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.”