Psych Ward – Day 5 – Bedtime

Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy)

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Sleep eluded me. Up and down. Up and down. I walked the full length of the hamster cage again and again and again watching the hour hand on the clock edge toward midnight. From one set of locked double doors past the men’s rooms on one side, around the curved employee desk, down the women’s rooms past my room by the other set of locked double doors. Back to bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for a three-inch mattress on a plastic bed frame bolted to the floor. Sleep would not come. Back to pacing. Up and down. Up and down. Back to bed. I repeated this pattern for hours (at times wondering if I really was crazy) and then finally surrendered.

I walked to the nurse’s station. “Hi Dana, what can I do for you?” It was the kind nurse, the new one – the one who didn’t give me the false smile that faded as soon as she turned away and the cheery Kindergarten teacher voice. No, this nurse was an angel.  “I need something to help me sleep.”

This request was rare for me. I hate taking medication. But this time, the benefit outweighed the risk.

I hadn’t slept well since admission. Who knows why? The psych ward brought with it a state of constant alertness. It could have been a side effect of the new medication. It could have been that I was missing my children. It could have been the fact that I was locked in what was essentially a large room with people with known anger issues, and I was sleeping in a room that didn’t lock with a complete stranger who snored like a chainsaw felling a forest. It could have been the knowledge that I was being watched and assessed constantly as they tracked how much I ate and how much I slept. Who knows?

She smiled, scanned my armband, and handed me a pill. I winced and asked her if she had 80 more back there. I was only kind of joking. It’s the kind of thing you are not supposed to say in the psych ward. She frowned, shook her head, and said, “I have them, but I’m not going to give them to you.” She cared. I could see that she cared. She leaned over the half door, looked straight into my eyes and then through them into my soul, and implored, “Dana, hold on to what is real.”

This woman was the first person that I met who was invested. Don’t get me wrong, most of the people who worked there were kind and dedicated to their jobs. But this woman was different. This nurse made eye contact and talked not like she was trying to pass the time, but like she was trying to help. I at once had a glimpse of what mental health care should or could look like if the perception were different. If instead of treating disorders, we treated people.

My eyes were dry, but inside I wept the tears I could not shed. I swallowed the pill. Back in bed, sleep came quickly. It was the sleep of the dead: dreamless and empty.

Light The Darkness,

Dana Nevels

And There Was Light

When a friend tells you that they are hopeless, or a burden, or depressed, ask the question. Ask that scary question that you wonder but are too afraid to put a voice to.

Some days it is hard not to lose faith that I can beat depression. According to my psychiatrist, I am a “special case,” meaning difficult to treat. I have bad reactions to many of the more common medications. I am fighting a hard battle.

I started the antipsychotic in the hopes that it would help me. It is a difficult concept to fathom that something that is intended to help you, could bring you so low – so close to the brink. Yet I once again find myself perilously close to giving in.

I live near the edge on an almost daily basis, standing so close to the chasm peering over at the darkness beyond that I wonder if it is really worth it to keep fighting. If it wouldn’t just be better to give up and tumble in. The ups and downs, the rude reversals, sap my strength and swallow my hope. Just at the moment that I rise again, my depression drives me back down in knee-buckling submission.

But there is hope.

Always.

I find it in the love and compassion of countless others: sometimes family, sometimes friends, sometimes complete strangers who give me just enough light in the darkness to keep moving forward for one more day.

I used to see others in aggregate. Now I see the kindness in the eyes of a physician who validates my pain and fights by my side. I see concern in a simple text from a friend asking about how my doctor’s appointment went. I see the love in a message from a stranger, and increased calls from a busy sister, just because.

These lights, the stars in my firmament, have always been there. But when my days were light I would struggle to see them. They would often shine unnoticed. Now when I stand in so much darkness, I can finally see them clearly for what they are: tiny suns, giving me light, when I feel like mine has gone out.

Never underestimate the power that you have to be that light for others.

A friend told me today of another friend she knows who is struggling. Worry creased her face as she described this friend’s troubles. She wondered what she should be doing or could be doing that she isn’t doing.

My friend is love. She is gentleness. She is kindness. I struggled to give her a good answer because I don’t think there is a right answer. But here is what I would say if I had a second chance.

When a friend tells you that they are hopeless, or a burden, or depressed, ask the question. Ask that scary question that you wonder but are too afraid to put a voice to. Ask them if they have thought about suicide. Say the words. Do not let them go unsaid. You may save their life.

When a friend comes to you and shares their darkest thoughts, they are telling you that a part of them wants to live. Feed that part of them.

When you don’t know what else to say, tell them that you care about them. Tell them that you value them. Tell them that you want them around. Tell them that you need them. Tell them that their presence is not a burden. Tell them you love them and the world would be less without them. Tell them that as hard as life may be for them right now and as weak as they may feel that they can hang on for one more minute or hour or day. Talk to them. Be with them. Stay with them. Be a light in their darkness. Sometimes that light is the only one that gets through.

Light the Darkness,

Dana Nevels

 

 

 

5 Misconceptions about the Psych Ward

My conception of mental illness and the psych ward were born of television and movies.

So earlier this year, I tried to take my own life. Yeah, that happened. Thankfully, I’m one of the lucky ones who lived to tell the tale. I looked, but did not leap (metaphorically speaking). It was a life-changing experience that I am still moving through and still learning from. I am here today because there was one person who was open with me about her struggles with mental illness and attempted suicide. I am lucky because she was brave. Now it is my turn to be brave.

This should not be so scary. Talking about depression and suicide should not be terrifying. Talking about mental illness should be no harder than admitting that you have a heart disorder or an autoimmune disease. It’s not like I asked for it, but there is a definite stigma built on fear and misconceptions about mental illness.

Fear can be paralyzing. Fear can keep you from talking about your problems and seeking the help that you need. Fear almost killed me.

Misconceptions fed that fear.

Here are 5 of the misconceptions that I had about the psych ward that kept me from seeking the help that I needed.

#1 The Attire

My conception of mental illness and the psych ward were born of television and movies. Those are the worst possible places to get mental health advice . . . or really any advice. One reason why I was reluctant to go to the emergency room during my mental health emergency – I was worried that they were going to take my measurements for a straight-jacket.

So when I was admitted to the psych ward, I was surprised to find that instead of a straight-jacket, I was given probably the ugliest green pajamas in the world. I was also surprised to learn that I could wear my own clothes as long as they had no draw strings or buckles – basically anything that I could use to harm myself or someone else. One of the hardest moments came during visiting hours on the second day. My husband had not had a chance to bring me any of my clothes, so I came out wearing the hideous green standard issue pajamas. I will never forget the look on his face. It was bad, you guys. I looked terrible. But at least it wasn’t a straight-jacket.

#2 The Accommodations

I don’t know about you, but in my mind when I visualize the psych ward, along with straight-jackets, I imagine white padded walls, white bolted doors, and white beds with tie-downs. Thankfully, this was not my experience. The shared rooms that we slept in were bare: no restraints, no bolts on the doors, no shackles. Again, I am a bit ashamed to admit that this surprised me.

The one caveat is that there was a solitary room with a bed and restraints for patients who lost control and were a physical danger to others. Fortunately, I was only locked in there once . . . okay, just kidding. I didn’t spend any time locked in solitary. Actually, thankfully, most of us didn’t.

#3 Checking-out

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Green and White Male Gender Rest Room Signage – pexel.com

 

One of my greatest fears is a loss of autonomy. This was a major reason why I avoided getting help for my depression. I think that I was afraid that if I admitted I needed help, and went somewhere to get it, men in white coats would think that I was crazy and would lock me up and throw away the key. I think I assumed that once you are admitted somewhere, they never let you leave.

The mental health facility that I was admitted to is a triage facility for emergency cases. Having a place like this nearby was a lifesaver for me (pun intended). It meant that when I needed quick medical attention in a safe environment, there was a place where I could go. But because it is a relatively small triage facility, they try to stabilize patients as quickly as possible so that there will be more space available for the next person in crisis. This meant that when I was ready to leave, they were happy to kick me out.

 

#4 The Treatments

When I think about treatments for mental illness, there is one that genuinely terrifies me. Aside from anti-depressants, it is the one that you hear the most about in popular culture. It’s called Electroconvulsive Therapy or (ECT) . I have never personally experienced Electroconvulsive Therapy so I cannot speak to what it is like (The link text above will take you to a Mayo Clinic article on the topic). What I will say is that in my experience, it is NOT the default treatment for mental illness. When you get to the psych ward, they don’t just strap you down to a bed and run electrical currents through your body. That’s good news, right?

In my experience, the first thing they do is assess the medications that you are currently taking (if any) and then try to give you better ones. The facility that I went to focused on stabilizing your medication until you could meet with a mental health professional on the outside. So even more good news, you will only receive ECT if you need ECT. They don’t just hand it out like candy.

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#5 The People

Can you imagine being told that you will be spending an indefinite amount of time locked in a room with both people who are mentally ill, and people who are potentially violent criminals from nearby jails? Needless to say, I was not excited about the prospect. I mean, yes, I realize that I am one of those mentally ill people . . . but I know my crazy. I don’t know their crazy. You guys, I met some of the nicest, least crazy people there. Most of these people had lived very hard lives and instead of making them angry, it just made them humble. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but it wasn’t that.

I think I was most surprised by how normal everybody was (well, almost everybody). I never expected to spend a large amount of time rubbing elbows with homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, drug dealers, and ex-convicts. I also didn’t expect to meet a grandmother, a rocker kid, a mom, and a student. It taught me that mental illness does not discriminate. Mental illness doesn’t care what you do for a living, or how much money you make, or who you are. Your brain, just like any other organ in your body, needs treatment sometimes. We as a society need to get to a point where treating your brain is as reflexive as treating a broken bone.

 

Light the darkness, friends.

Dana Nevels

If you are hurting, please don’t let fear stop you from asking for the help you need. It will get better.

If you are in crisis, please call 911 (US) or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255. If you are in another country, please call the corresponding emergency number for your country.

As with all of my posts, please share this if you think it might help someone you know.

The Attempt

Hours before, I had stood on the edge of life contemplating the abyss and a friend had pulled me back from the edge before I could take the plunge. I survived.

I was sitting in a large pink leather recliner in my t-shirt and blue basketball shorts, a wall of lockers to my left, a stack of Parents magazines to my right. Outside of the hospital window cars drove by and people passed oblivious to the bizarre nightmare that my life had become. Hours before, I had stood on the edge of life contemplating the abyss and a friend had pulled me back from the edge before I could take the plunge. I survived.

September is suicide awareness month. Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. In years past, this information would have had absolutely no special meaning for me. Here is what I knew. Suicide is tragic. It is a thing that no one really talks about except in whispers. It is a thing that many suicide survivors (those who live on after a loved one dies by suicide) try to hide. No one knows what to say. Some people judge the victim. “How could they be so selfish?” Some people judge the survivors. “How did they not realize what was going on?” But for me on any other year, suicide awareness month would have meant a moment of silence, perhaps reading an article on the subject and a quick silent prayer to God to comfort those who are so afflicted. Any other year. But not this year. This year, this is my month.

After the birth of my second child, post-partum depression struck a mighty blow to my psyche. Like a pot of water set to boil, it moved in so slowly to take up residence in my mind, that I could not tell how bad it was until it was nearly too late. My husband was the first to recognize the signs. They were the same as with my first child but exponentially worse. Anger. Detachment. Emptiness. Lethargy.

This time I didn’t even try to fight it on my own. I did all of the right things. I got a therapist. I started taking antidepressants. Then the side effects started. I gained weight. I started forgetting things. Consider the joy of adding memory problems to the anger, detachment, emptiness, and lethargy that you are already experiencing as a depressed full-time working mom with a newborn and a two year old. No good.

We made a med change. Then the side effects started again. This time my energy improved and my mood did not. I felt great and horrible at the same time. I started fantasizing about how I could end my life. I won’t go into detail here, but imagine the horror, the fear, and the shame that accompanies thoughts like that. Someone once said that depression is different from sadness, because it is despair that you feel even when everything in your life is going right. How do you explain a desire to end your life when you have everything to live for? You don’t. You hide it because you are afraid that if anyone finds out, they will think you are crazy.

I hid it for weeks and the temptation became progressively stronger until the pull became nearly irresistible and I (thankfully) told a friend. This friend had been open about her past history with attempted suicide and bipolar disorder. I knew that if there was anyone who I could talk to, anyone who wouldn’t judge me it was her. I called her on the day that I made a plan. I had a window when my husband would be out of the house and my kids would be at daycare. I called her because she would understand and because I didn’t think she could find me.

My friend called the police and they took me to the hospital emergency room for psychiatric evaluation. I promise, nothing will ever make you feel crazier than being in a locked ward, having a security guard wand you for weapons, and having a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse nod in knowing unison and asking you bizarre questions like, “Do you have bad teeth?” Folks we have a long way to go when it comes to psychiatric treatment in this country. I will save my long list of grievances for another post.

I am still early on in this journey and it is a rough one. But I want to offer hope to those of you facing the temptation to end your life. Please know that with help it can get better. You can get better. Choose life, even though it may not be what you want most right now. If you need to know that it is possible to go from wanting more than anything to leave this life to being okay with still being here, I’m living proof. Please ask for help. Please don’t give up. Your brain may be telling you the lie that the world doesn’t need you. It is wrong. We need you here. We want you here. Call a doctor. Call a friend. Call the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255). Call 911 (in the US). Don’t fight this battle alone. You don’t have to. If nothing else, know that I’ll be here cheering you on.

There is so much more to this story as you might imagine. We have found a medication that works for me for now. We will save the rest of the story for another day. But here is what I want you to take away today: Suicide is not something that crazy people do. It is something that overwhelmed people do. It is not as rare as you might imagine. It can happen to anyone. It could be anyone. In the right circumstances, it could be you. We need to talk about this. Problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them. Suicide will continue to steal the lives of our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our cousins, and our friends until we remove the stigma and start a conversation. This is something we can talk about. It starts with me. It starts with you. Light the darkness my people.

Dana Nevels

Disclaimer: I am obviously not a health care professional. If you feel like you need help, please call a doctor. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911 or the equivalent emergency number in your area or go to your nearest emergency room. Please?

Here are some mental health resources for those who would like more information on suicide and suicide prevention:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness – www.nami.org/

Metanoia – www.metanoia.org/suicide/

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org

LDS Mental Health – https://www.lds.org/mentalhealth

LDS Suicide Prevention – https://www.lds.org/preventingsuicide/

Please share if you think my story or this information will help someone!