A week in the psych ward

When my doctor told me I had to stay at the psychiatric hospital, I had to decide what to do about work.  I was working full time at a kindergarten.  Although the German health care system ensures you are paid for any work missed due to documented medical reasons, I wasn’t sure what to tell my employer.  Should I be honest, and risk ridicule or a change in people’s perception of me, or should I lie and say I was home with the flu, and have no one be the wiser?

At this stage, I was worried about that sort of thing.  I didn’t want anyone to see me as weak – I mean, after all, I was missing work for being ‘sad,’ wasn’t I?  Of course there is much more to it than that – but depressives don’t always give themselves enough credit.  And, let’s face it: unfortunately there is still a strong stigma, and not everyone is empathetic or understanding.

After much consideration, I ultimately decided to tell only one person at work the truth, and I told the rest I had bronchitis – that was believable because it happened to be going around the school at the time.  Apart from one colleague, everyone at work was left in the dark.  I preferred it that way.  They didn’t need to know.  My opinion on this matter – believe it or not – has not really changed.

So, along came that dreaded, long-awaited Monday morning.  Nick and I woke up, I threw some clothes and basic essentials in a bag, and we set off.  The hospital was only two subway stations away – I was about to be locked up a mere five minutes away from my comfort zone.  Somehow, that made everything worse – so close to home, yet so far from normalcy.  As we were sitting in the waiting room, organizing paperwork, I contemplated getting up and leaving – going back home to bed, pretending like nothing had happened.

We were sent upstairs, greeted by a nurse upon arrival.  I immediately didn’t like the place.  It was so cold and sterile.  There was no life in that building.  All doors were locked; a nurse and a key required for everything.  I was shown to my bed and Nick and I said our goodbyes. I knew I was going to see him later that night – he had promised to visit me – but despite that knowledge, I felt lonely and abandoned when he left. Everything was so foreign to me (in every possible way) and the thought of facing it all alone was not a happy one.

I was introduced to Evie – one of my three roommates, who happened to be ten times crazier than I was.  She was a very nice woman. I feel bad saying she’s a big part of why I felt so uncomfortable.

Just a reminder: I am Canadian, but I live in Germany.  I do speak German, however it is not my native language and therefore not my language of comfort. Handling such a sensitive situation would have been difficult already, and I had given myself the added stress of facing it in a foreign language.

Soon after my arrival, one of the nurses came to sit down with me.  She had a stack of papers, a whack of questionnaires to fill out together.  We sat and spoke for about twenty minutes.

Why are you here? – My doctor insisted.
You’re not German, I see.  Where are you from? – All the way from Canada to a German psych ward.
What sort of symptoms have you had?  – What symptoms haven’t I had?
Are you suicidal?  – Isn’t everyone?
(I was very cynical.)

I was told all about the daily routine:  7:00am wake up.  Check the schedule upon waking up – if your name is on the list, go for blood work before breakfast.  8:00am breakfast.  Medication rounds.  Meetings with doctors/therapy sessions.  Lunch at 11:30am.  Medication rounds, where required. Visiting hours.  Dinner at 5:00pm.  Medication rounds, where required. More visiting hours.  Quiet time after 8:00pm.  9:00pm: final medication round.  Lights out at 10:00pm.  Try to sleep through the noise of disturbed people all around you.

The schedule didn’t sound so bad (apart from the 7am wakeup, of course). I was happy to hear that I had lots of time for visits, and even happier to find out that I was allowed to leave the building during those hours.  The nurse was sure to remind me that – at least until they got to know my patterns and behaviours – I would not be permitted to leave without supervision.

After the nurse told me all she set out to tell me, I found myself alone in my room, desperately wanting to go home.  I knew there was a common room where I could entertain myself with board games, cards and fellow crazy people, but I wasn’t particularly interested in any of it. 

As I was lying in my new bed crying, Evie came in and started talking my ear off.  She spoke incredibly fast, and it was sometimes difficult to understand her.  She’d ask me all kinds of questions, but she never gave me enough time to answer before she moved on to the next one.  She was very friendly, and wanted to introduce me to everyone else in the ward.  I didn’t want to make friends.

That hospital had been home to Evie for over six months by the time I met her, and she had no idea when she would be allowed to leave.  Unlike me, Evie wasn’t there voluntarily.  Even more unlike me, she was more than happy to stay.

My first meeting with the doctor was pretty uneventful.  He asked me the same questions the nurse already had, and set up some appointments for the upcoming days – blood work, electrocardiography and an MRI.  He also gave me a few questionnaires to fill out, to help with coming to a diagnosis.

In the afternoons and evenings, I was lucky enough to have friends come and visit me.  I don’t think I spent a single afternoon alone.  That helped keep me sane, but also reminded me of how much I knew I didn’t want to stay there anymore.

At the end of the day, I just felt like the hospital was not the place for me to get better.  Being surrounded by so many people whose mental afflictions were much more severe than mine just reminded me of where I might end up one day.  I didn’t like that constant reminder.  For me, it was easier to imagine myself living a normal, happy life if I was surrounded by normal, happy people.  I felt like the hospital brought me further into my illness instead of bringing me to a point where I believed I could combat it.

This is not the same for everyone, as I learned from Evie.   She improved there.  She actually got the help she needed there, because it was the best, most comfortable option for her, and she wanted it.  She needed the stability.  She needed to be woken up every day.  She needed to meet with doctors.  She needed to have her meals prepared and placed in front of her three times day.  She needed routine created for her, because if left to her own devices, she’d never have it.  I didn’t feel that was true for me.

I decided one week was enough.  I was checking myself out.  The doctors and nurses tried their best to convince me to stay.  They reiterated again and again that constant observation and supervision was the best way to diagnose me.  I agreed.  However, I protested and stood my ground.  I was leaving.  I didn’t want to risk coming to a graver diagnosis, and I felt that was the only possible outcome if I stayed at the hospital.  With reluctance, they wrote a synopsis of my stay and passed all necessary information onto my psychiatrist.

I left with a diagnosis of “suspected bipolar disorder, type 2”. Several months later, I finally made a follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist.  Several months after that, I was diagnosed again.  This time, with schizo-affective disorder.  And thus began my “recovery.”

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Leading up to the Psych Ward

When I finally got into a psychiatrist, one of the first things he told me was that he wanted me to spend some time in a Psychiatric hospital.

A thousand thoughts started running through my mind at once.  Was I going to have to quit my job?  How long would I have to stay?  Did I have to sleep there?  Was I allowed to leave?  Why did I have to go there?  Was I crazy?!

I started thinking to myself, “no, I’m not crazy,” and before I even finished the thought, I remembered that “crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.”  That worried me even more.  I was fully aware that I had already begun to lose touch with reality for short periods of time, but I was terrified that I was even further gone than I’d realized.

“It’s the best way to get a clear diagnosis,” he told me.  He assured me that I was still psychologically stable enough to make my own choices, and he therefore couldn’t force me into anything I didn’t want to do.  He couldn’t admit me to the hospital against my will.

My next thought was, “okay great, so I won’t go.”

He wasn’t about to give up that easily, though.  He listed reason after reason why it was a good idea for me to go.  And eventually, I agreed – not without reluctance, however.  This all took place on a Thursday afternoon, and my bed at the hospital was reserved for the following Monday.  I was to stay two weeks.

I left my appointment that day feeling like I had failed myself.  I never imagined that anyone would think it necessary for me to stay in the psych ward.  I had never pictured myself in the situation I was now finding myself in, and I didn’t like the way it felt.  I called up Nick and I cried on the phone to him, telling him everything that had just transpired.  As always, he was supportive however he knew how to be, and assured me that the doctors knew the best route to take.

That didn’t ease my mind.  Although I knew that at this point my visit was voluntary, I managed to convince myself that they’d find something seriously wrong with me and I’d never be let out.  I was going to spend the rest of my life locked up in the loony bin.

Hello, anxiety.  Hello, paranoia.  Hello, delusional thinking.

My mind was a roller coaster.  My thoughts were strapped in, looping around and around, up and down, shaking me up as they went.

By the next day, I was in a full-blown depression.  I was dreading the trip to the hospital, and I couldn’t focus on anything else.  I came home from work that Friday evening and decided to go for a walk to try and clear my mind.  I didn’t take anything with me – not my phone, not my keys, not even a jacket.  It was just me and my crazy roller coaster mind.

I don’t know how long I was gone.  I wandered aimlessly for hours.  I stood on the bridge overlooking the river, then walked down, staring at the water for far too long.  I must have faded away from myself for a while, because the next thing I knew, I was sat at the train station near my house, just watching the trains go by.  I was sat at the end of the tracks – I always did that, because if I ever got the courage to jump, I wanted to be close enough to do it before I changed my mind.

Thankfully I never got the courage.

I don’t remember much from that night.  I remember being at the subway station, and then I remember standing outside my apartment building, reaching up to ring my own bell.  I was buzzed in, and I slowly climbed up the stairs.  Nick was running down them, panic-stricken, asking me where I had been, what I had been doing, what I had taken.

“Out.  I don’t know.  Nothing.”  Zombie-toned responses, expressionless face.

Although I was completely out of it, I hadn’t actually taken anything that night.  There was an open bottle of ibuprofen on the counter, and Nick thought I had gotten into it.  I hadn’t.  I had learned by that stage, through trial and error, that ibuprofen was just not going to get the job done.

Nick brought me inside, questioned me some more, and told me he had been so worried that he had been asking everyone if they had heard from me – he even had people on their way over to help look for me.

I was mad.  Furious. How many times had I told him not to tell people things about me?

I went into the bedroom, and Nick retreated back to the kitchen.  His senses were always on high when I was in a state, so it’s no wonder he heard me opening up the window, and was back in the room with me before I managed to climb up into it.  He stopped me well before I even attempted jumping.

I stormed out of the bedroom, probably en route to the kitchen for a knife, and I screamed bloody murder when I saw a friend in our living room.  He had just come in – he was already on his way over when I stumbled home.  I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there with us, and it shocked me so badly that I was sent into a sort of panic attack.  It also sent my anger over the edge, and I was instantly determined to do something, I just didn’t know what.

I can’t begin to describe the thoughts that were going through my mind at this stage, because I sincerely do not remember.  I can’t put myself back into that moment of time, because I wasn’t there with myself.  That person was not me.

I closed the bedroom door, claiming I wanted to just be alone, and when I thought no one was listening, I opened up the window again.  I climbed into the window sill, stood on the ledge, looking down four stories, as the bedroom door swung open behind me.  Nick bolted in, got me down from the window, and begged me to stay away from it.

He told me the bedroom door had to stay open now – I had proved to him that I couldn’t be trusted.

He said he’d leave me alone, but he’d be in the next room, with plain-sight view of the two windows.

I told Nick that I wanted the friend gone.  He said okay.  He left the room, I heard the door, and that was that.  I calmed down.  I got into bed.

I was just coming back into myself when I saw two men walk into my bedroom.  I didn’t know them.

I sat straight up, bewildered, and they spoke to me, in German, asking if I was okay.

Paramedics.

I told them I was fine now.  I knew I had to admit what had happened, because I was sure they already knew.  I told them I had had a bad moment – that yes, I had attempted to jump from the window, but I wouldn’t do it again; that I was calm now; that I was okay.

They stayed there and spoke to me for a while, suggesting they bring me to a hospital in Nussbaumstrasse – the very hospital that had a bed with my name on it reserved for two days later.  I told them I was going there on Monday, and that I would be okay at home until then.

All they had me do was promise them that I wouldn’t hurt myself.  I promised.  I could have easily been lying.