounds agitated. The night he went in he couldn’t stand the voices anymore and was thinking of harming himself. But now that he’s slept a few days he says he was not hearing voices. I am so sad for him.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Linda. If I may suggest something, denial isn’t a choice when one is dealing with schizophrenia; there is a symptom called anosognosia which essentially is the mind being unable to comprehend its own state. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but that’s what’s at the core of what appears to be a patient’s denial. I know from my own experience how trying that is for others around me. It’s taken a long time for me to accept my situation, and I still have bouts of anosognosia from time to time. That said, I am glad to hear that your son is not hearing voices presently—that’s such a tough road. Bless you both for hanging in there. And thanks again for sharing.

  • Cathy says:

    THANK YOU! My son can talk more about his symptoms these days, I miss him writing about them. You are truly gifted with the ability to share and it is very helpful for me as a Mom and comforting to hear your story. Stay writing! Thank U!

    • Henry Boy says:

      I’m happy that my writing helps bridge any gaps for folks or helps boost bonds which are already strengthening. I always appreciate hearing from family members as I value my own family’s participation in my managing my illness. It’s so vital. Thanks for your comment and your kind words, Cathy. My best to you and your son!

  • Deborah McG says:

    Henry Boy, My 19 yo son, Brendan, is suffering the same. After 5 hospital admissions in the past year they have finally diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic and is now in a long-term hospital getting the professional help he needs. He is also on resperidol and had to be given the meds with a court order of objection over medications since he refused to take them. He now agrees since being restrained and medicated was not something he wanted either. Its seems the medications are starting to work since it has been about six weeks now. He mentioned the other day “I guess I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.” Brendan also has suicidal thoughts, grandiose thoughts, thoughts of television shows trying to teach him things he knows nothing about, and thoughts of me being part of a society or a cult against him.
    I’m so glad you are doing better, and this blog has given me hope which I’m so grateful for. Please help me by continuing to tell your story and the progress you are making. Thank you so much for sharing this. Debbie.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you for sharing this with us, Deborah. My heart aches for the trouble your son had in accepting his diagnosis—I was no different. It’s a common symptom called anosognosia which is essentially the illness telling the patient that there’s nothing amiss. It may come across as denial, but it’s actually the same response a person without schizophrenia would give if they were to receive the same diagnosis. It’s a major hurdle learning to accept, so kudos to your son for getting to the point where he can. I had an awful time with that, and sometimes still do, even with all the professional help I’ve received.

      I am doing better and I have hope for the future. I want to share that hope with you and your son. Acceptance is key, and sharing about the illness really makes a huge difference. Daily maintenance is hard, but it’s the best thing for us and our loved ones. Thank you so much for writing in. Blessings.

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