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I just spent…. nine, I think? days in a mental hospital. I also like to call it an asylum, because asylum means “safe place”, and also because I can do whatever I want; I just spent nine days in a mental hospital (which is admittedly a catnap in the grand scheme of hospital visits). Contrary to what you see in the media/Halloween decorations, psychiatric hospitals are not scary if they’re well-funded and well-staffed. The hospital I ended up at wasn’t 100% progressive, and the crowded psych ER I spent 24 hours in was severely lacking in resources and empathy (I slept on a small bench for most of my time there; others slept on the floor, so I was lucky), but overall, I think I came out of the experience slightly healthier. Plus I got some heavy duty sleeping pills (that have zero recreational value so don’t look at me like that) out of it. And a free off-shoulder hospital gown and like three pairs of panties.
If you’re lucky, the entire experience will simply be tedious. Or maybe you’ll make a breakthrough but you cry a lot. Writing and drawing are excellent ways to relieve stress and express your feelings, and you’re kind of forced to do these activities by lack of any other options. Coloring is legit too if you aren’t confident in your skills yet or just want to relax, or for any other reason. I swear I predicted the adult coloring book trend, by the way. I think a lot of my anxious and depressed peers did too (I always bought my coloring books at dollar stores, and continue to do so, so it doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. When you’re discharged, you’ll have a thick stack of papers that have seen your handiwork. Even if you burn them when you get home, the exercise is therapeutic.
2. GO WITH THE FLOW
Fucked up spoilers: The more you protest an involuntary hold, the longer they generally keep you. I was 100% compliant (my nurse called me a model patient, I think I deserve a ribbon) but I still felt stuck and frustrated much of the time. Do your best to get better and try not to look too far down the tunnel, because from this distance you won’t be able to see the light at the end, or Orinda (Bay Area joke!). Thinking about the future and planning for it is good, but focusing too heavily on it will make you impatient, no pun intended for real. Take advantage of resources like groups and counseling, and you can learn coping skills while passing the time.
3. DO YOU
No, not in a sexy time travel way. Just take care of yourself. For many of us, showering and brushing our hair every day is a struggle. We don’t stay hydrated. We don’t stretch. You’ll have lots of time to do this in the hospital and set good habits for when you get out. I’m particularly bad about brushing my teeth and washing my face twice a day, but I’m pretty good now due to patterns I set in motion during my hospitalization. If you’re diagnosed as “gravely disabled”, you may even get life skill classes to help you become independent.
4. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Even though you signed a ton of papers when you were admitted, that doesn’t give the staff the right to do anything they want to you. You should be given a patient’s rights handbook. If not, request one, and if needed go over it with a case worker or other impartial figure. There should also be numbers for hotlines next to the phone to report medical abuse. If you want to bone up on your rights as a patient in case you’re hospitalized in the future, go to your state’s health care services site, where they’ll have soft copies of the handbook in most languages. Here’s the page for California.
5. LOVE THE OUTSIDE
Going to an enclosed facility is like taking a tolerance break from the world’s beauty. You will treasure walking under trees that you could previously only look at from your sealed window. You’ll value the feeling of sun on your skin instead of fluorescent lights. Stores may feel like amusement parks or museums, and all the people may be overwhelming. Take it slow and let your brain adjust to living off-unit. Take photos of things that strike your fancy anew, or start an art journal. Get yourself a little present to celebrate your freedom.
I hope you never have to go a psychiatric hospital, but if you do, know that there’s a 75% percent chance it won’t be that bad. Which isn’t a good statistic. But hey, America, let’s work on it! Peace out.