To say my first hospitalization was life changing is a gross understatement. There have been countless other times I’ve been an inpatient, but none more significant than that first time. It was to directly impact my life for the next 20 years.
I didn’t really have a choice about being admitted. I had been going downhill for quite some time, but I had refused to go in spite of strong encouragement from my therapist. When it was obvious to her though that I was in serious trouble, she had me committed. Now, there’s a big difference between admitting yourself and being committed. When you check yourself in you have more control as to when you get out, including leaving AMA (Against Medical Advice). Commitment however is completely different. Regardless of how you feel (or think you feel) you cannot leave without being released by your Doctor, or without a court order. And since you’re not going to get a court release without your Doctor’s approval, you are really dependent on that to get out.
And as soon as the initial crisis is over, all you can think about is getting out.
This was in the early 80’s, and mental health, particularly hospitalizations were significantly different. Unlike the average 6 day stay now, it was normal to stay 30 days or more inpatient. Back then, you actually got treatment instead of just the crisis stabilization and release. I resisted at first; going into the hospital wasn’t my idea anyway. Although I knew I was struggling, I thought that being locked up was a little extreme.
And I was scared to death.
I remember so many details about that time. Not only my own experience, but I can recall so much about the others who were in there with me. Names would be inappropriate, but there was the one girl who was depressed about being so overweight. Then there was the girl who had just separated from her husband that was having a really rough time. There was a senile old man there. A woman who had lost her son to suicide, another who had just lost her mother and various and assorted depressed people. And there were a few who were in the midst of a manic episode; they were kind of scary, but could be highly amusing.
We were all part of each other’s treatment.
Twice a day we had group therapy. It was always the same people, and the therapist running the group actually interacted with us individually just as though it were a private session. The difference was the others could add their own opinions and perspectives. Although attendance was required, participation wasn’t. But the therapists were good, and eventually drew everyone out to some degree or another.
I learned an awful lot about myself and about mental illness in general.
The overweight girl for example; during one of the group sessions she realized that she had been abused by her father and uncle as a very young child. The therapist suggested that her weight problem was a subconscious attempt to make herself as unattractive as possible so men would leave her alone. It made sense to us all, and she began to accept her problem and even managed to start losing weight while still in the hospital. We all encouraged her and tried to help her feel accepted for who she was, not what she looked like. We rallied around the separated woman, especially when her husband had her served while there. In some form or another we were all there for each other, and contributed a great deal to our healing.
Except for me.
My focus and energy was so intent on helping others I largely ignored my own problems. It really wasn’t helpful in the long run, but being the strong supportive one made me feel better about myself, and I didn’t have to think about why I was really there. The Nurses and Therapists saw if of course, but I was hardheaded and as time went on I got better at giving the appearance of working on myself when I really wasn’t.
I was a rescuer.
We all lived together, and were in each other’s company 24 hours a day. Spending that much time, especially in such a vulnerable state of mind real bonds were formed. For the moment anyway, we all became extremely close friends. It was always sad when someone was discharged, and many tearful goodbyes and promises to stay in touch. But of course, I took it too far.
The woman who had been served separation papers was really down on herself feeling worthless and unloved. The man who had promised his life to her didn’t even want to be around her anymore. We had hit it off pretty much from the start, and spent hours upon hours talking and sharing our feelings. Well, she did most of the sharing. My ‘job’ was to pull those emotions out of her, and help her understand that it really wasn’t her fault and she there was nothing wrong with her. Not in any manipulative or controlling way, I was truly interested. But it also gave me a way to subconsciously shift the focus off myself.
We got really close; very close.
As we all progressed through our treatment we were given more privileges; including being allowed outside of the hospital for walks or to run down to a local store for snacks or cigarettes. (You could still smoke in hospitals then). We started taking walks together, and when out of site of the hospital would hold hands, and eventually worked up to kissing.
Our friendship was quickly turning into a relationship.
I was released first. Being able to take care of so many others my own mood improved dramatically. I wasn’t really any better, I just felt better about myself. One of the things she was worried about was how she was going to be able to afford to live as the amount of support her husband had agreed to was not nearly enough to survive on. She also had a 5 year old son to take care of.
Da da ta dah! In steps the hero!
I rented an apartment for her and promised to pay for it until she was able to support herself. We both knew that wasn’t happening anytime in the foreseeable future, and I couldn’t afford to keep up two houses. So before she was released, I moved the stuff out of both our houses into the apartment, and had everything set up for when she was released. It was only two bedrooms, so we both knew that it would mean sleeping together; but that was okay. We felt that the relationship had already developed to that point and were completely ready for it.
Wow. Talk about a rescue!
In only 5 weeks I had gone from being miserably single, to be in a relationship so committed I was ready to live together. And 4 of those weeks were being confined in a mental hospital. There’s nothing wrong with that picture, is there? I was so excited about the prospects, and had plenty of energy to combine houses completely by myself. Even moving the heavy furniture without help was a piece of cake. There was nothing I couldn’t do, and I knew it!
Of course my treatment continued after my release with my old therapist, but I somehow forgot to mention all the details about my new relationship. My story was that I was moving out of my dark, depressing house (which was true) and starting over (which was also true). I just didn’t get into the details that I would be living there with someone else; I knew she wouldn’t approve. I felt that if she really knew the extent, she would have put me back in the hospital. That kind of behavior is just as extreme as a severe depression.
And that wasn’t going to happen.
So my story continues. My first hospitalization was a bust as far as my own mental health was concerned. I made life altering decisions at a time when I was least capable. I traded one extreme for another, emotions swinging a full 180 degrees in just a few weeks. My feelings were true however, and the resulting relationship really was blossoming. Just because the very roots grew out of a mental illness (both of us it turned out), it didn’t mean it wasn’t real.
We made it 17 years together.