Psychiatric hospitals. I've been there.
Updated: Mar 13
I have voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital more than once in my life. Different people react differently to someone who openly talks about mental illness and or spending some time in a psych ward/ hospital. I count myself lucky, as my experiences within different psychiatric hospitals have been really positive and helpful in a nurturing/safe environment.
When you say 'psychiatric hospital', sometimes the first picture that comes to mind is movies like "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", or "Girl Interrupted". So let me debunk some myths surrounding what some people might imagine when thinking about these clinics/ hospitals/ institutions and mental illness. Yes, you do stand in line to receive your medication, if you are on medication. Usually after meals.
No, not everyone's on medication.
No, there are no straightjackets and/or padded rooms. Not in the hospitals I've been in anyway. Though I was in isolation for 3 days due to Covid protocols, which was great because I really needed the me time. But I have been tied down to a hospital bed before. It wasn't a lot of fun, I have to be honest.
Nobody walks around in their pyjamas and slippers all day. Well, depending on house rules. Most hospitals encourage you to try and engage in 'normal' everyday activities, as well as therapy and group sessions. (Please don't ask me to define normal)
No, we do not sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya. Though drumming on djembe drums have been incorporated widely as part of therapy groups in recent years. So we do sit in a circle and play drums. But we don't sing. (But the nurses broke out in song every morning at 6am at the last hospital I stayed in. It was beautiful. Annoyingly early, but beautiful) No, you're not going to sit with a therapist describing the different kinds of bats you see in different ink blotches. (Well that's what I see. Different kinds of sky puppies)
Yes, your bags will get searched and all pointy and sharp items confiscated. For obvious reasons.
Mental illness is just as important and real as physical illness with somatic symptoms.
Telling someone to 'calm down' or just 'think it away' or 'just be positive' is not helpful. As in at all!
Learning Something New
Every time I have been admitted to hospital, I've acquired new and invaluable information and techniques on how to cope with a myriad of conditions such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, PTSD and suicidal ideation. (I suffer from all of the aforementioned) From the first time that I was admitted, I have maintained that everyone, regardless of whether you suffer from a mental illness or not, could greatly benefit from booking themselves into a mental health facility at least once in their life.
Whether it's learning how to regulate your emotions, how to resolve conflict, how to set healthy boundaries - these are things we ALL deal with on a daily basis. Though so very few people understand or are ever taught how to regulate your emotions, resolve conflict or set healthy boundaries. These are just a few examples of what you learn 'in there'. Bottom line, it is really helpful and meaningful. (If you put in the work)
Three Things I realized
Just how many teenagers and young adults were in the hospital. It's heartbreaking to see so many youngsters having to deal with so much pain and suffering (emotional or otherwise). (Not that I'm saying it's easier or less heartbreaking when it comes to adults)
There are many people who don't understand mental illness and are super judgemental and criticizing of those who do suffer with a mental illness/es. It's a well known observation and something that SO many people struggle with. This pisses me off.
As a society, we have become more open to talking about mental health. But not mental illness. And that's the problem. In my mind, the only way to end the stigma around mental illness is to talk about it openly. Being diagnosed with a mental illness does not make you weak. It doesn't mean there's anything 'wrong' with you. It does not make you 'lesser than'. It's not something you need to be ashamed of. Far from it.
Since a very young age I have been trying to figure out why. WHY do I think the way that I do. WHY do I feel the way that I do. And WHY do I react the way that I do. Up until just a few months ago, I had to go through numerous misdiagnoses by numerous psychiatrists and trying different medication. I went off my medication for a year and a half before realizing I function better when on medication. I learned that sometimes the right medication can help. And sometimes you need to use every tool that is available to you to ensure your survival. I have worked with numerous professionals in the mental health industry. I am a certified counselor. I've volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor. I have read so many medical and scientific journals on psychiatric illnesses, psychology, neurobiology, psychotherapy, counseling etc. Because I am someone who inherently loves to figure out how things work and share it with others.
I have suffered with severe social anxiety for as long as I can remember. Depression - since my early teens. Panic attacks - all my life. PTSD - since my teens. Suicidality - since my early teens. Yes, not all doctors and/or therapists are created equally. And sometimes you have to go through a few of them before you finally find the right fit. But when you do, it can truly change your life. There is nothing wrong with seeking help. In fact it is very courageous.
The upside to the most recent trauma I went through is that I have finally found the perfect fit in my psychiatrist and psychologist. They are, in my very biased opinion, the A team. I have also finally found my true purpose in life.
Very few people knew that I suffered with mental illness before. People have said to me: "You rode around Africa, woman alone. You're the strongest person I know!" For most of my life I've hidden my struggles, because people close to me have made me feel like I should be ashamed. That I am weak. Or 'lesser than'. For the longest time I felt like an imposter when giving motivational speeches to groups of people around the world. Fearing that these people are going to figure out that I'm not as strong, courageous or resilient as they think. Well that's what I allowed myself to believe. Truth is, I know I am strong. I know I am courageous. I know I am resilient. I am a survivor. Sometimes, I just need a little help. I've known for the last three years that my purpose in life is to work in the mental health industry. To share all my knowledge and experience around mental health and mental illness with others, so it may become someone else's survival guide. Or even just to say: "you are not alone".
And so that is exactly what I am dedicating the rest of my life to. It is both scary and exciting for me. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what I'm supposed to do. And it just happens to fill me with immense gratitude and a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
All aboard! This train is underway.