Almost 3 years ago today, I woke up and realized that I’d just survived one of the most horrific experiences of my life….Bipolar 1 Mania. 3 years ago I was finally getting discharged after a 6 day emergency stay in an acute inpatient psychiatric hospital. I was fortunate to have snagged one of the last beds they had available that night after 7 hours in the waiting room, slowly going through the admissions process. I remember crying when my parents and the tech walked me back to the locked unit I’d be in for the next 6 days. I’d cry and cry and cry for hours and hours until I finally cried myself to sleep on the cold hard bed with the bright lights of the unit shining through the door I wasn’t allowed to shut, to the bedroom I shared with another patient.
My first night in the unit sticks with me. The patients weren’t allowed physical contact with one another. But some of the older women took me under their wing that week and were like mothers to me. They snuck me hugs behind a pillar in the dayroom that night. They talked with me, letting me know I’d be okay and that I did the right thing by admitting myself.
I don’t think I’ve cried as hard as I did that night since. It was my first inpatient treatment stay, my first psych ward stay, and my first hospital admission of any kind. Terrified doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. I came straight to the hospital from treatment for my eating disorder, where I’d been for the prior 2 weeks. I came to the hospital after the team at ERC found out I’d been massively suicidal the night before. That was already my 2nd time in treatment in under 12 months. My psych unit admission would turn that number to 3.
Finding Out: Bipolar Hits Hard
That whole time is a little bit of a blur to me now. I remember being scared a few days before I went inpatient, as the mania quickly began to take hold. There was a feeling, as though electricity were running through my veins at all hours of the day and night. It was new and it was frightening. I remember feeling helpless and like no one knew what was going on or what to do with me. In the bottom of my heart though…I knew.
My Bipolar Diagnosis Came
The day came when my inpatient psychiatrist sat me down. It was in the teeny tiny office they used for psych meetings on the locked unit. Her words came as no surprise to me: “bipolar”. I nodded my head. I was shocked. The words I thought I’d one day hear since my suicide attempt 8 years earlier were finally being spoken aloud. I repeated it to myself a few times before finally calling my parents on the unit’s corded phone. “Bipolar, bipolar, bipolar”.
It suddenly all made sense to me. I easily looked back in time and saw the repeated depressive and hypomanic episodes. They’d plagued me for years while I was diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression”. Honestly though, I knew all along. I’d been trying to tell my parents and my treatment team from day one that I had bipolar but no one would believe me. Turns out that, once I saw my outpatient psychiatrist post-discharge, she admitted she’d seen me hypomanic before, but didn’t want to diagnose me. She had been hoping I’d grow out of it over time.
Telling My Parents
That phone call to my parents after my meeting with my psychiatrist was….factual. I think the bipolar diagnosis took them a little by surprise to be honest. Although I’d felt as if I’d known all along, they did not.
Life On The Unit
Being on the unit was difficult. We were checked on every 15 minutes ‘round the clock. The only door we were allowed to shut was that to the bathroom in our shared bedrooms whilst using the toilet or the shower. Everything was bolted to the ground or into the ceilings. Once I finished signing all my admissions paperwork, going through meds with the nurse, and saying my goodbyes to my parents, they took me back to my bathroom & strip-searched me.
Before I was given access to any of my belongings, they were searched and certain items were confiscated until my discharge. I had plenty of pairs of sweatpants that they cut the drawstrings off of for safety and I lived in fuzzy socks and no bra. Truth be told, despite coming straight from eating disorder treatment, I nearly starved during my 6 days on the unit. The food was so bad and I developed horrendously painful canker sores from consuming a combination of crackers, Cheetos, Lays potato chips, orange juice, and water for 6 days straight. How I managed to keep my meds down with such little sustenance shocks me to this day.
The Unit’s Entertainment
The building my unit was in was under construction when I was there, so we had no rec. room/center to use. The only time I got to leave the unit was for 1 meeting with the internal medicine doctor and to go outside in the late-June Texas heat to play basketball or Apples to Apples with the therapy staff. I watched a whole boatload of movies while I was were there, since we only got maybe 1 channel on the TV otherwise. Might I mention that the furniture there may as well have been made of concrete. We were allowed to bring blankets from our bedrooms into the day room, but pillows were required to stay on our beds.
I will say that I was fortunate while I was inpatient. My parents came to every visitation, including the 2 per day we were allowed on weekends. I also had my aunt come visit when she was in town and one of my friends, who was also my 3rd grade teacher, came to visit once too. My best friend even called and talked to me on the phone while I was in there.
Discharge Day and Decisions
The day I finally got discharged, I was happy, calmly happy. I was happy to be going home to my house, my bed, my dog, my friends and family, my food, and my technology (no phones, iPods, etc allowed on the unit, even visitors had to turn their technology in when they came to visit patients). I decided a few things on the short car ride home that morning:
- For certain, I was not going to keep my hospitalization a secret. In normal Hollyn fashion, if my experience could help someone else, I wanted to allow it to do so. Plus, it’s hard to just explain why I went awol for a week out of nowhere, considering phones were allowed at ERC when I was there for my eating disorder.
- That day, June 22, 2015 was going to be the start of my new life. That day was going to be the start of my putting forth a new level of effort toward my recovery, both from my eating disorder and from my bipolar. I made a conscious decision that day as my mom drove me home, that I wanted to live and live well and that I would do whatever it took to achieve that.
Life After Inpatient
The next year and a half in particular was rough. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have gone off to UNT (although only 45 minutes from home) after only being out of the hospital’s programs for 4 weeks (I went through their PHP & IOP programs for 3 more weeks after my IP discharge). I was at UNT for 3 semesters and although I gained some incredible friends and a whole lot of insight from that experience, leaving UNT after the fall semester 2016 was definitely the right decision for me.
I’ve Come a Long Way
I’ve come a long way since June 2015. I’ve grown and learned, and I’ve changed. I continue to work on improving my mental health every day. Some days are better than others and some days are worse, but that’s part of this ride and this journey called life. I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve managed to come and for how much I continue to improve over time.
Life is still hard. My eating disorder recovery still isn’t perfect and my Bipolar Disorder still kicks my butt in a massive way on a regular basis. But I’m learning. I’m learning how to best deal with my bipolar and my anxiety. I’m learning how to recognize mood swings/shifts earlier, as well as how to deal with them better when they do come. I am learning how to recognize disordered behavior and patterns within myself so that I can continue to work on changing and improving them over time.
I am a continual work-in-progress and I will forever be.
Today I am thankful for the people who have helped me get where I am today: my parents, my sister, my friends, my extended family, and many, many treatment providers over the years. I would be nowhere close to where I am today without y’all. Thank you for your time, patience, and persistence with me throughout everything.
Today, I am proud of myself. I deserve to be proud of myself. Like I’ve said, I’ve come a long way, no matter how much farther I may have left to go. I’m a continual work in progress and now a days, I’m okay with that. Life is about progress, not perfection.
I will end with a quote I came across recently on a post from a very brave friend of mine. The quote says this:
“You save yourself or you remain unsaved” -Alice Siebold.
I feel I embody this quote to the fullest. Having admitted myself to treatment 3 times and followed through with it all. I have worked my butt off every day since June 22, 2015, the day I was discharged from the inpatient psych ward. I continue to work my butt off every day since. Because no one is going to save me except myself.