Committed to the Psych Ward: A Bipolar Woman’s Experience

Updated on August 6, 2018
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Dawn Leslie is a writer, book lover and coffee fanatic who penned her first story at age eight about a girl who lived in a tree stump.

Being in the psych ward is lonely.
Being in the psych ward is lonely.

A Bipolar Woman’s Experience with Major Depression, Suicide and Getting Help

The stagnant charade ended when the emergency room intake nurse asked me what medications I was taking. My husband, who sat beside me, didn’t know I stopped taking one of my meds.

“I’m losing my hair.”

“And you think it’s because of this medication?” the nurse asked.

I nodded.

“How long has it been?” Jason asked.

“Since we moved here.”

That was five months ago and I could already see little patches of hair regrowing where I was going bald. Since then I learned that one percent of patients taking Lamictal experience the side effect of alopecia. Lucky me.

I slouched in my chair. Jason took my hand. He was there with me through all the prying questions about how I wanted to kill myself, how I had plans to slit my wrists with our largest kitchen knife and how yes, it had been going on for a while—since before the holidays, through the holidays. They were always rough for me.

I was admitted to the emergency room about eight o’clock in the evening to a room with a security guard to make sure I didn’t hurt myself. Jason stayed with me and we waited. At first we weren’t told what we were waiting for exactly. Then, the ER doctor said we’d be waiting for the staff psychiatrist to come down and ask me some questions. So we waited. And we waited. And waited. It was almost midnight before the psychiatrist came. He asked to speak to me alone. Jason went to the waiting room. I felt very alone and desolate.

The psychiatrist asked me all the same questions everyone else up to that point had asked me. God, I grew tired of repeating myself. How many times was I going to have to say that I wanted to kill myself with the kitchen knife? He asked about my family history. Yes, I thought there was depression in my family. Yes, my highs and lows came every few months.

“This is your second time in the hospital?” he asked.

Yes. The first time was exactly one year ago. Same reason.

Suicide. It was like a black hole.

Cliché, but so apt. I was swimming around in muck every day and seeing nothing but darkness, sorrow, guilt, shame, tiredness, desolation. It was all too much. Too painful. My thought was everyone would be better off not having to deal with me and I would then not have to deal with anything anymore either. Win-win. See? Right.

There was heaviness to everything that I did: ordering coffee, talking to friends (which I avoided), checking email, eating a scone, putting on a jacket, taking a shower, even sleeping. It was all disproportionately heavy. Almost too difficult to even do sometimes. Most mornings I lay in bed, eyes still closed, screaming inside my head to get up and take a shower. It was actually painful.

My Lowesr Point

The lowest point I remember was when one of our closest friends visited San Francisco from St. Louis for New Years. She was one of those positive, happy people who you can’t help having a good time around. I remember walking the streets of the city feeling an uncontrollable despondency I couldn’t explain. My mouth wouldn’t form a smile. It actually felt like the muscles in my face were frozen in a frown. I was on the constant verge of tears, all the while trying as hard as I possibly could to be happy for my beloved friend. We went to Arlequin for a coffee to keep us going on our whirlwind tour of the city. I remember getting a small coffee with cream, walking outside, waiting for the others to finish dressing their drinks. I felt like I was in a play and someone hadn’t lifted the curtain yet. Crawl into bed and sleep, please.

But, no, we had a whole afternoon and evening of events planned. I wanted to cry, to sob. I took a drink of coffee and took a deep breath. It was going to be all right. Really. At least that’s what I kept saying.

When everyone else came out to join me, I had already downed half of my coffee and already siked myself up for the events to come. It was going to be all right. It had to be. There was no alternative. I didn’t have any knives at my disposal. Later that evening, we went to a wine bar and had a glass of wine together. We talked and had a good time. My face felt a little less frozen and I was almost happy for a moment or two. Almost.

Once my friend left, the suicidal thoughts became constant. They wouldn’t go away. No matter how hard I tried to rationalize the reasons it was stupid to kill myself—so many people loved me, things would get better, this was a phase. I knew all about depression, so I knew exactly what going on, but my mind kept going back to it’s no use. Nothing will make it go away this time. I couldn’t stand feeling this bad anymore. No one deserves to have me around like this. It’s best for everyone.

And one day while Jason was at work, I went into the kitchen, grabbed the largest kitchen knife from the block and turned it over in my hands, staring. Then I pushed up my sleeve, pressing the blade hard along my arm. It took up most of my forearm. I pressed, but no blood came. I pressed harder. The blade felt cool. Thin. Unyielding. Nothing happened. It was dull.

It frightened me. Suddenly, I thought of Jason finding me on the floor in the kitchen amidst a pool of blood. It made me sick to my stomach. I was going to throw up. I put the knife back in the block, ran to the couch and lay down. When Jason got home I finally told him what was going on. We called my insurance company, hence my winding up in the emergency room at California Pacific Medical Center.

Finally Getting the Help I Needed

The staff psychiatrist thought I was a danger to myself and recommended that I be admitted to the psychiatric ward. His words came to me as if through a fog. My brain spiraled, tired, dazed. I’d been in the same place exactly a year ago and felt so stupid for winding up here again. How was I going to get out of this place, this situation, these feelings? And back to my husband and my life? The thing was, I wasn’t exactly sure what my life was. I was in a new city with no job, no friends and felt so lonely. I wanted to go home and go to bed with my husband.

They gave me Seroquel, an anti-psychotic that made me very sleepy. The psychiatrist said I’d have to wait while they processed my admission to the psychiatric ward. I loved the title. Psych ward. I thought of Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted and it made me sad. Everything made me sad.

They let Jason back in with me. We waited some more, this time until the early morning hours. “I’m so sorry, honey,” the nurse said. “They’re working things out with the insurance.” Poor Jason. He had to go to work the next day. It was a brand new job for him. He couldn’t miss. I felt guilty about that, of course. Guilty about a lot of things.

By the time five o’clock came, I begged Jason to go home so he could get some sleep before he had to go to work. He didn’t want to leave me. But he was so exhausted he could no longer find excuses to fight me.

The nurse and security guard came to get me at 6:30am. I only half remember an intake nurse asking me some questions—those same damn questions I’d been asked four times over by now. When would it end? I was so tired and groggy from the Seroquel, I could barely keep my eyes open. I remember them taking away my phone, my purse and my shoes (because they had strings and I might hurt myself with them). Thankfully they let me keep my pants, shirt and bra I was wearing.

I called Jason to tell him I was in the ward. He was just getting up again to go to work. We were both exhausted.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I lay down in the twin bed and fell asleep.

© 2018 Dawn Leslie Lenz

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 days ago from UK

      This is a very moving, honest and well-written article. It takes courage to write like this.

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