Mar 29, 2017
On Breakdowns: My Week in Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital - aka Crazy Prison
For any of you who have read my blog in the past, or spent any amount of time with me, you may know or suspect I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
You should also know I live in constant pain and that pain can get exhausting. Last Tuesday the pain was particularly, well, painful. Add stress of trying to move and feeling a combination of helpless and worthless, and the lies depression tells you, I knew I had to act. I felt so depressed and so much pain at that moment I had only two options: Kill myself, or check myself into the hospital. Not one to leave you in suspense, I chose the latter.
Sometime in the afternoon I knew that was my option, and I already felt strangely relieved. I was taking my life in a healthy direction and had a plan: to get help. This article helped me find comfort in this being the right choice. Not wanting to be a burden (heh) I wanted to go to the hospital alone. Tracie insisted on coming along so after work I stopped by at home and she drove me to the Hospital. Rather than going to the ER, we called and entered the hospital. I was asked questions about my well-being, about if I had a suicide plan (I did) and they told me they thought I should be in the hospital. I agreed and said goodbye to Tracie.
The hospital was very discombobulating. I gave them my clothes I brought, they put my phone and wallet in their safe rather than just give them to Tracie, and I spoke to the nurse, was told I wasn't permitted to have the medication I brought in for myself, but I could have a sleeping pill.
After some inner debate I opted to take the pill, and went to my room where my roommate was already asleep. I brushed my teeth with the steel woolishly rough toothbrush and washed my face in the shallow sink, and laid in the bed, realizing this was rock bottom, but I felt hopeful. Of course, I didn't learn until a few days later I wouldn't be allowed to leave.
The bed was the least comfortable bed I've ever slept in in my life. Tight, rubbery, and covered with a sheet I couldn't tuck in, and my leg was already aching from not being allowed pain medication.
The next morning I awoke groggy from the sleeping pill, I met a doctor who spoke to me about about admittance, while I was in my bed. I never saw that doctor again that I recall, but I don't have a history of hallucinations so I'm pretty sure he was there.
I met my roommate and several other of the patients who would be my only friends the next 7 days, had some strong but stale coffee, and waited in line for my pills.
They prescribed me some anti-depressants and allowed me to take the pain pills, and our day began.
The days at the hospital were pretty regimented, but we had LOTS of downtime and free time.
Rather than go over each day individually, I'll give an outline of each day.
Wake up, shower, coffee, breakfast, some had a smoke break, others stayed in the common room, then recreation therapy (music, art, or exercise depending on the day), free time while the therapists and doctors and psychiatrists meet with the patients, group therapy, lunch, smoke break or free time, group therapy, group therapy, free time, dinner, free time, group therapy, free time, go to bed at 10.
It took me awhile to get the routine down, as their orientation was close to nil, so I had some anxiety about what we were doing and what we were expected. I also had the disadvantage of only speaking to therapists on some days and NEVER speaking to the psychiatrists, despite what the nurses kept trying to tell me.
Friday afternoon I felt 90% better and was eager to go home, only to discover a) I didn't have the right to leave and b) I couldn't be discharged over the weekend. This was aggravating to quite a strong degree, but I figured I could practice the stress coping techniques they'd been teaching me. I also had the assumption that any display of anger would make the situation worse.
The weekend was much less structured, and once Sunday night rolled around I actually felt glad I was still there, I had learned much more and felt more positive than I had in years. Monday was awful and dull once I realized I wouldn't be leaving simply because they were busy discharging other patients. Again finding my anger in check, I tolerated it and was told I would leave Tuesday.
Tuesday was the longest day of my life, but I was slowly able to leave, despite my skepticism, and I vowed to never come back, despite it being an overall good experience, the lack of communication and lack of freedom to leave when I voluntarily checked myself in, as well as half of the staff, made me give the experience a B-, the hospital a C.
Overall I'm glad I went, I learned and grew and feel better about myself. However I never want to go back because of how I was treated and the psychiatrists I can't say anything about, because I never met with them, despite being told I did every day.
Following are some of my observations while I was there, some humorous, some not so much, hopefully at least interesting.
I realized we wouldn't be allowed things like razor blades, knives, shotguns, arsenic, dynamite, etc. What I didn't realize was all we'd be allowed to eat with were plastic sporks, that we couldn't use pencils or even pens, we had gutted pens that were just the nib and ink, which I dubbed "suicide pens." The toilet paper tubes were removed and we just had rolls of toilet paper that rolled down into just toilet paper, (what someone did with the toilet paper tubes that necessitated their removal I can't fathom, nor do I think I want to know), there were no staples, all the workbooks they gave us had a special hole punch that cut a small hole in the paper that folded paper over on itself to hold it steady (not well, but it got the job done - mostly), we weren't allowed to have belts, shoelaces, and any pants or hoods with drawstrings had the drawstrings removed.
Nothing makes you feel crazier than constantly feeling like you have to prove you're not crazy. You think people are always watching you, that cracking your knuckles is a manifestation of insanity, or that rolling your neck is a nervous tic, that asking more than once to use the phone means they think you're difficult and don't get along well with others. I have never felt so paranoid in my entire life. All the cameras with blinking lights and technicians with clicking pens didn't help matters. Fortunately in my case, by faking it I was able to appear more sane, and possibly actually get there. Sure it broke some of the patients, but overall it was positive. (They could be watching).
Not really an observation, but here seems like as good of a place as any to talk about what I did during downtime. I played a lot of cards, watched people play chess, watched tv, watched VHS tapes (Scooby Doo, Indiana Jones - RotLA, Big Fish, Jurassic Park III, and others), I read 3 chapters and several appendices of Return of the King (the only LoTR book they had), and did more coloring than I have in my adult life. I might scan some of them sometime. I guess this leads to one of the observations I'll combine here: In the common area, there were numerous drawings, quotes, and coloring pictures. Some were quite beautiful, some were quite simple. But I felt some sort of privilege knowing the only people who would see this artwork were the mentally sick/depressed, and their care workers.
Of the 14 or so of the patients I interacted with, roughly 10 of us were left-handed. Some of you may know, but left-handed people are something like twice or three times as likely and their less superior-handed counterparts to suffer from depression. Our anecdotal evidence supported that.
I've been struggling to write anything creative lately, so here's something I wrote while incarcerated in the mental ward:
I wonder if anyone who
ever jumps off a bridge or
building changes their mind
I like to think some
do. I imagine those fickle
but utterly human souls reform
Then I think 'but
eventually, we all do.
The earth takes our body,
the worms take the earth,
and the birds take the worms.'
We all fly away eventually.
It's just a matter of
Something I've known already, but never felt so strongly, how ableist people are. Especially towards mental illness. Without going into too much detail to preserve the privacy of people who will never read this, I was a victim of and guilty of dismissing someone completely because of where they were. No one believed me that I never met with a psychiatrist until my second last day there. I didn't believe someone who lost their property until the nurses found it. So often I watched people crying or asking the doctors and nurses for help and being ignored. (Again, for the most part they were actually great staff, but I noticed what I did.) My point I'm hoping to make is just because we have a sickness doesn't mean you can ignore us or tell yourself everything is wrong.
More of a disclaimer. I suspect some of you think this, and I know others of you do: that I was suicidal and/or depressed because of my atheism, or because I left the Mormon religion. I'd accuse you of self-enforced ignorance, but it wasn't too long I was guilty of similar thinking. I do experience some depression having left religion. But that depression comes from not feeling as close or as free to be myself around those I love, not from feeling guilt or shame towards any God that should know better. I didn't want to kill myself because I left religion. Because I don't believe in any interventionist all-powerful force, I was able to take my life/destiny into my own hands and get the help I needed. I can also point out that most of the patients there were Mormon and seemed much more charitable and friendly than those who have told me my depression comes from sin, but I think my point has been made. If you still don't get it, hopefully the fault is with you. I can only explain so much.
Am I glad I went? Despite all the frustration, yes. I'm back home now, and I'm happy. While in the hospital, I realized what a negative person I've been, and I'm making an effort to be positive, to improve my self-esteem, to be better and happier. I'm sure the drugs are helping, and I know it's premature, but I really feel like a new me. I'm still Austin (despite what my blood type says) but I'm excited to be an Austin who believes in himself and chooses to look for the bright side. I'm learning that even my pain can be good for me. It's helped me become more empathetic, and while I don't know what if anything I'm supposed to do with my empathy superpower, I know it's better than thinking I'm being punished or tested.
Finally, and this may be another blog entry, but I want to talk a bit about suicide. I've told this to a select few, and more than a few therapists. I've had a plan to commit suicide sometime in my life for about 20 years. I figured the pain would never stop, and one day it would get to be too much. I've been holding out for my kids to grow up, and then told myself that's when I would end it. Pain does that to you. Death sounds very relieving. I don't know exactly when the catalyst happened, but sometime during last week I stopped feeling this way. Since I was diagnosed with cancer I want to live as long as I can, and fill my life with as much joy and love as I can. Again, I feel like a new me and hope it's not just the pills talking.
But even if it is, for now, it's enough.