The Behavioral Health Ward — What It’s Like

The first time I was admitted into the hospital, I posted a few journal entries from my stay. They were mostly personal and didn’t go into detail about what actually goes on in the looney bin. I’ve been to a State Hospital once, and twice now I’ve been in the regular hospital’s behavioral health ward. Things are pretty much the same in both places. If I’d never been to these places, I think I would still be curious what it’s like, so I’m sharing it with you all.
Upon arrival, they check your vitals and go over a questionnaire concerning your mental state and past history with mental illness. Then, they take you into a little room, where you’re weighed, and then asked to strip down for a contraband search. There’s no touching and no cavity search, thank god.
Once you’re cleared they take you to your room. The rooms have two beds. I had a room to myself for the first couple of days. It was nighttime when I arrived. They gave me trazodone to help me sleep. Over the next few days I would receive a valid prescription for the stuff, which I’m now taking every night. Stuff works like a charm, though I think it’s causing me migraines.
Every morning at five-fucking-AM, they come into your room and check your vitals. This was usually the point where I couldn’t go back to sleep. If that didn’t get me up, they came back round at six to give me my neurontin. They liked to be super punctual with medications. When sleep was out of the question, I would get up and have a cup of coffee that they made available at all times, although, get this, they only serve decaf. Both a wise idea and an effective form of torture.
I would wait, and read, and wait for breakfast to roll around at 7:30. The food wasn’t half bad and I had suddenly developed quite an appetite. They serve one regular, caffeinated cup of coffee with breakfast.
Every day you receive a menu on a piece of paper. You’re able to mark what you’d like to eat the next day. I would mark two cups of coffee with breakfast and from that point on the caffeine withdrawals weren’t as bad. I would also request a cup with lunch and dinner as well. The boredom in that place is so overwhelming, that eating was one of the only things I had to look forward to. You get three meals a day and a snack at 9:00. I ate more in the hospital than I had in months. In fact I’ve gained four pounds since my stay. I needed to.
Every twenty minutes, a nurse’s assistant makes her rounds and checks each patient, marking on a sheet of paper what everyone’s up to and when. Even at night, they come round and open the door to your room to make sure you’re safe. Luckily I was able to sleep through most of it. Nightmares woke me occasionally, soaked in sweat and freezing to death. Sometimes I would get out of bed to read, sometimes I could fall back asleep.
To sidetrack a little, I was reading Armor by John Steakley. A very appropriate read considering the circumstances. Science Fiction isn’t my preferred genre, but a good friend loaned it to me, promising it was worth a read. I give it a seven out of ten. I finished the entire book within four days. The ending is well worth it.
Morning medications were given at about nine. That was when I received my lithium and effexor.
The psychiatrist came in at about this time. There were two or three psychiatrists in charge of about twenty patients. It always took a while for my turn to come around. I spent about ten minutes a day with the psychiatrist, tops. The first day, I requested to be put on trazodone officially. He complied. He also doubled my effexor dosage, and quadrupled my lithium dose. That means 75 mg effexor, 1200 mg lithium. Even with my new dosages, I noticed no change. I was in a state of despair. If I wasn’t reading, I was staring at the floor. They had television, but they would put it on the most boring channels imaginable. They kept the remote behind the desk. If you wanted the channel changed, you had to ask. We were treated as if we were twelve years old and we were only allowed to watch certain things.
At some point a social worker called me into a room and asked me several questions about my mental state, my home life, my values and my views on suicide. Most of my answers were lies.
We had group therapy four or five times a day. No one forced you to go, but they say part of your treatment includes group therapy, so I would participate in order to be discharged sooner. It was more boring than staring at the floor. I learned nothing I didn’t already know.
The boredom in that place is indescribable. Absolutely nothing to do. They had cards, puzzles, and board games, but none of it appealed to me. I wanted nothing to do with the people there. I spent most of my first day in bed, either reading, napping, or staring at a wall. I felt so trapped. I missed home. I worried about my cats. I hated that place with every fiber of my being.
Lunch came and went, along with more group therapy sessions. Meds were passed out at some point. This was when I received my next lithium and neurontin dosage. Nothing was helping.
The people there ranged from seemingly normal, to obviously insane. There were a few instances of attempted violence from some of the patients. One man had to be strapped down to a bed. One woman, somewhere in her sixties, with long frizzy hair and a wisp of it always in her face, insisted on talking to me. She only mumbled and I was never sure what she was saying. Every time she saw me, she asked me what my name was. I avoided her as much as I could. Another patient, a young man in his early twenties, was in a manic state and never knew when to shut up. Everyone there tried to avoid him. He was kicked out of several group therapy sessions for his constant running of the mouth.
Dinner came and went, more meds were passed out. At that point I wasn’t due for any more drugs, so I was skipped. More group therapy. More despair, more reading, more staring at the floor. Snacks at nine. Night meds about 9:30. This was when I was given my last lithium dose, neurontin, risperdal, soma, and trazodone. Considering I had a full stomach when I was given the meds, it took the soma and trazodone a while to kick in and make me sleepy. I stayed up until about eleven, which is when the nurses dimmed the lights and turned off the television. I went to bed and read for about an hour, then finally fell asleep, hopeless as ever.
The next morning I woke up feeling fucking fantastic. I was, dare I say, happy. I felt my whole body vibrating in the most wonderful way. I got out of bed humming a little tune. I left my room and actually socialized with some of the other patients. I immediately made friends with a two different people with bipolar disorder. A guy and a girl. They were actually really cool.
When I saw the psychiatrist, I told him how great I was feeling. I thought for sure he’d discharge me from the hospital. No such luck. He wasn’t pleased with what I was saying. He told me, with bipolar disorder, the last thing you want is a sudden change of mood. Looking back, I think he was right. I wasn’t better, I was just manic. But goddamn, I felt so good. I wanted to hold on to that feeling. Psychiatrist cut my effexor dosage back down to 37.5 mg.
I had a good rest of my day with my new friends. I actually spoke up in group therapy. I didn’t hide in my room. I was singing happy songs. The world seemed so much brighter.
The next day, I was much more leveled out. Not overly ecstatic, not depressed, just normal. I still had plans of suicide, simply because I knew how temporary my happiness could be. My head was much more clear. I spent the day either reading or hanging out with my two new friends. Time was still moving torturously slow.
I believe it was that night I got a roommate. A man in his forties, with a contorted face that made him look like he was crying full-time. He immediately went to sleep in the middle of the day. He slept all that day, didn’t go to any group therapies, slept all night and most of the next day too. I was actually somewhat jealous that he could sleep through all the monotony and boredom. Turns out, he had just come from ICU as well. He had an incredibly low blood count and received two transfusions and a hefty dose of iron. His low blood was the reason he slept so much, and also the reason he was in the behavioral health ward. It was causing him to have irrational thoughts. The lucky bastard, was discharged the next day.  I went the next couple of days keeping up a happy, alert appearance, and telling the psychiatrist what he wanted to hear. Finally, five days after being admitted, he told me I could go home. I was ecstatic. I was ready to go through with my plans. The plans that are no longer to be executed.

Right now I’m still struggling a bit with my mood. I’m no longer as hopeless as I was, and I no longer plan to commit suicide, but I’m desperately looking forward to visiting my new psychiatrist on the fourth. I feel my medication still needs to be adjusted. I am hopeful that we can come up with a game plan.

All in all, the behavioral health ward, boredom aside, isn’t such an awful place. I was treated well. I was fed well. I made some new friends. The feeling of being trapped, though, is a real issue for me. I have nightmares about it. I’m praying that I never go back, though I’m wise enough to see that I may well end up there again. I know how capable I am of crashing hard into depression, or free-falling into total psychosis. I will not delude myself into thinking those things will never happen again. They’re guaranteed. The question is, how will I deal? How bad will it be? How often will it happen? Is there any hope for me at all?? Only time will tell.

–A MadMan


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