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Fisher Kowalczyk

What It’s Like To Be Admitted into a Mental Health Facility

  This is part of a running journal I kept during my second admission to a mental health in-patient ward. To give context, this event started 48 hours prior to going to the hospital when I experienced a serious episode and was not able to use my cognitive skills to manage and my attempts to obtain crisis intervention failed.

  You might wonder, “What does that even mean?” Fair question. The Cole’s note explanation is: I knew intrinsically everything would be okay and that these intense feelings would pass, but efforts such as; going for a walk, changing my environment, writing and deep breathing weren’t working. I would calm down and then immediately go back into distress. Crisis intervention is when you- in this case me- or someone experiencing a mental health problem is not able to cope or manage their thoughts on their own and reach out for assistance.

  Crisis intervention can also be noticing someone is exhibiting behaviours of crisis and providing assistance. In this event the intervention I tried was using a suicide hotline, telling members of my community I not longer wished to try anymore, and a good friend that I had thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, these efforts also failed. I do not blame those I reached out to for not being able to help me. Mental health problems and disorders can be some of the most complex and difficult situations to deal with. Recently, I took two certificates – both I HIGHLY recommend – ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and Mental Health First Aid. The most interesting thing I took from these courses is how in order to be an effective caregiver, we need to be able to understand our own emotions surrounding mental health and then put them aside. A challenging task with even the simplest topics.

    This passage begins on my fourth day of hospitalization and I have copied it verbatim from my journal. I will take some time at the end of the passages to expand on certain details but for now, I would just like to share the raw thoughts of the time. At this point, I have taken myself to the hospital and I have been formed. Being formed is a legally binding document that means I have been involuntarily admitted as an in-patient – I cannot leave the facility at all – because I pose a serious risk of harm to myself. To be formed is like being grounded. It is one of the most difficult and painful processes I have ever experienced and witnessed others experience. We all have moments where we can admit, “I am not okay right now, like BAD” But when a medical professional tells you you’re so bad you can’t be out in society…it cuts deep. Deep.
With that let us begin.

The “Psyche Ward”

   Where do I even begin picking apart this intricate knot I’ve created? With common knots, I’d look for the running end, follow it and start contemplating my first move. Here, I am not sure. Is the running end the beginning of this saga? Or where I sit now? As I write this I am starting to think my situation is less of a knot and more of a string of Christmas lights balled in the corner. Ignored. Perhaps replaced. Looked at with disdain.

  It is day four of not sure how many days I will be in the psych ward, I begrudgingly walk over to the ball of lights. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of spending a long or short term stay at one of the city’s finest mental health facilities, welcome. To apply for a room it only costs your sanity and a significant threat to your well-being or someone else’s. Once you’re at reception the good doctor’s and nurses will determine what length of stay you qualify for and provide a personal escort (security guards) to your quarters. Keep in mind running from your escort will only guarantee the most private and secure accommodations.

  An aside, the residents referred to this area as, lock-down. From general population you could see the other residents who were in lock down and they you through large glass doors. Being transitioned from lock down to general population is often celebrated by residents as it is a step closer to being released. However, it was not uncommon for residents to bounce back and forth between the general population and lock-down. I spent all of my time in general population.

    Once you’ve arrived enjoy complimentary gowns and pants, say goodbye to your shoes -they are considered contraband as well as your clothes – and settle in to therapeutic bliss. Sarcasm, truth but sarcasm.Honestly, it’s lonely. Safe but lonely, cold yet warm. You don’t get to choose your roommate and every nurse and doctor will ask you repeatedly, “What brings you here today?” As if you were just casually dropping by. Once you explain your woes over and over again – in my case always accompanied by large amounts of tears, snot and occasionally mild rocking – a quick list of, “criteria” get fired at you. The only acceptable answers are “yes” or “no”.

   “Do you have thoughts of suicide or self harm?” Yes to this will ensure your stay for a minimum of 72 hours. “Do you experience extreme highs and lows?” Narrows down which of the many disorders you could have or be experiencing. “Do you ever feel like the media is trying to tell you something?” “Do you hear voices?” No. But actually yes. The first 24-48 hours are the easiest. You get tons of attention and things move quickly. Friends and family are concerned, you are introduced to the team of health care professionals that will be looking after you, then….nothing. Everything starts to fade. The world becomes distant, quiet.

    Suddenly there you are, just you. You, your conscious mind and whatever iteration of what ails you. Monsters, demons, spirits, disorders, illness, broken brain, back to my ”old self”, energy, chi, high, soul, addiction, fixation, obsession, shame, guilt, daddy issues, mommy issues, abused, abusee, all of the above. They gather as if they were knights at a round table waiting orders they have no intention of following. In fact they have come, for you.