Where to begin this blog post….
A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks. Things that I’m going to share with you might be hard for some people to understand, but I feel the need to do it anyway. Like I’ve said before, I have decided to use this blog not just to promote my books, but also to spread awareness about mental illness. I’m writing this post in a word document because I am in a psych unit and have no access to the internet at the moment.
I was brought here after my regularly scheduled appointment with my psychiatrist about a week ago. As you know if you’ve been following me here, I have an illness called Psychotic Depression. Up until now the major symptom of that illness for me has been voices. I hear voices and can live with them to some degree, but I’ve never had any type of false belief, except for once many years ago, but that didn’t last and was blamed on a particular drug a bad psychiatrist has prescribed for me. It didn’t happen again, until now.
About two weeks ago everything started looking very strange from time to time. Things would get washed out and the world seemed to slow down. And then a thought popped into my head.
Food is illegal, it said.
Food is illegal? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, I said to myself. But from then on whenever I ate something I felt horribly guilty. If you knew me at all you’d know that I’m not somebody who breaks the rules. I don’t even so much as jaywalk, I just don’t. It doesn’t make me better than anyone else, but that’s just the way I am, and so doing something that’s against the law would make me very anxious.
I knew this thought was irrational, but I couldn’t stop myself from acting on it. This is the point when I should have reached out for help. I should have told my husband or called my psychiatrist or even gone to the ER. I should have done something, anything, to prevent this from getting out of hand, but I didn’t. I told myself that it would go away, and that mentioning these thoughts to anyone would be much to embarrassing and I didn’t know if I could live with the judgement of saying something so ridiculous out loud. I was afraid and ashamed.
Consequently things got worse and at some point the thought ceased to simply be a thought. In my mind that thought was now a FACT! Food WAS illegal and I knew that with everything I had in me. I knew it the way you know the grass is green, and the sky is blue, and a red traffic light means stop. I knew it, and nobody would have been able to talk me out of it.
I stopped eating.
Again, if you knew me at all you’d know just how out of character that is. I’m a big girl and I like to eat. I don’t miss meals. But this delusion was so strong that I was convinced if I was caught eating I’d be going to jail. I have things to do and people I take care of and jail was not something I was willing to risk. My rationality and insight, which I have had throughout most of my illness, was just…gone. I should mention that food was only illegal for certain people. I was the only one in my house but there were others. Others like me who weren’t worthy of food and we had to forgo it in exchange for our freedom.
When I went to see my psychiatrist she noticed I was acting funny. By the time I saw her that Friday morning talking and thinking were extremely difficult. I could only use half sentences and I told her about how food was illegal. It was at that point she said, “How would you feel about coming into the hospital for a few days?”
I love my psychiatrist. She’s a sweet foreign lady. I’m not sure where she’s from but she has a rich and beautiful accent and a last name that encompasses most of the alphabet. I’ve had a lot of psychiatrists over the last 20 years but I can honestly say she is the best one I’ve ever had. When I told her I didn’t think that was necessary, she just very gently said, “I’m very worried about you. I think you are getting sick and I am going to find you a bed someplace until we can sort this out. Ok?”
Finding a psych bed in Halifax (or anywhere I would imagine) is no small task. She had to make multiple phone calls, which I’m sure is a pain in the ass, and have another psychiatrist interview me so that I could be taken straight to the hospital unit without having to go through emergency (which is always at least an 8 hour ordeal in Halifax. Not easy when you are sick) She did all of that and then had a patient transfer unit scoop me up at her office and take me to the hospital so I wouldn’t have to go on my own. She was scared I’d wander off, and in the state I was in, I probably would have and god knows what would have happened from there.
I live in Halifax’s sister city, Dartmouth. In order to go to Halifax you have to cross a large bridge and somewhere in between Dartmouth and Halifax, I believe it was on the McDonald Bridge, I got the idea that everything was being swallowed up by ‘the mist’. That’s a Stephen King movie for anyone who doesn’t know. It was a particularly foggy day and I was sitting up in the seat of the patient transfer unit watching the tail lights on the cars in front of us disappear into the thick fog that had settled over the harbour that day. In my mind everyone was disappearing.
My husband came to visit me and I was sobbing, telling him not to let the kids go outside and to be careful. I was convinced the mist was going to swallow up everyone and everything that I loved, and that I’d spend eternity alone in a curtain of white fog, never seeing or talking to anyone again. I was scared.
The next few days passed in a blur of hallucinations and delusions. I didn’t come out of my room at the short stay unit hardly at all, and had to have a nurse convince me to eat every single time food was brought to me. Lots of things happened between Friday and Tuesday and I only remember bits and pieces of it all.
I was feeling much better by Wednesday, however, and was convinced that they’d let me go home and continue to recover on my own. No dice. On Thursday I was admitted to a different unit in the same hospital and this is where I sit as we speak. The words, “Your illness has progressed” are not words anyone wants to hear, but I’m afraid I had to hear them in the last few days. That’s been hard. I’ve cried a lot. Drugs that were once only used as a fix when something goes wrong will now have to be a part of my life every day and that will be hard. Antipsychotic medication can be hard to function on.
I drift back into the fog when something upsets me or stresses me out. I can’t be outside of this environment for too long without seeing the world in its ‘washed out’ state. I know some of you are wondering how I am posting on Facebook and going to Starbucks.
Being on a psych unit is not the same as being in a regular hospital. As long as you are lucid you can pretty much come and go. I have passes and I take advantage of them when I need to. It’s good to get away, but it’s necessary to come back. I’m not stranger to these places. Unfortunately I have had so many psychiatric hospitalizations that I’ve lost count. When I was a teenager some people accused me of getting admitted for attention. Trust me, there are easier ways to get attention. I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for this, and I’d get rid of it if I could. Mental illness is not something that goes away though, at least not in my case. It’s something you manage and live with. I knew my illness very well, but now it’s like I have to get to know it, and myself, all over again. It’s a pain in the ass I tell you! It’s disrupting my life. I have a lot of great stuff going on and I’d like to be able to give it my full attention, but right now that’s impossible.
Anyway, that’s where we are right now. I’ve felt pretty good most of today and for that I’m grateful. It will be a challenge but I’ll recover. Coming into a place like this makes me realize just how lucky I am actually. I am seeing people in here who are much worse off than I am, and who may never recover. Yes, my illness sucks the big one, but there are some who are dealing with much worse. I’ll get well and go home. Some of these people will never get well. Some of these people really have no home. They are society’s throwaways.
Visitors are a rare sight here. There are no flowers, no get well cards, no phone calls of concern or support. They sit, they wait, they languish. It’s extremely depressing. I’ve met some very interesting and beautiful people here who have no family or friends left to support them. Granted some of them may have alienated friends and family with their behavior, but still, it doesn’t feel fair. We’re all just looking for a little understanding.
Nobody wants or asks for this. I’ve heard the phrase uttered in here, “You are more than your diagnosis”, and it’s true. But to some our diagnosis is ALL that we are and all they will ever see. If you think like that it’s a shame. Every life matters and we all have something, big or small, to offer the world. Many people in here have attempted suicide and not always as a result of their illness, but as a result of the rejection that came along with it. Would you ask your loved one with cancer to go home and recover without any help or support? Probably not. But we ask this of the mentally ill all the time and when they can’t do it we punish them…and then we lose them.
We lose them to shame. We lose them to embarrassment. And we lose them to the word that gets thrown out time and again…stigma. Some people just find it too hard to live with the label.