To Tell The Truth, Or To Shut Up

A friend of mine has been struggling recently.  She has never been hospitalized, and she said she was considering inpatient hospitalization.  I, having been hospitalized many times, opened my mouth and shared with her that a) Without insurance, an inpatient facility probably wouldn’t admit her unless she was suicidal; and b) Even if they admitted her, again, without insurance, they would probably only keep her for 72 hours.  My insight, opinion, knowledge, whatever you want to call it, was not appreciated.  I think my friend has a romanticized opinion of what a hospitalization would be, that it would be a nurturing experience of unending therapy for what ails her, when in reality hospitalization is just a warehousing of the mentally ill where they pump you full of medication, sometimes treat you with ECT, give you some useless group therapy (often just lectures), and release you as soon as you appear to be stable.  They also take away your phone, your freedom of movement, most of your clothing and other belongings (anything you could harm yourself with), and in some ways your humanity.  In reality, I will do anything to avoid being hospitalized again.  I have been suicidal many times since my last hospitalization, but my memories of being in the hospital and being stripped of choices, being woken up early when I was tired as hell from medication by some rude bitch, being forced to go to group therapy in order to earn the right to go outside to smoke, eating sub-standard food, being subject to room searches, and lectures by mental health technicians with big egos and Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology at the most, has left me with a desire to stay out of the hospital at any cost.

Being hospitalized can keep you alive when you’re suicidal, but aside from that, I haven’t found it to be especially therapeutic.  I’ve in fact found it to be more of a negative experience than a positive one, which is probably a good thing, because I do everything I can to avoid re-hospitalization.  In fact, in writing this I’m reminded of exactly what I need to do to avoid being hospitalized again.  Daily self-care is a must.  Taking medication, exercising, and practicing gratitude are all forms of self-care for me.  Even with the best or most vigilant self-care, I can still become unwell.  I’m not perfect, and I do have Bipolar Disorder.  But being in touch with myself daily, I know when I’m slipping and I know when I need to get in to see Dr. Drugs.  Sometimes medication needs to be tweaked.  At times, I’ve had to make adjustments with work, such as working at home.  At other times, I had to stop working.  I hope that doesn’t happen again, but I know in reality that it might.  I have to live one day at a time, like the recovering alcoholics.  Today, I am ok.  And for that I am grateful.

I’m curious what other people’s experiences have been with hospitalization.  Have they been positive or negative?  Do you have the same aversion to hospitalization that I have?  Also, how are you?  I think about you all and count you as blessings when I say thank you every day.  Have a great weekend.

22 thoughts on “To Tell The Truth, Or To Shut Up

  1. I was briefly hospitalized when I was suicidal years ago. The intake guy openly laughed when I was trying to explain my problems, the nurses were rude to everyone, and all of my freedoms were stripped—bathroom, food, clothes, etc. It was humiliating and degrading. I immediately put on a face of serenity and lied to my doctor so he would discharge me. I never want to go back. Good on you for telling your friend the truth, even if they didn’t believe you.

  2. I was hopitlized twice in my early days of suffering with bipolar. Both times were the worst experiences of my life. Instead of a place of individual therapy and healing, it was like being thrown into a cattle car with 50 other people. . I was so freaked out that I stayed in my room as much as possible. They made me come out for group and medicine. I met with my doctor for all of 10 minutes a day. Group was run by the most incompetent people ever. I was not feeling better in both my hospitalizations, but I learned what to say to get the hell out of there. I will never go back.

  3. Tragic that most hospitals are sub-par. I had a positive experience with being hospitalized for two weeks 13 years ago, then particating in months of partial hospitalization until I felt stable and ready to parent my son full time. The program was highly structured with group therapy or occupational therapy all day, and yoga a couple of times a week. For outpatient treatment, we walked to the beach during lunch. I had excellent insurance. Those without insurance didn’t stay as long as I did. I will say this, that hospitalization marked a distinct transition in my life from being a wage-earner to being on disability. I had a major breakdown and still struggle, though I haven’t returned to the hospital since. I probably should have been hospitalized when I was 30 and had a major break. Then I ended up moving back in with my parents until I was able to function independently.

      • South Coast Medical Center, now Mission Hospital, in Laguna Beach. My room even had a view of the ocean! I was covered through my own job and my husband’s job, so I was fully covered. Now, the insurance coverage through my husband’s job keeps trying to refuse coverage due to my Medicare part A coverage.

  4. I have had two hospital experiences, both involuntary as a young person and voluntary as an adult. The first time I was hospitalized, I was 15 years old, suicidal/self-injuring, and had tried to run away to Canada. I was completely out of control and had zero insight into what was driving my self-destruction. Hospitalization was the right move to make on the part of those who loved me as I was a danger to myself, but I agree very much with what you write about how it can keep you from suicide but is not otherwise therapeutic. I remember reading Foucault’s Madness and Civilization in graduate school and reflecting back on my experience, realizing that the book helped explain what I had perceived at the time but couldn’t articulate–-that hospitalization was more of a technique of social control than a treatment modality. At the time, I feigned improvement so that I could get out of the hospital and continue starving myself and self-injuring for another couple years until I just couldn’t take it anymore and gradually stopped.

    The second time I was hospitalized was as an adult, and it was voluntary. I checked myself in not long after a manic swing led me to undergo a battery of tests that finally diagnosed me as bipolar II, followed by a crash into suicidal depression. In that case, I went into the hospital not so much because I felt I was in imminent danger of hurting myself, but because I could not access a psychiatrist outpatient quickly enough after my diagnosis. I kept calling around and getting told that I couldn’t see anyone for two or three weeks, and shit kept getting more and more critical. Finally when the depression hit and I became unable to go to work and overwhelmed with suicidal feelings, I thought, “fuck it, I’m just going to check myself in.” I did get what I needed, which was (more or less) immediate access to a specialist and the correct medication, but it was not fucking fun, that’s for sure.

    I’m like you tho–I never want to go into the hospital again, and I gladly will do what I need to management-wise so that I don’t have to.

    One thing I do remember from my time inpatient as a teenager was that although most of it was unhelpful (with the exception of keeping me from killing myself and impressing upon me the importance of staying well enough to get away from the hospital), I do have a strong memory of my first night, spent in a pitch black dorm room with other traumatized kids. I was fairly heavily drugged but still in a lot of distress, and I remember this nurse just sitting next to my bed and holding my hand and speaking to me comfortingly. I remember the sincerity of her compassion and will always have gratitude for that. I feel like that simple act–someone sitting next to my bed and holding my hand and speaking comfortingly–was far more helpful than anything else in the hospital, at least at that time. If hospitals could be only that, I think they’d be pretty helpful.

    The other helpful thing I remember about the hospital was from my second trip. At first I was placed in the dual diagnosis wing, even tho I’m not dual diagnosis, because they didn’t have enough patients to justify opening the other ward (psychiatric without substance issues). That ward was totally chaotic and stressful, with people screaming and crying and the lights on in the hallway all night. I waited around for a day and a half with no one telling me anything about when I would see the doctor or what was supposed to happen–I just read and read and tried to ignore my surroundings. Eventually they moved me over to the regular psych ward and that was a lot better. At some point I had group therapy but no one showed up, so it was just me and the therapist. And she accurately intuited that my problem (I had been manic for a few weeks before the depression) was the thought that I couldn’t stop when I knew I needed to stop. So she grabbed a crayon and a piece of paper and wrote: “I can stop whenever I need to!”

    That was actually really helpful, and I kept that paper as a reminder.

    So, I feel like the hospital has its uses–it’s like a brick wall when you’re about to fly off a cliff–but is mostly social control, with some pockets of genuine helpfulness. It sucks that it isn’t a more helpful place.

    • I’m glad there were some positives for you. I do agree that mostly their function is to keep you from killing yourself. And, cynically, I think they mostly keep people until their insurance runs out. Then they’re “well” enough to be released.

  5. I’ve been inpatient many times. Years ago, it was very helpful, lots of support and therapy, recreation, exercise time, a worthwhile experience. Since then every trip has been worse and worse. The last time (2 years ago this month) I just sat reading, not even any other coherent patients to talk to. No groups, no therapy, nothing. I was there about 12 days. It was the right place to be, at least at first, because I was making suicide plans, but other than keeping me physically safe, it had no real value. Despite that, it was fairly benign, and the workers cared, there just weren’t enough people on duty to do anything, and no one to run groups. I have however talked to people whose hospital experiences were nightmares, it makes me nervous that if our local hospital closes its psych ward, I might go to one of those places. Better boredom than some of the things I’ve heard.

    I think anyone who romanticizes the psych hospital needs to know what it is really like nowadays.

  6. I never, ever, ever, ever want to be hospitalized again—you totally understand why!
    I woke up at 4:30 AM and my neck muscles were freaking out in agony. It was so weird because I don’t know why that happened. Maybe I “slept on it wrong” – anyway, thank God for ibuprofen. The spasms are back again so I’m off to gobble more neon orange ibuprofen, but please know I love you, sweetness!!!!!

  7. I was hospitalized once, on a voluntary basis. I am one of those strange people who romanticized I guess a little, but I did need to see a specialist as I was suicidal and homicidal. I spent a total of 3 days. It got me meds and some needed crisis intervention. Can’t say I’d ever like to go back though, once you learn what it’s really like in there.

  8. I have not been hospitalized… yet. I’ve thought about checking myself in a time or two, but after reading reviews of the “care facilities” I decided to just ride it out. I’ve also never heard ANYONE who has been hospitalized talk of the great experience they’ve had while in. Most of them are like how you described it. So, I’ll pass until I’m running the streets nekkid claiming to be Jesus Christ.

  9. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been hospitalised, but the horror of returning has been a major part of my staying well enough to function ‘on the outside’ lol. I was detained three times under the mental health act (I’m in the UK) and each time I find it a dehumanising experience. Also rather traumatising. The 9 months I spent high as a kite on a section were fun, but that was just my mania and Hades itself would have seemed a hoot lol.

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