jump to navigation

Return to Mental Hospital January 22, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, Psych Ward.
Tags: ,
4 comments

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a program called In Our Own Voice (IOOV), which is a program in which people successfully managing their mental illness go out into the community and talk about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. The one hour structured program is free, and time is built into the presentation for questions. We typically present to churches, nurses, college students, and police officers.Fairfax Hospital

The Redmond, Washington affiliate, called NAMI Eastside, is now offering the program every Saturday to the patients at the mental hospital I spent three weeks involuntarily committed at six years ago. The coordinator for that program solicited help from our affiliate, NAMI Snohomish County, to help man the program, which takes two people to run. She was specifically looking for people who had actual experience in a mental hospital.

When she initially approached me to help with the program, I declined. I was uncomfortable with the concept of returning to the place I was locked up at and being locked in again. I was afraid that they might not let me out once they locked me in.

Additionally, once I was firmly ensconced behind those locked doors once again, I might regress back to my psychotic state. I always hear voices whenever I get under the stress of doing the presentation, although their questions and comments are benign. Once the presentation is over, they disappear.

I talked with my husband about the coordinator’s request, explaining my discomfort. He said he thought it would be good for me to return to the hospital- facing my demons so to speak. He assured me they had no cause to keep me there, and in fact would let me leave if I started to regress.

I decided to talk with the coordinator about my concerns, and received reassurance from her that the hospital staff would let me leave if I wished to at any point. She convinced me to give it a chance.

Last Saturday was my first presentation back at the hospital. When I arrived, I was surprised that the receptionist desk was in a brand new wing of the hospital. The place was bright and clean, with new furniture and two receptionists behind an enormous curved wood reception counter. When I introduced myself to the receptionist, she asked me my name. She typed it into the computer, and I half expected her to ask me if I had been committed there. But she didn’t. She pointed to a camera on her desktop, and took my picture so she could make me a temporary badge. I put on the badge and waited on a new leather couch in the brand spanking new waiting room for a staff member to take me to the presentation room. In the meantime, my co-presenter arrived and received his badge.

The staff member arrived, with four patients in tow, and took us to a conference room in the new section of the building. But the conference room was being used, so we were shuffled from the new section to the old section, into a craft room. Same old white tile, off white walls, stained craft tables, and uncomfortable chairs reminded me of my stay there. I was surprised to see a craft room, complete with plastic beads, painting supplies, colored pencils, and games, because when I was hospitalized, six years ago, they brought the craft stuff to us. We weren’t allowed out of the ward.

As we passed locked ward doors down the corridor, each had a sign like you find when you enter an area with a high fire danger. Instead of “Fire Danger” the sign read“Likelihood of attempt to Escape”. Choices were High, Medium or Low. Two wards had a high likelihood of escape attempts, and one had a low likelihood. I don’t remember any such signs when I was there.

I didn’t ask to see my old ward, and I didn’t recognize any of the staff.

I was pleasantly surprised that two of the patients had more interesting questions about hearing voices, but they related better to my co-presenter than to me, because their path into the hospital was via suicide attempts. Nobody claimed to hear voices or have delusional thoughts, and I didn’t expect that to happen. Those people would not be allowed out of the psych ward.

I ended up staying for the entire presentation, and I’m pleased to say I didn’t feel like I had to leave before the presentation was done. I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Advertisements

Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid Is Now Available in Softcover September 3, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Spence JPG file for book cover  3 23 13My memoir, Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid, is now available in softcover at Amazon.  Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1483908550/ref=rdr_ext_tmb.

Writing the book was a cathartic process that helped me in my recovery effort.

The book idea started with my mother when I first was released from involuntary commitment at the mental hospital.  Riding in the car with my parents after my release, I decided to tell them about some of my beliefs and thoughts.  My mom was visibly disturbed by my revelations, and encouraged me to write my thoughts down, suggesting that I might want to write a book about my experience at some point in the future.  A seed was sewn.

Once I decided to write the book, I found that writing about my psychotic thoughts put me back into the beginning of my psychotic state of mind.  When I felt the dangerous pull of psychosis while I wrote, I stopped writing for a day.

When I started to write my story, I  had no idea how I had landed in the mental hospital. I didn’t remember the thoughts and actions that got me there.  So I started with what I did remember, which was my actual hospital stay.  Then I started, little by little, to remember the events prior to my involuntary commitment.

As I continued writing my story, each time I remembered more of what happened.  Writing my story was easy for me once I began remembering the thoughts and actions that got me committed. It was like watching a movie unfold in front of me. All I had to do was write what I saw on the screen.  Entire conversations and pictures came flooding into my mind.  The psychedelic colors I saw during my psychotic break were as vivid on the screen in my mind as they were when I was psychotic.  I saw the green skin of merpeople in my mind’s eye. I felt the flaps of skin between my toes that were my fins. I heard the timbre and pattern of speech my dog used when he talked to me.

In case you would rather purchase the ebook, it is available at Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Pangaea-Confessions-Erstwhile-Kathy-Chiles-ebook/dp/B00BZZ8R18/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1409943741&sr=1-1&keywords=kathy+chiles+ebook. For Barnes and Noble’s nook, here is the link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pangaea-kathy-chiles/1115285887?ean=2940016728599.

From the comfort of your armchair, come with me on my journey to insanity and back.  It’s a fun journey for the most part (what’s not to like about being a beautiful, smart, rich mermaid?) , and the end fills you with hope for the people living with mental illness and their friends and loved ones.  Enjoy!

Suicide By Cop Wannabe February 22, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, Psych Ward.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far
  • At 9 am, a handsome, barefoot 60 year old man wearing a hospital gown obviously open in the back was wheeled into our group meeting at the mental hospital. His medium frame was covered in scratch marks and black and blue bruises. His dark blue bloodshot eyes were ringed with purple and black. He looked like he had survived a terrible car wreck. He said his name was Chuck.Chuck explained that he had been bipolar for years, but like many manic-depressives, he never experienced the manic state. He only experienced the depressed state. And alcohol made things much, much worse.
  • As he sat at a bar in downtown Seattle downing drink after drink, he became increasingly more depressed the more he drank. He became so depressed that suicide started to look like his best option. But he was too chicken to do it himself.  He wanted someone to do it for him.  Then it came to him:  he could get a cop to kill him! And so he decided to go the “suicide by cop” route.  His intent was to escalate his bad behavior to such an outrageous, over-the-top point that a cop would be forced to kill him.
  • He proceeded to put his plan into action,  stirring up quite a scene until at last the cops were called. He fought hard with the cops, trying to force them to kill him.  But instead of killing him, the cops were forced to beat him until they managed to subdue him. Then they hauled his ass to the mental hospital.  That outcome wasn’t in his plans at all. He expected to be dead.
  • Chuck was very angry about being at the mental hospital.  Know why?  Because according to his plan, he was supposed to either be dead or ship out on a fishing boat back to Alaska in three days. He clearly wasn’t dead, and it didn’t look like he would be able to make that trip to Alaska. When the boat left, he would remain behind, locked up at the psych ward as an involuntarily committed mental patient. Boy was he pissed!

Intra-Muscular Injections March 27, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Medication, Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

At the mental hospital, although there was no alternative to taking the medication, there was an alternative to taking the medication orally. If you didn’t take the pills by mouth, you took them via “intra-muscular injections” – a fancy name for a shot.  Amazing as it sounds, some of the patients continually refused to take the medications by mouth, so they were given their medication by shot- over and over again.  Possibly as a side effect of the medications, some of the patients didn’t remember on a day-to-day basis that refusing to take the medications wasn’t an option.

Some patients refused their medications because they didn’t like the way the medications made them feel.  Because of the awful side effects, the patients became slow-thinking, fuzzy, or otherwise mentally impaired to the point that they wanted to discontinue their medications.  They would cry and scream and beg the nurses not to make them take the pills. Failing that plan, when the nurses still insisted that they take their medications, they resorted to praying to God (at the top of their lungs), asking His help to keep them from taking the pills.

Relatively soon, the situation deteriorated. The nurses could not allow the patients to skip the medication.  The medication had to be administered to the patient, either willingly or unwillingly. If the patient refused the oral medication, the nurses were forced to administer the medication via an injection.

After the patient’s last-ditch verbal effort to avoid taking the medication (by mouth) failed, the nurses had to prepare to administer the injection. When the patient saw the nurses make the necessary preparations to administer the injection, they once again begged the nurses not to make them take the medication.  By that time, several nurse attendants had arrived, having been summoned to help hold the patient down while the injection was given.  Once they arrived on the scene, they grabbed the patient and put her in a choke hold.  The patient was by that time wildly flailing about, trying to escape.

Once they grabbed the patient to hold her down, the patient started screaming at the top of her lungs.  Crying and pleading, she continued to beg the nurses not to give her the injection. Louder and louder her crying got, turning into screams. She started praying to God, begging Him to intercept, finally resorting to screaming her prayer to God. She screamed that the nurses were hurting her, she screamed that the nurses holding her down were choking her, and finally she screamed that those nurses were trying to kill her.  The administering nurse walked towards the patient, the long needle in front of her. She injected the needle into the patient’s ass while the other nurses held the screaming, crying  patient down.  The blood-curdling screaming continued throughout the injection process. Finally, when the injection had been completed, the patient was released.

The whole thing probably took about 15 minutes from start to finish. But by the time it was finished, everyone on the ward was upset. Our nerves were shot. It was as if each of us had undergone that process ourselves.  Everyone who heard it was extremely disturbed.  There but for the grace of God go I, we all thought. After one of those sessions, all the patients and staff were both so keyed up that all the patients were let outside for an unscheduled smoke break. Fortunately for all of us, those episodes were fairly rare- happening about twice a week.

Mental Illness: Short Term Care Facilities February 17, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward, Recovery.
Tags: , , ,
5 comments

With the advent of the changes wrought by the new Parity law that just went into effect January 1, 2010, one of the consequences will be that short-term hospital stays will be lengthened beyond the standard 2 weeks period now in effect, since this 2 week period of time is currently driven by insurance requirements rather than patient need.

As the parity law increases the length of visits, demand for hospital beds, which are already in short supply, will be increased. I’d like to think that the end result of the new parity law will be that more facilities will be built to house those patients not ready for discharge. But building those new facilities will be difficult since anyone trying to build them will run smack dab into neighborhood NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard).

The communities where these new facilities will be built are already up in arms about siting short-term mental health care facilities in their neighborhoods because of misunderstandings about the nature of  medical care for mental illness. They don’t understand the concept of short-term care. Encouraged by the entertainment world, they perceive those receiving short-term psychiatric care as a bunch of crazies running around killing and/or maiming people, especially young children.  Thus is the picture the entertainment world has provided to society at large regarding the nature of those afflicted with mental illness. So if they’re not the psychos of the world, then just exactly who are those people receiving short-term care?

A vast majority of short-term patients are people who are severely depressed. So depressed, in fact, that want to and/or try to commit suicide. They have either been talked into seeking help themselves (voluntary commitment) or have been taken to the hospital by others (involuntary commitment) for short-term inpatient treatment. The treatment is designed to alleviate their depression and get them to a point where they no longer desire to kill themselves.

The second group of patients are those who have psychotic breaks with reality in some form. In some cases (like me) they believe they are Mermaids. In others, they hear voices.  Or they believe people are out to get them. Or they believe they can fly.  Like their severely depressed brethren, they have been talked into seeking help themselves or have been taken to the hospital by others for short-term inpatient treatment.  The purpose of their treatment is to bring them back to reality.

A handful of patients are previously stabilized mentally ill people who have, for whatever reason, become de-stabilized.  They have either stopped taking their medication for a short period of time and need to get re-stabilized, or their medications have stopped working through no fault of their own. Either way, they are readmitted for some intensive care as they receive the care needed to restabilize their medication, thus enabling them to be re-released back into society.

One group of mentally ill people  not found in these short-term care facilities are the “forensic” mentally ill people.  “Forensic” in this usage designates a mentally ill person who has committed a crime.  Forensics are under the strict supervision and control of the Criminal Justice System, and have a snowball’s chance in hell of winding up in a short-term care facility.

Besides the fact that the criminally insane cannot get treatment in short-term psychiatric care facilities, people should take comfort in the fact that nobody can just walk out of a mental health hospital. In fact, unlike any other medical care they will ever receive in the world, patients check their civil rights at the desk when they walk through the door to get treatment.

If the neighbors think they’ll have some lunatics loose on them, I challenge them to visit one of those facilities. The razor barbed wire, locked gates, and other security measures taken by the staff of these facilities virtually guarantee there will be no loose “loonies” in the neighborhood. No more likelihood of violence than your average suburban neighborhood, in fact.

So the NIMBY crowd should take comfort in the fact that only the “good” loonies are treated in these facilities, and that it’s almost impossible for these “good” loonies to get out of the facilities and wander around the neighborhood unsupervised. It’s okay to have a short-term mental hospital in your neighborhood. Nobody will bite you. Or stab you. Or whatever. They’re only there to get better.

Involuntarily Committed to Mental Hospital January 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness, Psych Ward, Psychotic.
Tags: , , , , ,
10 comments

My husband knew that something was the matter, but had no clue what it was or the magnitude of the problem. He got a few glimpses here and there, like when I wrote a $55K hot check for a brand new Lexus, spent thousands of dollars on plants and flashy trashy new clothes, and started wearing garish makeup (ringing my eyes with a gold makeup crayon).  Or when I quit my job (managing a $55 million construction project and making over $100K a year) out of the blue. He knew that I wasn’t doing drugs or drinking, but still- something was very, very wrong.

I finally reached the flashpoint where I realized I could no longer tell reality from fantasy when I encountered an infestation of zombies at my neighborhood (YMCA) swimming pool. Dripping wet and still in my swimming suit, I drove myself home.  Scared to death, I begged my husband to take me to the emergency room after I told him I was hearing voices.  He didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell him, the nature of the voices or how long I’d been hearing them (3 1/2 months). He was just thankful that I had finally admitted to him that there was something wrong.

Once we arrived at the Hospital emergency room, I immediately changed my mind about wanting to be there.  Actually, the voices changed my mind for me.  At their direction, I tried to leave, but my husband cornered me like I was a calf at a rodeo. Finally, after taking off all my clothes in the women’s restroom (at the direction of the voices) and parading around naked in the waiting room (and refusing to put them back on or wear a blanket), as well as several escape attempts, I was put in a locked private room, alone except for a talking blood pressure machine, six imaginary people talking to me in my head, and an imaginary tree person drawing leaves and branches on the white walls.

They could guess, but they didn’t know, that I was having delusions, but they could never have guessed at the magnitude of the problem. In the meantime, the staff wouldn’t let me leave the locked room or tell me what was going on. I knew they couldn’t legally hold me, but they were doing it anyway.   I felt powerless. I believed they were trying to kill me by radiation so they could drop my dead body on Iraq as a weapon ( but I didn’t let them know that).  In frustration, I (at the direction of my lawyer, who was one of the voices in my head) threw a stool at the door, trying to break the little glass window in the door so I could leave. I was unsuccessful, only managing to make a few dents in the drywall around the door.

At the point I threw the stool, I unknowingly entered a new realm of law: involuntary commitment. I had crossed a line, demonstrating in concrete terms that I had become a danger to myself and others, and demonstrating to the hospital personnel that I needed evaluation by an independent (outside the employ of the hospital) licensed mental health professional to determine whether I had to be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The Hospital was required by the laws of the State of Washington to have a designated mental health professional interview me once the stool hit the wall.  Up until that point, the hospital would have interviewed me without the intervention of the mental health professional, and they would most likely have released me, because there aren’t enough (mental) hospital beds to handle all of the people who need care.

Telling everyone within hearing range that I was a mermaid, walking around the waiting room showing people my feet and asking them if they could see my fins, and even taking off my clothes didn’t demonstrate to anyone that I was a danger as defined by the State of Washington laws. Mermaids aren’t harmful, and believing you’re a mermaid isn’t against the law.  Even taking your clothes off in public doesn’t automatically qualify you as a danger. But throwing the stool changed everything. It gave the State the authority  to lock me up in a mental hospital. Once there, the mental hospital legally* held me against my will for 120 hours before they went before a judge to get a court order to hold me involuntarily up to 2 weeks.  Before the two weeks was up, they had to again go before a judge to continue holding me beyond that 2 weeks.  The second court order allowed them to hold me up to 90 days, but they only held me one week longer. I was out in 3 weeks.

*Note: By State of Washington law, the mental hospital can only hold a patient 72 hours before they have to go to court to get a court order. But that excludes weekends and holidays, which is why I was held 120 hours.

Waking Up in a Mental Hospital Psych Ward January 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness, Psych Ward, Psychotic.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

I awoke laying on the bed, covered by a sheet and a light yellow blanket. There wasn’t a soul around.   I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there. The last thing I remembered was being wrestled and pinned onto a red four-point restraining board at the hospital emergency room and then being strapped in and  shot up with some kind of drug. After that, I didn’t remember a thing. I didn’t know what day it was, or what time of the day it was.  I had no purse, no money, no identification.  No bra, no underwear, no shoes, no pants, no shirt.  Nothing but my hospital gown.  And my voices and delusions.

My rights had been taken away from me, for no reason.  I was a prisoner and I hadn’t even had a trial. I couldn’t go anywhere.  I couldn’t leave the locked room with the furniture bolted to the floor.  Even if I were allowed to leave, I had no clothes, no shoes, and no money.

Someone asked me later on if I was scared at that point. No, I wasn’t scared.  I was angry. No, I take that back. WE were angry.  All of my voices and I were very, very angry. We couldn’t get over the fact that wherever I was, I was being held against my will. I was being treated as if I had no rights.

I don’t remember exactly when I learned that I had been involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital. But I do remember that I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that in this day and age I could be whisked away illegally from my home and locked in a room with nothing but a bed bolted to the floor. I couldn’t believe it!  I was in shock.

It turned out to be the morning of the 29th of May 2008.  It had been 24 hours since I had entered a hospital Emergency Room.

Note: Under the laws of Washington State, the mental hospital could hold me for up to 72 hours against my will without having to undergo any legal proceedings.

Mental Illness and Homeless People December 16, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

Walking the streets of Seattle this afternoon as my husband and I shopped for Christmas gifts, I scanned the face of every homeless person we passed, trying hard to remember the faces of the homeless people I shared three weeks of my life with while I was hospitalized at a mental hospital over a year ago.

Did any of the faces look remotely familiar? Would I recognize anyone if I saw them? Are they still alive? In Jail? Dead? Whatever happened to them?  I would love to have run into any one of them today, to  ask how they’re doing, and  if there’s anything I can do to make their life more comfortable.  What would they say?

Edie, the little cherub looking woman who looked much younger than her 52 years- where is she now? Is she warm and safe? Is her schizophrenia under control with medication?  Did her boyfriend, who visited her in the hospital, marry her like he said he would after her illness was under control? What color was her bride’s dress?

How about Michael, the strapping young bipolar man who taught me that each tear tatoo around someon’e eye symbolizes the life of someone he took.  Micheal had,  in other words, murdered three people. And he so badly wanted to kill his older sister when he was released, which was going to be very, very soon.  Did he kill her? Does he now have 4 tear tatoos?

What of Tonya, the twenty-something depressed Samoan woman?  Each day she was there, she told all of us in group therapy how badly she wanted to kill herself. Even on the day she was released from the mental hospital. Did she succeed in killing herself? I put the odds of her success, if you can call it that, at around 85%. Is she buried somewhere in an unmarked grave? Or is she one of the many people who step out onto the train tracks, not having the guts to actually swallow the pill or pull the trigger themselves? Is she still alive somewhere? I very much doubt it.

Does Terry, one of the most colorful personalities, still think she was from Saturn? Does she continue to speak gobbledygook to people, claiming that it’s the language of her planet?  Is her bipolar disorder and schizoaffetive disorder under control?  How many times has she returned to the mental hospital? It had been 3 times in her 30-something life when I left. Is it now 4?

If it wasn’t for the terrific support system of my friends and family, as well as the wonderful care I continue to receive from my psychiatrist and my mental health counselor, I would be out there on the streets with them.  I was one of the lucky ones.

Where are they now?

Prep for Involuntary Committment Hearing September 10, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Committment Hearing, Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, Psych Ward.
Tags:
add a comment

Setting the Scene:  In the State of Washington, before committing a person to a psychiatric hospital involuntarily, the hospital has to go to court to establish that the person they want to commit actually belongs there. The hospital has 72 hours to go before a judge to prove that person needs to be committed before they have to release that person. I was committed on a Wednesday.

Devon, my court appointed attorney, met with me in my room. She explained she was appointed by the court as my legal counsel, but that I could get other legal counsel if I wanted to.  John, my personal attorney, was in Turkey so I was stuck until he returned.  I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of this unknown woman representing me at such an important event, but I had no option. I told her that I was OK with her representing me.

She explained that I could either be involuntarily committed or voluntarily committed. The difference between the two was that with voluntary commitment, I could leave the mental hospital whenever I wanted to.  With involuntary commitment, I couldn’t leave until the hospital personnel said that I was ready to leave. The choice was a no-brainer.  Of course I wanted to be voluntarily committed because I would have packed up and left that very day if I could.  So I tried to convince my attorney that I wanted to be voluntarily committed, that I really did want to be there, and that I really did want to stay as long as I needed to in order to get “cured”.  Devon said  she would see what she could do, leaving me with the impression that this would be a real hearing, which meant that I would  talk to the judge directly and plead my case that my commitment was a terrible mistake.

Devon explained that I could discontinue my medication until I was formally committed, noting that some patients thought it made their thinking fuzzy. As a testament to the effect the medication was already having on my judgment,  I elected to continue it, despite the fact that the nursing staff gave me pills which I took without asking what I was taking or why.

Devon said that I had the option of not attending the hearing at all and just allowing her to represent me.  I declined her strange offer.  In retrospect, that should have been my first clue that the hearing was simply a formality,  nothing more than a  “Kangaroo Court”.  Its purpose was to fulfill the letter of the law but not the intent. My fate was already sealed.

Anxiety September 8, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Involuntary Committment, Psych Ward.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

The primary purpose of hospitalization is to administer powerful drugs in a controlled environment.  As the drugs begin to take effect, anxiety builds.  Most of the drugs, including antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, have anxiety as a side effect.   The resulting synergy from each medication’s anxiety side effect produces an incredible surge of anxiety, unlike anything most of us have every known.

So the secondary reason for hospitalization is to learn to control the anxiety. Learning to control that anxiety, as it builds up higher and higher with each passing day as the medications take effect, is how patients spend their time. We take classes on it, we do exercises on it, we learn various coping methods for it.  And in the end, we take medication for it.  But the medication is never enough, and we are limited in the amount that we can take. So we have to learn how to handle it ourselves, to the best of our ability.

Although some people live with anxiety their whole lives, in general anxiety is not on most people’s radar. They have absolutely no concept about what anxiety is and how debilitating it can be. It’s difficult to put into words what anxiety feels like, but I’ll try:  Stand up straight, legs slightly apart. Now, tighten every muscle in your body. Ball up your fists. Next, try sitting down. Can you do it?  Imagine feeling like this all of the time, 24/7. You can’t relax, no matter how hard you try.  If you sit down, the muscles in your legs are still tight. The muscles in your entire body remain tight.  You can bend your limbs  in the right direction, but those muscles don’t relax- ever. Your whole body, though not rigid, can’t relax. You clench your teeth. It’s exhausting.  When the anxiety gets too high, it feels like you want to crawl out of your skin.

One of the most common outlets for handling anxiety in a mental hospital is to pace the halls.  Those of us with severe cases of anxiety would walk up and down the halls, over and over again, trying to work out some of that anxiety.  We couldn’t stop walking for very long, because the anxiety would come back in full force if we stopped walking.  And so we continued to walk the hallways, over and over again.  We walked miles every day, one foot in front of the other, up and down those carpeted hallways.

Everything that we did there was structured to teach us how to cope with that anxiety. Group therapy sessions discussed and sometimes actually showed us how to handle stress and anxiety. There were physical steps we could take with our bodies- everything from squeezing the flap of skin between our thumb and index finger to massaging our finger of choice to controlled breathing. Then there were steps we could take that weren’t direct acts on our bodies. We could blow bubbles, color in coloring books or on blank white sheets of paper, watercolor, or do jigsaw puzzles. There was also aromatherapy. Lavendar was the favorite. But walking the halls was the single most valuable outlet for handling anxiety.

Unfortunately, the building’s psych ward wasn’t built with our anxiety side effect in mind.  The hallways were about 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. So only a few of us could fit comfortably at a time.  Sometimes it got a little crowded with all the people pacing.  But when you’re that anxiety-riddled, pacing is your only option and crowded hallways are the least of your worries.

I seriously considered taking up smoking at the hospital because I heard from some of the other patients that it would help me with my anxiety. My mental hospital was the only one in the state to allow smoking, even supplying the tobacco and rolling paper for the homeless people who had no money to buy cigarettes. Anyway, once I became convinced that smoking would help my anxiety, I actively tried to take up smoking, but my nurse/guard did everything she could to discourage me.  In the end, because she made it almost impossible for me to start smoking, I didn’t take it up.  I’m eternally grateful to her.

Before my breakdown, I would go to sleep the minute my head hit the pillow. But with all the medication I was taking, sleep just wouldn’t come. The anxiety was just too powerful. Sleeping pills were discouraged long-term because they’re so addictive. So the access to them was very restricted.

When I was released from the hospital in the care of my psychiatrist, he started right in trying to treat my anxiety so I could sleep.  He pointed out that lack of sleep would put me back in a manic stage and I would have to return to the hospital.  Understandably, I became extremely anxious about trying to get enough sleep. So anxious that it effected my ability to sleep. I would lay awake until 2 am, knowing that if I didn’t get to sleep I would get manic.

The anxiety was so bad that I would lay in bed trying to get to sleep, my teeth clenched so tightly that my jaws hurt. So we (my psychiatrist and I) worked on finding a way to get me to sleep and keeping me asleep.  Over a period spanning several months, we went through about 6 different drugs looking for one that worked.  I would buy one drug and take it for a few weeks and then buy another drug and take it for a few weeks. On and on, racking up hundreds of dollars for drugs that didn’t work. Finally, we found Seroquel. It’s an anti-anxiety drug for me, and I can take up to 300 mg of it if I have to.  Although I take just 100 mg of seroquel, just knowing that I can take up to 300 mg makes getting to sleep much easier.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t become addicted to sleeping pills or start smoking.  I’m learning other ways to handle my anxiety.