Wednesday, May 18, 2011

guest post: the asylum for the wayward neo-victorian girl, part II

Part II of III.  

Go back to Part I.

Continue to Part III.

One thing that I as an American have taken for granted was my freedom. The moment I realized that I was placed in a ward against my will, I panicked. I felt like a caged animal, but tried to remember the nice security guard's advice and put on as complacent of a face as I could muster. It was time to suppress all visages of depression and act like the girl-next-door.

My assigned doctor, Dr. T, had already made his rounds for the day (it was about 2:00 p.m. at this point), so there was very little chance that I would see him before morning. I begged the nurses to do something about this.  I know that I was acting selfish and a bit elitist by demanding to disrupt the doctor's daily schedule for my sake, but desperation quickly evolves into disregard. One sympathetic nurse told me to simply act calm, that everything I do is being watched and monitored, and that she was confident that the doctor would help me in the morning when I showed him how good my coping skills were.

Great, I have to play-act to get out of here. 

I will admit that being committed makes you forget about the woe of what got you there in the first place. One just focuses on getting out, and the sorrow of being locked away consumes one more than the problem that resulted in the suicidal thoughts. Even though getting out was my priority at that point, the fact that I had to suppress all of my other feelings and play happy seemed counterintuitive. As the day progressed, I became more aware that a psychiatric ward is not the place for a depressed girl, not even one that had been harboring suicidal thoughts.

There were about 20 inmates in the ward, male and female. The age range was about 20-65, with the 20-somethings like me being in the low minority. Most of the patients were detoxing from drugs, while two other women had been committed for the same reason I had, that is, for using the s-word (suicide) in front of the wrong person. Only a handful of them voluntarily committed themselves for depression, and I learned to my horror that even though I had declared myself voluntary to the police, the fact that the police had to be called meant that I was actually an involuntary mental health patient.

Therapy came in the form of group meetings in a room at the far end of the ward, in which a different therapist showed up to give half-hour lectures on various topics like substance abuse and positive thinking. I found these group therapy sessions to be only minimally helpful, and the only reason I even endured them was to get a little chart signed by each therapist. This little chart was part of the play-acting in which each signature was an indicator to the nursing staff that I was interested in helping myself... that I was going to be cooperative and sit through the substance abuse sessions even though I had never dabbled in illegal drugs, don't smoke, don't engage in sexual activity, and only admitted to drinking one glass of wine a day as a generous approximate. As for things like positive thinking and coping skills, while all of that is good, I can't justify dwindling my problems through positive thinking if my problems have more to do with how I hurt other people than how I handle regular life situations

Upon hearing my insistence that I did not belong in the ward, the nurses offered me some advice on what I could do to prove to them that I was not dangerously depressed. They are summarized as follows:
  1. Go to group therapy, even if the topic does not apply to you. You need to help us help you.
  2.  Be social and sit in the common room between therapy sessions. Loners send a red flag to the nursing staff.
  3. Participate in the recreational activities, even if you are not good at karaoke or could really care less about bingo.
  4. No Juliana, you can't have your books. You should be "reflecting" and not busying yourself with the academic pursuits that enrich your life. (Okay, they only told me no books other than the stupid sensational fiction paperbacks they give out in the evenings.)
  5. Don't cry.
  6. Don't freak out.
  7. Don't use the phone (only for local calls) too much.
  8. Do what everyone tells you.

The nurses were mostly nice once they started to catch wind that I was not a substance abuser. They did a skin check on me for syringe or razor marks, which was promptly done in my room. Having been to the dermatologist numerous times for my sensitive northern European skin, I knew how to best assist at a full-body skin check and spread out my arms.

"You've done this sort of thing before, haven't you?" a nurse suspiciously asked me.

"Only with the dermatologist, every year since I was eight years old," I replied in the most positive and annoyed tone I could muster. That seemed to shut her up.

 Fortunately, every patient had their own room. While most had to share a bathroom, I got a bathroom to myself. The nurses warned me not to get dressed in my room since there was a camera in the corner that watched every seemingly private moment. Another patient told me later on that they watch your movements in sleep to mark any disturbances. 

My personal belonging had been taken away the minute I entered the ward. The nurse returned some time later with the items I was allowed to keep. Here are the items I brought:
  1. books and notebooks
  2. pens
  3. basic toiletries (contact lens solution, travel deodorant, chapstick)
  4. rosary beads (I was NOT going to the hospital without backup)
  5. my cell phone
  6. wallet, credit cards, driver's license and university ID
  7. the clothes on my back, as well as a pair of yoga pants and a hoodie that I added when the police came since I freeze everywhere I go, especially in medical buildings

All of the items with the exception of the hoodie and yoga pants were already in my school bag for daily emergencies. I really had no idea that I would need these things for an extended stay.

The things I was allowed to keep:
  1. books and notebooks
  2. pens (BUT: I was given one of their pens, and I guarded it jealously)
  3. basic toiletries (contact lens solution, travel deodorant, chapstick)
  4. rosary beads
  5. my cell phone
  6. wallet, credit cards, driver's license and university ID
  7. the clothes on my back, as well as a pair of yoga pants and a hoodie that I added when the police came since I freeze everywhere I go (the hoodie had a string that the nurses insisted on pulling out before handing it over to me)

Fortunately for me, my roommate from my apartment was kind enough to bring me a few extra changes of clothes and my eyeglasses later in the day. 

When the daily group therapy sessions were over, I had to swallow down an oversized fish dinner. One of the patients told me that the nurses watch your eating habits, so I forced as much of the food as was possible for me. Emilie Autumn mentioned in her book that it seemed ridiculous to be expected to stomach any food in such an environment, and I agree with that. I simply had no appetite in spite of the fact that I had barely eaten all day. 

It was a visitor day, so most of the patients were able to see friends and family after the dinner hour. I had not expected any visitors, but my roommate and another friend came to visit. I had never been so happy to see them in my entire life. The visiting hours were cut short by an "incident" that resulted in ward lock-down, so only after 40 minutes of the 90-minute visiting period I had to say a hasty goodbye to my friends as they were ushered out of the ward. I still have no idea what resulted in the lock-down, but it did not bode well for me on this first day.

I went to bed early that night, my spirit so disheartened that I was praying sleep could take the sorrow and uncertainty away. I was worse off than when I had walked into the counseling center that morning. Since the doctor had not seen me yet, I had not yet been prescribed medications. I did have the option of taking a sleeping pill that was so strong that it had to be administered bedside. I have personal gripes against medication, but I agreed to the pill because I knew that there would be no other way for me to sleep that night. As I slipped into unconsciousness, I wanted nothing more than to die. 

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