Being fresh out of a psych hospital, I’m cautious about everything. But I suppose that’s the point of a psych hospital. To make you become more aware of yourself and slow down those racing, ever-present and ever-pessimistic thoughts. A psych hospital is a Land of No’s. They hammer you back into the mold of your normal self through tight restrictions. You have to be open to the experience. You must allow them to hammer you. Even if walking in a line down the hallways feels childish. Even if being told what you can and can’t do, down to every minor detail (floss, shampoo, conditioner, trash bags, shoes, clothing, underwear, food, medications, bed time, visitors, phone calls, TV, any and every aspect of life outside of the bin that you take for granted) smothers the adulthood you have worked so painstakingly to achieve. The entire experience takes you back to some form of what a childhood should probably be: boundaries, support, physical, and emotional safety, structure, growth, and direction. Nevertheless, a psych hospital is a Land of No’s and you are, undeniably, an adult committed there.
A common thread passing through the minds of all of us patients was that you reach a certain point in your mental stability and growth while in the hospital where you are ready to leave the Land of No’s in exchange for the real world. You are ready to try your hand at life again. However, the logistics of simply getting out of the doors interferes. And then you start to find that all that stability and growth you just worked so hard to obtain and maintain are tested in a way you didn’t exactly expect. You find it necessary to protect your new sanity from the inherent insanity of a psych hospital. You genuinely feel emotionally ready to leave but logistics, protocols, and paperwork dictate.
It was an experience that I needed. I was ready for treatment. The type of rock bottom I hit involved many, many bad decisions coming to a head, a new anti-depressant enticing that dark side of my mind into action, isolating myself in my parked car in a desolate area of northern Wyoming, copious amounts of pills, windshield wiper fluid, and motor oil. The motor oil was a “just in case the rest of this doesn’t work” type of deal. At that point, simply closing my lips around the mouth of the oil jug was nearly impossible…life was fading to black. But not in the nice euphoric way life fades to black when you pass out from lack of oxygen. It was more of a lack-luster, cut to black. No stars, no tunnel vision, no sense of the nothingness you are about to enter…just absolute nothingness and you aren’t even conscious enough to appreciate it. I – obviously — didn’t know what I was doing or thinking so hoping for a pleasant introduction to death might have been a bit silly of me.
In this life you need best friends. Best friends who will bring their lives to a screeching halt in order to drag your life out of the abyss. I am lucky enough to have two such best friends: Ashton and Rachel.
Despite having lost total control over my actions and my memory, I am told that as I sat slouched over in my car quietly waiting for death, motor oil-infused vomit soaking into my clothes and the upholstery of my car, I answered my phone when Ashton called me that morning. I had been texting with my friend Lana early that morning. I lied to her. She asked me if I was going to do anything stupid. I told her no. I told her no but the lie was obvious, it leeched through my feeble words of assurance. She then called Ashton and asked her to check in on me. Ashton, hearing how utterly fucked up I was, knew she had to act quickly. I was able to talk to her just enough to tell her that I was in Wyoming, she immediately started driving north, and called the Wyoming Police.
After the police pinged my cell phone, four hours passed before I was found and rushed by ambulance to a hospital. I don’t remember any of this. In fact, if I’m doing the math correctly, I would say that my mind and memory were absent for about two days. Totally and completely black. And yet, I was responsive to verbal ques. My senses and my memory were operating on two different planes of existence. I remember nothing save for a quick flash of my brown leather cowboy boots covered in vomit and the sensation of being carried in someone’s arms.
When I finally began returning to my mind, I found myself in the Progressive Care Unit of the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. I was aware that there were people in the room with me. Ashton?! Yes! Indeed it was Ashton! No finer sound than the voice of your best friend. A best friend who literally saved my life. I’m still not totally sold on the whole God idea but Jesus Christ, thank God for Ashton. I’m totally sold on her. She reminded me that some part of my brain resisted death. Why else would I have answered the phone? That little voice in the back of my head, I suppose it also saved me.
Waking up with my mind and my senses finally properly communicating, the first things I noticed were the two 18 gauge IVs in either arm. Being an IV certified EMT, I can work the treatment backwards and, to a certain degree, deduce the severity of the original emergency. I was always taught that placing two 18 gauge IVs, about the size of a coffee stir straw, in either arm was for more serious medical or trauma emergencies. Two large ports of access. Quick…emergent. Seeing these ports of access in my arms brought the weight of the situation back into my mind. I had a nice vacation in the blackness but now it was over. Next on the docket, a 381 Hold (meaning a patient under suicide watch), requiring a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA, a license I also hold) one of my own people to watch me at all times, outrageously long days of dialysis, around-the-clock IV medications, and being confined to the PCU for six days. When I break it down into nicely structured sentences like that, it deprives my story of some of its depth. Just know that this happened:
Take a good look at it.
During those six days, I had very little medical attention given to my mental health. As the doctors explained, their primary goal was to make me medically sound before any mental health issues could be addressed. One of my primary nurses happened to also work at a psych hospital and proved to be a wonderful asset to me. She prepared me for life in a psych ward. The first few days will be the worst days of your life. You will be miserable. Don’t make friends. Of course I was frightened but her advice was invaluable.
After spending one day with me, Ashton had to return to her normal life. 16 hours after the crisis, Travis, my boyfriend of three years, finally managed to track me down. I had cut off all communication with him the night prior to the morning. I was already absent from the relationship. It was another attempt to further isolate myself. The poor man had no idea where I was or what condition I was in. My dad was the next to set up camp in my room, and finally my dearest and other best friend Rachel flew out from PA to support and help me. My mother would have been there but she was in a remote part of Maine with inconsistent cell phone reception and I assured her that I wanted her to enjoy her time away. It was her first big adventure after her absolutely soul-draining back surgery. She sent me flowers and spoke with me every day. I have always been more connected with my mother than the rest of my family. Women, we just get each other.
Between Travis, Rachel, and my dad, I received pretty damn fine mental and emotional help. Rachel bought me a slew of books in preparation for my inevitable stay at a psych ward. She shared stories of her own mental woes with me. We talked meds, we talked men, we talked literature. She even read me the much abbreviated Cliff Notes for the conclusion of Camus’ The Stranger. I had been reading it before my attempt. As it turns out, that existential novel is not recommended for suicidal people. But I needed to know how it ends so Rachel assisted me and then scolded me for having read such a story while I was in such a state of mind.
Rachel then returned to her life. The ranks of my immediate support system were made up of my dad and Travis. The two men who love me the most in the world. And yet, they are also the two men I have sometimes found myself the most emotionally distant from. They are both self-proclaimed, “quiet men.” As I am learning, this mean to them living in the moment, living for the moment, and not dwelling in the past, or fretting over the future. What a beautiful and peaceful place the moment is. However, to a mentally unsound woman, a quiet man is a man unable and unwilling to understand my emotions. While they have both occasionally been found unable to understand my emotions, they have never truly been unwilling to understand them. Although, it takes two to dance the dance of emotional disconnect. In the past, I have laid my emotions out before them, ready to discuss, wanting to discuss, and for whatever reason, the topic was never addressed. This led me to carefully folding my bruised emotions back up and hiding them away, saving them for people who could easily understand them.
This is where I am finding it difficult to continue telling my story. I don’t want to cast myself as some absolutely loony, beyond hope, stereotypical crazy woman. But I also don’t want to cast my dad or Travis as emotionally perfect, or even emotionally dead as the last three sentences of the prior paragraph might have you believe. Allow me to just state here that this recovery process is infinite. There are…forces…in my brain that are so powerful and so full of self-hatred that it is not safe for me to approach them yet. This leaves a lot of my convictions stuck in an emotional limbo which makes the telling of this story particularly hard. So I ask you to stay tuned as I try to map it all out.
I was left at WMC with my two Quiet Men — my dad and my lover. Travis spent all six days with me, lying next to me in the hospital bed, taking care of our lives back home while taking care of me in Wyoming. I was attached to four IV pumps and had a central line placed in my neck for the majority of time which made showering very difficult. He would stand outside the walk-in shower and help me navigate the tubes as I washed my body. He was wonderful, a true warrior of the heart. He refused to let me go.
We talked for hours. We talked about what happened, how the windshield wiper fluid tasted, how disappointing the blackness was, how hairy I was going to be by the end of this entire ordeal, plans for our future, plans for my future, plans for his future, how we want to grow carrots in a Topsy Turvy planter just to see how gravity affects a bulb-like vegetable. We talked about everything and anything little, mediocre, massive, terrifying, and hilarious that came to our minds. He was, and still is, truly amazing. It was a side of him that I have never seen, and I’m fairly certain no one has seen.
In between conversations, we mostly wept and watched TV (having only bunny ears at home, we greatly enjoyed the cable television). We wept for him and his own emotional trauma, which surfaced as a result of the gravity of my emotional trauma, breaking the silence of his Quiet Man. His Quiet Man needed to speak and weep. It needed to have its silence shattered against the walls of the hospital room. We wept for what I did, what almost happened to me. We wept for our past and just how diluted it had become before this but we also wept with joy for our new future.
I will never forget the moment when he first saw me in the hospital. He circled around to the right side of the bed, laid his head on my chest and sobbed. He desperately embraced me, grasping me tighter with each sob, not seeming to be able to hug, hold, or squeeze me tight enough to his satisfaction. I carefully draped my IV lines across his trembling back and stroked his hair, holding him to my chest so he could hear my heart beat, a smile gracing my lips. Not only had I survived, but he broke his emotional silence
We were now broadcasting at similar emotional frequencies and speaking the same emotional language. We were now able to truly grow closer. And we have. We are stronger and more confident than at any other point in our relationship. We are stronger and closer in our relationship than I have ever before experienced with a man. It is intense and yet has such an ease to it. Who knew that a failed suicide attempt could begin to fix so many deep and significant issues? Who knew that so much love could exist between two people?
While I was medically treated at WMC, he lounged out and read his magazines and books while Travis and I lay in bed talking. He was always ready to make a food run to one of Casper’s finer diners. When Travis would leave on the occasional errand, my dad would sit at the side of the bed, just as he did when I was a child, talking my monkey-brain off of the ledge when I would get overwhelmed about the monumentally challenging steps ahead of me right now. His actions were wonderful reminders that no matter what I do, I will always have his love and support. And that feeling alone was enough to calm my panic, cradling me like a long overdue hug. I had forgotten how nice it was to let my father be a part of my life. The certainty of his love is so powerful.
It was the kick in the ass, the slap to the face, the good, strong check of reality that not only did our relationship need, but that I needed, that Travis needed, and that my dad and the rest of my family needed. I have learned just how strong I am and as it turns out, I’m pretty goddamn tough.
I have also learned, and now truly believe, just how worthy I am, how deserving, how beautiful, loving, and kind I really am. I have internalized these facts. They have taken up permanent residence within my head and my heart. Of course, as I mentioned above, those forces that took over that morning are still there. They wait for a lapse in my confidence and attack. But my calvary, my troops, my warriors are growing. They are getting stronger and more prepared to fight those evil forces. They are evil, pure evil. Was that the true me acting that morning? Fuck no!! It was not. I will come back to this topic another day when it is safe to confront that evil. Right now though, that would be like playing naked outside during a storm of fire-tornados.
I have been working this experience in my favor. I have used it to reconnect with family. To open the lines of communication that were shut off. It is a foundation, a real, undeniable reason to talk. It won’t fix what ails us. The real work still needs to be done. I have hopes that in time, we will be a healthier family with more honesty and more quality time to look forward to.
After the good doc’s at the WMC found me to be medically sound, they shipped me off the psych hospital. My dad drove me from the hospital in Wyoming down the psych hospital in Louisville, CO. It was his legal responsibility to transport me directly to the psych hospital with no stops at go home to pack a bag, only stopping for food and fuel (and a secret trip to the barn so that I could love on my horse before being separated from him for another six days) were permitted. During that six hour drive, we talked, truly talked, more than we have talked in…dare I even say years? Yeah, I do dare. We discussed religion, clothes, relationships, my parents’ divorce, my brothers and their lives, therapy styles, food, school, all of the topics that we had left unspoken for so long. There are still a vast many topics that desperately need discussing but we only had six hours.
Upon arrival to Centennial Peaks Hospital, the Land of No’s , I observed a most happy reunion between a young girl, a freshly former patient, and her parents. The joy was tangible. The smile on her face was the antithesis of the frown on my face. Before walking out of the front doors a free woman, she stepped into the bathroom in the lobby and applied her makeup, a luxury denied to patients. I longed to be in her shoes. The endeavor ahead of me was daunting, it felt impossible. And yet based upon this girl’s happiness, I felt a small sliver of assurance that I, too, could do this and come out just as joyful and full of life.
I sat down, comfortably sandwiched between my dad and Travis, and began filling out the admission forms, the emergency contact information, the insurance information, and the consent to release protected information to my psychologist and psychiatrist. I bit my tongue, chewed on my lower lip trying desperately not to cry at the thought of being separated from Travis. We had bonded so much during our time together at WMC. The thought of him having to leave me there twisted my heart into fragile, trembling fibers, afraid to beat too quickly for fear that my heart would implode, leaving an empty cavity in my chest.
I was soon taken back past the locked doors to a small, barren room under the surveillance of a small camera mounted in a corner of the ceiling. There, an intake counselor ran through the forms that I had filled out in the lobby, applied my wrist band, and took my picture. The picture was to be used for the staff to easily identify me during the 15 minute attendance checks and medication administration. The anxiety and sadness over the battle ahead of me mounted. After she completed her duties, she brought me back out to the hallway leading to the lobby for one final goodbye.
The separation was inevitable. I said my goodbyes. I hugged my dad and clung to Travis, tears charging down my face. The honeymoon of having lived was over. It was now time for the nitty gritty. I was taken back to the unit where I was to spend the next week. I was placed in the Adult ward; it was the middle ground of the wards. There was a Children’s ward, a Detoxification ward, and a more intensive Adult ward for patients suffering from severe mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia. The patients in my ward were nothing but welcoming and (relatively) happy. There was much laughter. The bedrooms were shared and the doors were never shut. Privacy for the bathroom was provided by only a shower curtain, forget about inhibitions. My roommate was pleasant and we spent much of our time together. Thankfully, I made many friends there. However, I heeded my WMC nurse’s advice and did not keep these friends past my time spent at Centennial Peaks.
The first night, I was put through the process completing more paperwork and uncomfortably personal surveys regarding my mental and physical health to be discussed with the Charge RN on duty. I had a baseline set of vitals taken as well as a naked skin search documenting any existing bruises or cuts. The morning of my discharge from WMC, the IV in my right forearm had become infiltrated. The Charge RN at Centennial Peaks dismissed my observance and assured me that the inflammation was simply a part of the healing process. It wasn’t until three days into my stay, after my entire forearm was swollen, hot, and streaked with purple lines that I was finally given oral antibiotics. Needless to say, I was not pleased. It was a reminder of how even the staff at the hospital could easily stereotype us patients as “crazy” and nonsensical, ignoring our legitimate complaints.
Later that first night, I partook in the scheduled outside time, playing basketball with a few of the other girls. Next was dinner. The food was decent! It was obvious that the chef was passionate about his job and wanted to supply us with a touch of home. As the routines unfolded, I found the structure to be a welcoming change in my life. Even the requirement of roll call, lining up whenever we left the unit, and walking through the halls in a semi-single line were nice reminders of a simpler time in my life when my only worries were which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle I would play at recess.
The atmosphere of the unit felt like the grown up version of a kindergarten classroom. In the common room, there were snacks available to us most the of the time, there were dozens of puzzles sprawled out in various states of completion, there were coloring books, crayons, golf pencils (the only pencils allowed to us), and markers kept in pink emesis (vomit) basins, puzzle books, novels, magazines, and crossword puzzles laying all over the room.
There was a washer and dryer available to us under the supervision of a counselor or nurse. I washed one load of laundry, the only clothes I had had for the first few days before Travis brought me a fresh articles of clothing from my own closet. I had hoped that I would be able to clean the motor oil infused vomit out of my favorite sweat shirt. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. What I was successful in was accidentally depositing the oil all over and in the drum of the washer. This left blotches of oil all over the favorite sweatshirt of a friend who used the washer after me. I felt horrible and offered to pay for a new one. After her initial anger subsided and she heard the story of how the motor oil came to be stained into my hoodie, she softened and kindly refused my offers to pay her for a new sweatshirt. Traces of my trauma had leeched into the fabric of her favorite article of clothing, her happiness. That was a common theme at the hospital. It took tremendous fortitude to not let the depression of others damper your progress and fledgling happiness. It was absolutely necessary to form bonds but also keep a safe emotional distance. It was a wonderful lesson in setting boundaries, a skill that many of us lacked.
As the days progressed, I settled in and found my place within the unit. I played more basketball than I have played since I was kid, shooting hoops with my dad in the driveway. It was difficult to really get moving around on the black top with the flimsiness of the supplied flip flops crammed over the hospital socks. Many patients had their pants taken away upon admittance as the pants they came in wearing were deemed unsafe for suicidal people. Instead, they were given blue paper scrubs, with weak stitching that always coming undone.
One sunny and warm afternoon during smoke break, one of the patients broke off a length of the string and showed us girls how to “string” our eyebrows, an alternative technique to plucking our eyebrows. She told us that she picked it up during her short stent in prison before her arrival at Centennial Peaks. There were many tricks passed around the hospital from unit to unit. During lunch one day, a woman from the intensive Adult ward took a handful of the lemon juice packets supplied to us and showed us how she used it to lighten the color of her hair. The tricks ranged from beauty tips to tips on the type of behavior that would get us out of the hospital the quickest, a most useful tip.
Group therapy sessions were productive and painfully emotional. Whenever I had the courage to share my thoughts and experiences, my emotions erupted out from within me making me whimper and cry through my efforts to talk. I left every session feeling a little better every time. There were group sessions every 45 minutes. It was intensive. The sessions consisted of workshops, small lectures, and process groups. They were almost all beneficial as long as you kept a receptive attitude.
We were permitted visitors once a day every day. That was my absolute favorite part of the day. Travis came every day to see me, traveling 12o miles round trip every time. One of my big brothers came a few times, as well as a two of my close friends. Ashton wrote me letters that Travis delivered to me. He became my personal postal service as I had asked him the deliver letters to friends I had written during our free time. Phone calls were freely permitted until 10pm, lights out. The phone in the common room was a simple version of the telephones found in the now obsolete telephone booths. The connection was awful and required a good, solid shaking of the phone every time. Thankfully, there was another, more superior phone in a private room across from the nurse’s station. That was a hot commodity and you were lucky to be able to sneak in there in between activities and the ever-present line.
The details of my stay are abundant. They continue to drift back into my mind on a daily basis. It was an experience that I will never forget. The breakthroughs were powerful. I remember one evening during a group therapy workshop about journaling I had a major shift in my psyche. As I fervently wrote down my flow of conscious words, I began to truly feel self-love and self-worth, I believed in my beauty inside out. I loved myself, I honestly loved myself. This was an experience that I had been missing for years. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that way. I left the session feeling light as air, my heart floating in my chest, carefree and full of optimism. I immediately called my psychologist of four years and left him a joyful, sobbing voicemail about how much I had learned to love and believe in myself. Whether or not it was audible, I don’t know. I then called Travis and oozed my newfound happiness and carefree attitude all over him through tears of pure elation.
I was finally discharged on the sixth day of my stay at Centennial Peaks. With every page of paperwork completed, my excitement grew. I knew that in only a matter of hours and then minutes I was going to be a free woman, a transformed and free woman. I would be as happy as the young girl I envied upon my arrival to the hospital. I would be able to walk out of the locked doors and never look back.
Travis picked me up. I ran into his arms, embracing him a passionate hug and receiving an equally passionate hug in return. The happiness was beyond any description I could ever describe. He had surprised me by getting the interior of my car detailed, cleaning all of the vomit out of the upholstery. What a guy. He also bought me four new, top of the of the line tires but not without first having a friend film him performing a massive burnout, destroying my old tires in a most glorious fashion. With a newly refreshed car, a newly refreshed attitude, and my man at my side, I walked out of Centennial Peaks a different woman.
The time spent at the Wyoming Medical Center was a time to mend my body and to start mending two of the most important and broken relationships in my life. It was also a time to cherish dear friends who love me unconditionally. My time spent at Centennial Peaks Hospital, the Land of No’s, was spent beginning to mend my broken mind and the broken heart that I had created for myself. It was only the start of this new life that I am determined to create for myself. In a sense, I experienced an existential death. There was nothingness, absolutely nothing but blackness. And out of it, I am carefully creating whatever scenarios I want! So stay tuned