Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The night I spent in a mental hospital

The following was written years ago and left to rot. I've since had a different experience with a mental hospital that was much more pleasant, but this is a story of my first experience.



As I lay curled in a ball in the main room with my face pressed against the blue vinyl chair that smelled of old piss, listening to the haggard woman lying near me shout at ghosts that seemed to be whispering in her ears, all while trying to block out the desperate, blood-curdling screams of drugged-out patients restrained in the rooms adjacent, I couldn't help but reflect a little on how I landed here.

Hold on.  Rewind.

As I sat fully clothed and alone in the shower with the hot water running over me, trying to gather my scattered and paranoid thoughts, I kept coming back to one:  How could my wife do that to me?  Just toss me aside like I'm nothing?

"That's right!" Agreed the voice to my left as my loving wife pounded on the door, begging for me to let her in.

"She never loved you, anyway!" Chimed in the voice to my right as my loving wife shouted that she was calling 911.

And that's how I ended up in a mental hospital.


The lack of care given to mental health in the American health care system is readily apparent to anyone with a mental illness major enough to attract attention.  The staff, mostly guards, were overworked and underpaid, all equipped with a can of pepper spray that dangled threateningly off their belts.  It's nothing like what you see in the movies - no private room with white padded walls.  Here, everything is bleak and dirty with the faint stench of urine - as if someone took a bucket of the stuff and sloshed it around everywhere with a sponge.  There's one large open room where most of the patients are kept, and there are smaller rooms to the side reserved for the more difficult patients.

As the night goes on, more and more patients are wheeled into the main room and dropped off like a stone mason dumping a wheelbarrow full of bricks.  Once checked in and sedated, the patient fends for himself, finding either a chair or a clear spot on the ground to curl up and cry until a drug-induced sleep inevitably takes over.  Attempt to talk to a nurse or a doctor and you're met with a threatening glare as the guards approach you with their hands on the pepper spray.  It becomes painfully clear that problems in this place are solved with brute force and drugs.

I didn't want to be there, but even more than that, I didn't want to belong there.  It's a tough pill to swallow - that you're crazy enough to be kept with the crazy people.  To an outsider, there really wasn't much of a difference between me and the guy next to me obsessing over how the government uses milk to control you.  That was probably the most difficult part - the hit to my pride as I had to accept that I had actually landed myself in a mental hospital.  As the alcoholics like to say, this was my rock bottom.

But rock bottom isn't so bad.  I mean - I guess it's bad because it's technically the lowest you can possibly get, but it usually marks the beginning of recovery, which is what this was.  And that's good!

Where I live (which is one of the most densely populated places in the United States), getting an appointment with a psychiatrist is alarmingly difficult.  There are only a few in town and they're insanely busy.  So the soonest appointment a new patient can get is 3 months out, which, when you're paranoid because the voices in your head are telling you your wife is cheating on you, is a little too long to wait for help.  But if you call and say that you were referred to them by the mental hospital where you were a patient, they suddenly have loads of times available for you.  It makes me wonder if they get a tax break for such patients, or perhaps they just want an interesting case.  Either way, saying you were a patient in the mental hospital is like saying you have two penises - everyone's gonna want to see what all the fuss is about.


"VISITOR FOR BRANDON" calls a voice from the nurses desk.  I get up and hobble over.  They took my clothes from me - including my shoes.  I had to wear 2 button down shirts (one facing forward, one facing backwards) because apparently they don't have XL shirts.  I wore scrub bottoms and white socks.  I was cold pretty much the whole night and they didn't have enough blankets to go around.

Across from me sat my loving wife, in tears, no doubt thinking that she never thought she would see the day her handsome husband would be kept in a mental hospital.  I don't remember a lot about our conversation (I was a bit preoccupied with the voices in my head telling me not to trust the woman), but I remember her concern.  I wish I could provide more detail about it, but I really don't remember.

We didn't have long before we were told that visiting hours were over.  I hobbled back over to my blue vinyl chair and sat back down and decided to fall asleep.  I tried for hours to fall asleep.  My mind was moving too fast.  I thought about missing school and the friends I had made there.  I thought about my wife and worried that she was worrying about me.  I thought about my family and wondered if they'd be super cautious around me now.  I thought lots of things.  Sleep never came for me that night.

I'm not sure how long it was, but I know it was several hours.  They finally called me in to see a doctor.  It was the middle of the night / early morning - that I remember.  I described what was going on as the female doctor in casual attire listened.  She was fast in telling me who to contact and what to say - as if she was coaching me on how to navigate the system; a system that, it turns out, is complex and frustrating.  After about 3 minutes, she prescribed me an antipsychotic (called Zyprexa) that also makes you sleep and declared me fit to rejoin society - most likely because they were running out of room and I seemed pretty coherent compared to the rest of the patients.

I was brought to a private room with all my belongings and was told to change back into my normal clothes.  Even though it had only been less than a day, I was emotional at the sight of my stuff.  I suppose that's normal when your things are forcibly taken away from you and then given back - you get emotional.  I got dressed and signed some paperwork that I didn't read, and my loving wife picked me up in the lobby.

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