Have you ever wondered what it was like to be locked up in a psych ward? I can tell you. I've been there, done that on so many occasions that I should get frequent flyer miles. Delaware, Ohio, even Alabama are some of the places that I got to see. Some hospitals are better than others, like any other medical facility. St. Jones hospital in Delaware was really good. We had therapy, group time, exercise time, crafts, and really good food. In contrast, the other facilities I've been in have involved mostly coloring in the Day Room. Yes, you read that right. Coloring. Nothing makes you more sane than a few markers and a some geometric shapes to color to get your mental health in order. The food in Ohio was yummy, but there had to be a trade-off somewhere and it was actually doing something productive with our time. We colored. And colored some more.
There were something you have to know about St. Jones. Only about six chairs in the Day Room were actually comfortable and soft. We would all rush for these plushy pleather chairs whenever we got up, or were taken back from an activity since the other chairs would hurt your back. We sat in the Day Room for a good part of the day as we waited for therapy and activity transition so it was funny to see grown men and women scramble for chairs. It became a game that the less medicated always won. I'll admit, I was usually victorious, but I was a good winner. I never gloated to those who had to sit their fannies unto the less desirable.
Every few hours, the medication window would open and we would all line up as the registered nurse in charge of the pills that day gave us what we needed. Most of the time this process took forever, so at the sound of the metal window going up, another mad dash would began. I'm ashamed to say that I did at one time push an old woman in a wheelchair out of the way to get there sooner. I'll burn for that but I really needed my anxiety medication. And it wasn't a real push. It was a slight nudge with my foot. It's not MY fault she went further than I expected and people actually saw it happen.
On my next stay, karma caught up to me so my soul might be safe after all. I thought I was happily roommate free because there was no mattress on the other bed in my room. As fate would have it, I soon would cohabitate with a woman in a wheelchair. Isn't it funny how fate has a way of turning around and biting you in the butt?
On her first night, Mrs. X refused to go to bed. She was falling asleep in the Day Room and wanted to stay there. I know this because I could hear her all the way down the hall from our room.
"Leave me alone," she yelled as the nurses told her they were going to take her to her bed.
"My feet, my feet," she screamed, as she stubbornly tried to stop from being moved in her wheelchair. It was to no avail. She was brought to our room anyway.
The nurses tried to convince her to get into bed. Mrs. X pretended to be asleep. Finally, they gave up and with a sympathetic smile toward me, they left. The second they left the room, her eyes snapped open and shifted toward me. I smiled and tried to return to my reading. I couldn't. I couldn't help but notice she was not sleeping and was staring at me in an eerie "I might die at any moment or I might be possessed and kill you" look. All righty.
"Good night," I said. I turned out the light. I didn't want to see her anymore. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I wasn't scared.
I awoke in the morning (which says a lot, doesn't it?) to an old lady who needed someone to change one of the adult diapers that were so neatly stacked on our dressers. She started asking me about her relatives and whether each and everyone of them were ok. My first thought was to respond "How the hell should I know?" After all, I was in a psych ward, folks, and I'm not known for being diplomatic when I'm locked up. I bit my tongue though and reassured her that they were all doing well.
I started for the bathroom for the brief period we had in the morning to get to the Day Room to start the day. Let's face it, I wanted a cushy chair. I started to brush my teeth when I hear her tell me that she and her husband " didn't have intercourse" during their visit the night before.
I choked on my toothbrush. Toothpaste flew out my mouth and splayed across the mirror. That mental picture was enough for me. I had to leave my room.
Another day in lockup, I finished the longest game of war in my life. I played against a man who alternated between suicidal and homicidal idealizations. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized I should probably let him win for these reasons but I'm too my competitive. Besides, it's a game of chance so he can't be that upset about it, right? I figured if he was waiting for me in the parking lot with a tire iron when we were both released, I chose wrong.
It is amazing how many people "visit" a psych ward and believe they are there for no reason. They refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions, for their faults, for their behaviors. They blame their spouses, their children, even the cops. I've even heard of someone blaming Dr. Phil. It makes you want to scream that it will only increase their stay because they're fighting a machine. We're just cattle trying to make it through and get out.
People often walk around like zombies. One woman across from where I was eating on one of my stays fell asleep in her lunch. She was so heavily medicated. Her manic state was so bad that the nurses couldn't deal with her so they doped her up.
She returned to the Day Room and volunteered for a game of Spades. That was really interesting.
Once, in Delaware, a man lost his pie privileges. At lunch, he attempted to break the dessert rule. Anyone who had two dessert plates on their trays were caught and had to put one back. I don't even like banana cream pie but the pie at this particular facility was to die for so it upset quite a few patients when he came up with the ingenious plan to quickly shove two pieces unto one plate, leaving the empty plate on the cooling rack. He got past the dessert monitor easily. His mistake, however, was that empty plate. Seeing as how it was the last piece of pie, the other patients complained. A full scale search was launched. Like any good boy, Mr. Y had saved his dessert for last. He was immediately busted. No more pie for him, which was a shame because it was really that good.
After awhile, you see people come and go and you start to get down on yourself. You always want your freedom. You start to feel like "where is my get out of jail free card"? And then you realize you traded it for your sanity and lost the damn game.
The woman who was so doped up came out of her medication stupor enough to start having a conversation with her pillow. It made me kind of want whatever she was on because she was not suffering through the hours as much as I was. However, I did kind of get offended when she wandered into my room, stripped off all of her clothes, and tried on all of mine. The staff came and got her, wrapped her in a gown and brought her out. I laughed but I felt sorry for this ball of energy and her medication-induced dementia.
There are other memories but these are the most poignant. Being locked up is a miserable experience, especially when all they allow you to do is color and bring in a dog once a week for therapy.
If you've ever wondered about being in a psychiatric ward, I've been there. I'm not proud of it, but there you go. It's blatantly unpleasant but sometimes it's just what the what the doctor ordered. After all, don't we all need a little crazy in our lives?