I have no doubt that this post is going to be much harder write than the last one, but it’s also something that has helped me to talk about. I’ve only told a few people the details of my night in the hospital, and it’s a hard memory. The thought of putting it out there attached to my name is terrifying, but, here goes nothing…
Thirteen months ago, I had my worst night so far (and hopefully ever). I can’t even remember why I started crying, but I know that I once I did, I didn’t stop for hours.
I was home with my sister and she was upstairs. I have no idea what she was feeling or thinking, and I’ve been too afraid to ask her since. I just know that she couldn’t come downstairs and hug me no matter how hard I begged. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her for not being able to do that. I was hysterical and it must have been terrifying.)
I was sitting on the floor with my back against the couch wrapped in a blanket, sobbing. I think the TV was on, but I wasn’t paying attention. My dad had left and he wasn’t picking up his phone. The thoughts wouldn’t stop coming, my mind was running in circles. Telling me I was useless, worthless, no-good. I couldn’t even have a simple job and I had to move back in with my daddy. My mind told me that if I wasn’t able to get better in the two years previous, I would never get better. This was it, my mind told me, you’ll feel this way forever.
After sobbing and screaming for what seemed like an eternity, my mind started telling me more sinister things. ‘I bet if you took all the pills in the medicine cabinet that you’d just fall asleep and die.’ ‘I bet you could find a good road somewhere and just drive off it into a pole.’ ‘I bet no one would even notice if you left the house and never came back.’
I had been suicidal before, but this was new. It felt like my mind was screaming and me, and I was too afraid to move. I was calling my dad over and over and he wasn’t answering. I finally called my mom, and she didn’t answer the first time either. This gave my mind more cannon fodder: ‘See? No one even wants to talk to you when you need them most.’
I finally got a hold of my mother. At this point, I’d been crying for over two hours and I couldn’t calm down. She couldn’t understand a word I was saying. It was past midnight and I kept saying ‘I need you to come get me,’ over and over and over again. She wasn’t understanding me.
‘It’s late, where would I take you?’
Finally, I spit out, ‘To the hospital, I’m scared.’ It was like she suddenly switched into gear. She sounded more awake and aware and she said she was coming to get me and asked me if I had gotten a hold of my dad. I told her no and I was too afraid to move. She was on her way and she loved me, she told me.
I waited, still sobbing, for her to get here. It took her less than ten minutes, but it felt like at least an hour. All the while, the thoughts wouldn’t stop. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t catch a break.
My mom finally got there and we went to the ER. She kept trying to calm me down, but nothing was working. That is until I walked into the hospital.
In the Waiting Room
I was in the ER and the nurse asked why I was there and suddenly everything stopped. I stopped thinking, I stopped caring, and I stopped crying. I didn’t answer, so my mom chimed in, ‘suicidal ideation.’ I’d never heard that phrase before. She was describing me.
My mom was guiding me around as I walked now, we went over to intake and she answered most of the questions. While we were at intake, my dad showed up. I guess my mom had called him. He told me later that my sister had been texting him to come home because I really needed a hug.
After I got my health card back and my fancy hospital bracelet on, I was told to sit down and wait for triage. They called my name for triage and it felt the same as intake. I was numb, I had stopped thinking. They took my blood pressure, asked me if I had a plan, and asked if I was on any medication. Then I had to go sit in the waiting room again.
Suddenly I was self-conscious again. Here I was, 20 years old, wrapped in a blanket, flanked by my parents and staring blankly into space in the ER. There was a little kid to my right who was crying and looked like he had the flu or something similar. I remember him so clearly. His mother was trying to wrangle his sister and calm them all down while they waited for help to arrive. I thought to myself, ‘I shouldn’t be here. I’m not sick.’
Of course, I was wrong, I was (and am) very sick.
The Crisis Worker
Finally, a nurse called my name and led my parents and me back into the hospital and towards a small room. There were three or four boxes of tissues, a couch, and two chairs. We were told to sit down and the crisis worker would be right with us. I sat on the couch with my mom beside me and my dad in a chair to my left. I was still wrapped in my blanket. I wrapped it tighter to feel the pressure against my skin.
The crisis worker came in. She was young and pretty and seemed very nice. She had a clipboard and explained why she was there and what her job was. I don’t remember what she said. She said she had to ask me a few routine questions to see how I was doing and that my parents could wait in the waiting room if I wanted them to. I told her I wanted them to stay.
She asked some questions, and slowly I started breaking down again. The numbness I first felt when I walked into the ER was disappearing and I was starting to think everything again. I started crying and she was very nice and compassionate. I think she was pregnant, but I’m not sure anymore. Maybe I just thought she would make a good mother.
After a while, she told me that she was going to recommend that I be admitted on a ‘Form 1’ hold. This is Ontario’s involuntary admission for psychiatric assessment. She explained that I could be held for up to 72 hours, but that the psychiatrist will know more once they arrived in the morning. I knew that this would happen, so I wasn’t surprised, and I told her that. A young doctor came in to explain the hold and have me sign a few papers.
Once I had been officially admitted, my parents had to leave and take most of my stuff with them. I wasn’t allowed to have my phone, wallet, or keys and I had to fight to keep my blanket.
After my parents left, a security guard and a nurse came in and told me that I would have to strip in front of them and change into a hospital gown before going to where I’d be staying. They were women, so I guess that was supposed to make me more comfortable? Keep in mind, I so rarely ever undressed with the lights on. I hated looking at my own body, I even hated my partners looking at it, and I was supposed to strip completely in front of these two random women?
They told me I could keep my underwear on, but again, I had to fight to keep my bra on. It was humiliating and I did it as quickly as I could while they both watched, looking impatient. Finally, I had two hospital gowns on, one frontward, one backward, and I grabbed my blanket and went to the ER mental health holding unit (or some equally weird name). They told me that the psychiatric ward was full, so I would be staying in the ER until the psychiatrist came in the morning. (Why psychiatrists aren’t ‘on call’ like other doctors or the crisis worker, I have no idea.)
They led me to where I’d be sleeping. It was an armchair in an open room. I had curtains on either side of me, but nothing in front of me. There was a camera pointed at my armchair and a security guard by the front door. The lights were ‘off’ while I was there and everyone else was ‘sleeping.’ I didn’t really see anyone else, but the woman next to me was wearing pyjamas and had a mattress. She also had her cell phone. Why was I being treated so differently?
The nurse showed me how to extend the armchair, but never apologized for the horrible environment, in fact, she didn’t seem to have any emotion or compassion at all. At this point, I was still silently crying. She told me that she would be back in a little while to take my blood, I asked her if they had any numbing cream, and she either didn’t hear me or ignored me. She went into the nurses’ station (a room with glass walls and bright lights on in the corner of the unit). I waited for what felt like half an hour, but I don’t know because I wasn’t allowed my phone and there were no clocks.
Finally, she came back ready to draw blood. I asked her what they were going to test my blood for, she said they were going to check electrolytes, but didn’t say why. I told her that I get panic attacks from needles, and asked her if she had some numbing cream because it usually helped me. She seemed annoyed when she finally agreed to go ‘try and find some.’ She went away for another extended period of time before coming back with some cream and putting it on the inside of my elbow. After a while, she came back to draw my blood.
She seemed really annoyed and inconvenienced by my being there (by the way — this didn’t help the way I was feeling) and was not at all gentle or compassionate. I reminded her I get panic attacks, and I started freaking out. I was crying, sweating, and my heart was honestly going to explode. I was breathing so fast and I couldn’t stop. She said with perfect deadpan delivery: “You need to breathe slower otherwise you’ll hyperventilate.”
Yeup. This nurse working in the mental health unit in the ER told me to breathe slower amidst my panic attack. This made it worse. She repeated herself a few more times before she was done taking my blood and just walked away. She didn’t try to console me or calm me down, she just left.
I sat in the stupid pleather armchair crying and trying to wrap my blanket tighter and tighter around me. I told myself that if I could just make it to the morning, it would get better. Maybe I’d get to talk to the other people there or see someone helpful.
Trying to Sleep
After she drew my blood, she turned the light off as she walked away. I sat in the semi-darkness and tried to calm down enough to sleep. It wasn’t working. I cried and cried and cried until no tears came out anymore. No one paid any attention to me or even looked in my direction. I guess they saw people like me all the time, but I didn’t understand why no one was helping me. It only reinforced my thinking that no one cared. I was just a liability to the hospital and if they had let me go and I died, they would have been on the hook.
Finally, I stopped crying and tried to sleep. I closed my eyes but my eyelids were red from the light in the nurses’ station and I couldn’t stop thinking. I opened them again and stared at the camera. I started counting the little green lights in a circle around the lens. That didn’t work.
I was thoroughly uncomfortable. My already painful back was twisted and squished in completely unnatural ways. My legs were so uncomfortable that they didn’t seem real and kept falling asleep. My blanket wasn’t fitting my body properly and I hadn’t been given another one. I was too warm but too afraid to take off my blanket completely. Every move I made the chair wobbled and I felt more self-conscious. Was the creaking keeping everyone else up too?
The nurses were loud. The nurses’ station was very close and made of glass, so there was absolutely no sound insolation, and they didn’t seem to care. The security guard by the door was on her phone until another security guard came to relieve her of her post. They talked for a bit (at full volume) until she left.
The nurses were talking loud enough that I could make out some of the things they were saying. Sometimes they spoke about TV and when I couldn’t quite make out what they said, I was convinced that they were talking about us. The ‘crazies.’
I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling, counted anything I could find, tried to make up stories about the nurses and security guards. Nothing worked. I was too afraid to move all while too uncomfortable not to.
Eventually, I fell asleep, but it wasn’t for long and it wasn’t restful. I laid in my armchair waiting for morning for the whole night. Keep in mind, it wasn’t until after 1 am that I was actually admitted.
The Morning and the Psychiatrist
Finally, the nurses turned the lights on and breakfast started coming around. I mentioned I was vegan and asked if there were alternatives. They seemed confused. I explained what I couldn’t eat, and I got two small boxes of bland cereal with soy milk. Yum…
After I ate, all I had to do was wait for the psychiatrist to come in. No one told me when they would see me or how long I would wait, and I could do nothing but sit in the freaking armchair. Finally, a nurse came in, called my name, and led me to the same room I had been in the night before. She left me in there with a security guard parked outside the door.
A psychiatry resident came in and he asked me a few questions. Mostly the questions that I had been asked by the crisis worker the night before. I started to get annoyed — did they not share notes? Finally, he asked me how my night had been and how I was feeling. I told him the truth. The night was terrible, I feel worse, and I could barely sleep. He said he understood, but I don’t think he did.
The resident left and came back with the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was actually really nice. I was pleasantly surprised. He asked me a couple (new) questions and asked me to elaborate on my night and asked what I thought would be helpful next steps. I told him that I wasn’t sure what to do, but that staying in that unit again would make it worse. He said he understood, and I believed him.
He said that he wanted to change my medication and see how that worked out. He said that he couldn’t take on new patients, so I would have to follow up with my family doctor or get on the waiting list for another psychiatrist. He said that he was willing to release me, as long as I made him a promise. I had to participate in a follow-up program, either crisis counseling sessions or an outpatient day program and that I had to have a plan for if I ever felt the same way again. I agreed. I knew that I didn’t want to do a day program, but I would do the crisis sessions. The psychiatrist told me that I could use the phone in the room to call someone to pick me up and he left. I called my dad and he said he was on his way.
Leaving the Hospital
I was walked back to the unit by the security guard and I asked the nurses what to do next. They gave me my clothes and told me to change. I did. I asked them to use their phone, and I told my dad I would meet him out front of the ER. A nurse walked me back to the waiting room and disappeared back into the hospital.
I waited out front for my dad. I was still really sad, and I was still thinking about suicide, but I was so glad to be out of that hellhole. My dad showed up and asked me what I wanted. I said breakfast, we drove to Tim Hortons, and I threw veganism out the window for my old favourite breakfast: sausage, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and egg on a bagel. It made me happier for a little while.
I went home and was terrified of my siblings. I didn’t know what they knew or what they thought. I shouldn’t have worried, they’ve never mentioned it or treated me differently.
The psychiatric unit at the hospital called me the next week to follow up on the crisis counseling sessions. I was given the phone number I should call and I called. I played phone tag with the woman for a while before she stopped returning my phone calls.
Why it Didn’t Help
That was the worst night of my life, but I did what I was supposed to: I asked for help and went to the hospital. I don’t regret my decision, and I’m glad I didn’t end my life. Going to the hospital was a turning point for me. I rededicated myself to my health (again) and I was more focused than ever, but that wasn’t because of the hospital. My night in the hospital is a black hole in my life of August 2016.
It was humiliating, dehumanizing, and demoralizing. I was very lucky to have a crisis worker and psychiatrist that were great, but even they can’t brighten up that night. I saw half a dozen nurses while I was there; these are people who’s whole job is to care for people, and they didn’t seem to give a shit about me.
Nurses scoffed at me, disregarded my feelings, and told me to ‘just calm down.’ I don’t pretend to be a mental health expert, I have nothing but anecdotal experience, but I know enough that telling someone simply to ‘calm down’ never works. It doesn’t matter who, when, or where. I will not suddenly realize something new. I will not suddenly be able to control my thoughts. I will not suddenly stop crying.
Nurses and other hospital personnel showed no compassion or understanding and seemed indifferent to my clear distress. I felt like just another ‘crazy’ who had to be locked away to protect others. I was left alone with nothing but my thoughts for hours and hours. When someone already feels alone enough to kill themselves, the answer is not to take away sharp things and leave them alone. It has been said time and time again that the most effective way to help someone in crisis is to join them. Ask any crisis worker. Relate to them, listen to them, and don’t be as afraid of their thoughts as they are.
When someone reaches out for help, it can take all the strength they have left. If it is your job to be the person they reach out to, you had better do your damnedest to be there and be their strength until they get it back.
I can confidently say that the only reason I have ever made it out of that place it because I am lucky enough to have the family I have that help me to find strength when it feels like I have nothing left. But what if I didn’t have that? What if all I had had been that hospital? I’ll tell you what: I would not be here today.
If your toddler kept touching the hot stove, would you take the stove away or would you help them stop touching the stove?