(Trigger Warning: suicide, institutionalization)
Tonight, I found out that I have lost yet another friend to suicide. Yet another person whose hand I could have held, whose phone call I would have taken, whose live, warm body could have been in my arms. Once the initial shock wears off, I am left with the same thought that I’m always left with after finding out that I have lost another friend due to untreated and often undiagnosed mental illnesses: that was almost me.
I have flirted with suicide for a very long time. I have a very clear memory of the first time I contemplated suicide. I was eight years old and I had just moved to North Carolina, leaving all of my friends and family except for my parents. I was in the parking lot of the post office in Raleigh, NC with my mother and I realized that I wanted to die. I started a plan. “Normal” eight year olds do not do this. The first time I started hurting myself, I was thirteen. I had a couple of suicidal gestures between then and nineteen, when I chased a handful of klonopin with booze and took a long bath, hoping to just slip under the water. I woke up freezing and covered in vomit, but my head was above water. I was twenty-three the next time I woke up on the bathroom floor, covered in vomit and a mountain of undigested pills. If I were a religious person, I would think that both times were divine intervention.
The only time I have ever really sought help was after I had a full-blown breakdown about three years ago. If I had done a bit more research to find out that my benzos were not suicide-friendly, I simply would not be here writing this article. I would be ashes, most likely sitting in a jar at my mom’s house or haphazardly dumped somewhere pretty.
This article is not here to give some kind of new age-y advice like “Do more yoga” or “Invest In Your Relationships.” You have to figure out what your life needs, not listen to someone else’s “come to Jesus” moment. This is how to prepare for a weekend in a mental ward when you are about to pull the trigger or take that fistful of pills.
1.If you feel like you are getting to this point, you need to make a list of friends that you can call. After that, figure out who your most trusted, least judgmental local pal is. This is who you are going to have deliver you to the hospital. If you do not have a person to turn to, take a Lyft or an Uber straight there. Don’t torture yourself with pubic transportation when you are feeling like this, especially if you have to make any transfers. You may get cold feet if you have to make a transfer.
2. Call your friend and explain the situation. Let them know that yes, you are a danger to yourself, but right now you are in control and you need someone to help you get help.
3. You are not going to have much of anything at all. I only spent a weekend there and I know that there are different rules regarding clothing as you progress with your treatment there. Pack comfortable clothes like sweatpants, yoga pants, or leggings and super soft, comfortable shirts and sweaters. You may be there for a bit and it’s certainly not a fashion show. You’re not going to be able to wear your shoes. Instead, you’ll be in those godawful ankle socks with the grip on them.
When I voluntarily checked myself in (but was sent home later that night) they made me take off my clothes and put on hospital clothes until they decided that I wasn’t really a harm to myself. The second time when I was fully checked in by someone else, I had been brought in by an ambulance and police officer since my partner (whom I had then broken up with) called 911. I had taken so many Lorazepam, I do not recall much of the evening except for abject depression, angry that I couldn’t even get suicide right.
I woke up the next day and I was in a dormitory-style room with another woman. She was an older woman who was there by herself and very patient with my literal non-stop crying. You see, a little over nine months prior I had a very necessary abortion. I could not handle the hurt of Mother’s Day coming and going without my baby in my arms. I had gotten pregnant while on birth control but had a very eventful summer, partying quite a bit. I did not find out until I was two months pregnant, as my period had been sporadic in the past due to stress. I had broken up with the father of the baby and managed to fall in love again with a new man in that brief and chaotic time span. Even if I had been the perfect, healthy specimen for carrying a baby, it was not the right time and my ex will never be the right father – probably not for anyone’s child. I certainly was not going to ask my new boyfriend to raise the baby and I could not have the baby because it had been exposed to alcohol and other party substances. It still hurt, no matter how much my pro-choice heart wanted to erase that hurt and replace it with logic. It was the right decision, but I could not cope with it at the time. Instead, I laid in my hospital bed sobbing for the baby that I did not have and the relationship which I had sabotaged as a result of my anger and depression.
The hospital staff was good to me. They were kind. They left me alone for the most part on the first day, allowing me to cry it out and get my bearings. They were not forceful with me when I did not want to eat. The second day, they woke me up at 7am to start the day. I had breakfast and then a one-on-one session, and then group therapy. I did not want to be around any of these people. I was frightened by them. Many of the other folks in my group seemed so angry, their moods changing at the drop of a hat. I was just sad. For some reason, I thought that separated me from them, like there was no way I could become that. Looking back on it, I realize that it’s all a matter of whatever genetic anomaly or shitty experiences you acquire along the way. I could easily be that person if I did not have the support that I need.
Everyone in the psych ward wants to leave. I did not meet one person that wanted to be there. They all wanted to get better, but no one wants to be trapped, and it does begin to feel that way when you are in there. I watched everyone interact. Some people had really been there for a while, and that scared me into straightening up. I wanted my mom and I wanted my boyfriend. My poor mother was coping with her only child trying to commit suicide 3,000 miles away while not having the money to get to me. My boyfriend and I had broken up, which was the last straw for my very, very fragile sanity. I was stuck in this hospital and I had to do this on my own. So I did.
I played it by the book. I did whatever the doctor’s told me to do. I talked about my feelings and psychological ideas with the doctors and other patients. I talked about the “fantasy bond” that a fellow patient had with her pimp/drug dealer ex-boyfriend and helped break down her actions with her. The doctors gave me a folder to journal and explore different ideas surrounding my own healing. They were pleased with me and left me out fairly quickly after my 72-hour hold was up. Once I was in there, I realized that I had made a “wrong turn” in my life. I had to go there in order to figure it out, though.
I won’t lie to you. It’s scary and it felt isolating for me. It’s hell listening to the shrieks and cries of everyone around you who is hurting and it’s really hard to watch someone go through an intense schizophrenic breakdown as I did with at least two of the folks there. I did not have any music to drown out the world and it was really intense. Being around that much sorrow also puts everything into perspective and gives you a space to go where you can break into a million pieces and put yourself back together. Please do not be afraid to seek help if you need it. I’m grateful that found myself in there. Mental health issues have to be de-stigmatized. We lose wonderful folks every day because mental health assistance is hard to access and people are afraid to reach out for assistance.
If you need someone to talk to, the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1 (800) 273-8255. For a list of Suicide Helplines outside of the US, please click here.