My Voluntary Commitment to a Mental Institution: Pt. 2
My Voluntary Commitment to a Mental Institution Pt. 1
- My Voluntary Commitment to a Mental Hospital: Pt. 1
This is the first part of a short series about my recent struggle with mental illness. As I now consider the situation that led to this 'nervous breakdown', my consciousness has taken on a new dimension I never knew existed.
Art or Reality?
The moment I was wheeled into the ambulance that was to transport me to the hospital, I began to question my decision. All of the drama had suddenly ceased, and I realized I was really going to a mental institution. I suddenly felt very alone as I settled into this strange vehicle; this was real.
I remember believing I had become extremely lucid, and in this state I would simply let the driver and attendant know that I had made a silly mistake, that it would be quite correct and honorable of them to turn around and take me home. I would be happy to clear up any and all misunderstandings. As a 55 year old woman, I could convince these youngsters to do a granny's bidding, no?
Thankfully I decided to keep these thoughts to myself. I do understand my sudden panic, but am grateful that I had not forgotten the events that led up to this unfortunate yet necessary voyage.
Images of the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" began appearing in my mind, yet I was certain Kesey's tale was no longer relevant. All those crazies, the horrid nurse-that was only in the movies, right? As we drove the 200 miles to my destination, I contemplated the consequences of my decision to be institutionalized, wondering just how much art would indeed reflect life.
I couldn't help but consider the actual meaning of committing oneself to hospitalization. Legally, I imagined I would be able to leave at any time, without consequences. In terms of insurance, however, I was told that my medical plan would not cover any decision to leave 'against medical advice'-so essentially I was stuck. What had I done?
Now I know that I had done what was necessary to keep myself alive. And in order to remain alive, I needed to make changes in my current life, changes I now saw as impossible. I needed someone, something, to help me understand how to implement life changes; as an individual, I was hopelessly lost.
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A Short Video About West Hills
West Hills is located smack dab in the middle of a crack neighborhood; drug deals are obvious to driving onlookers, and hookers mingle as potential clients pull over for a chat. As we neared the facility, I was allowed to sit and watch out the rear of the ambulance window, now even more concerned for my personal sanity and safety. What sort of hospital would be located in such a dangerous area? If I had been 'in my right mind', perhaps I would have noted this neighborhood veritably begged for such a hospital.
~Forgive me, I simply couldn't help that aside, now that I have the luxury of hindsight.~
I need not have worried about physical security since as we pulled into the facility at 4 a.m., I noticed extremely bright lighting, razor wire and wrought iron fencing enclosing the hospital. Rather than being comforted, however, I returned to my sense of feeling trapped. Yet, I had voluntarily come this far...
As the ambulance door opened, 2 or 3 hospital staffers joined the driver and attendant in 'greeting' (assessing) their newest patient. I gathered up what belongings I was allowed to take en route to Reno and exited the ambulance. As the vehicle pulled away, I knew I was, indeed, in an institution. The intake workers and security staff were quite kind, and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being. I did not expect such treatment: This was Reno, Nevada, a 'sin city' if you will, and I was from Bishop, California, a small rural community which boasts perhaps 1 or 2 vagrants, and major criminal activity is virtually unheard of. Honestly, some have called Bishop a modern day 'Mayberry'.
Feeling cautiously optimistic, I was processed into West Hills and given a patient number for confidentiality when receiving phone calls. My vitals were taken by a nurse who then locked the final door behind us as she led me to my unit.
West Hills Hospital
There are numerous disorders treated at West Hills, and mine was initially diagnosed as suicidal depression, as that was my presenting symptomology. My unit placement was dependent on this presentation, so I was taken to a 'depression ward'. (There are also detox and other placements for patients available.)
My first impression of my environment was that the building was predictably 'institutional looking'-the color of the walls a bland beige, the halls and rooms hospital gray. I was escorted to the nursing station, photographed, and taken to my room. It was after 4 in the morning, so the unit was quiet and I found my new roommate asleep. I was woozy from the medication I had been given in Bishop, so I took the other 'bed'-if memory serves, it was actually a concrete slab with some bedding on it-and fell asleep.
Several hours later I woke to a nurse checking my vital signs. After she finished her tasks, she told me I was to see the resident psychiatrist. I did as told and was highly impressed with the doctor's 'bedside manner'-he seemed intelligent and quite caring, qualities I did not expect in such a setting. The session lasted around 15 minutes and as I opened the door to leave, saw that the other 'residents' were lined up for breakfast. I followed and began watching my peers with my sociologist's eye-curious about the types of individual behavior and interactions existed. Depression was evident everywhere, I sensed. Even during meals. Many were crying at the tables, unable to carry on with the small-talk one expects at such socially awkward gatherings.
Once back on the unit, we were instructed to attend group meetings-voluntarily, it was pointed out-which I did, intuiting that my 'stay' would be shorter if I did so. I was right. The group sessions concentrated on the concept of depression, how it can lead to a myriad of behaviors. Most-if not all-of my new pals at West Hills were medicated for depression, including me.
Over my 3 day institutionalization, groups were seemingly constant, broken up only for meals and cigarette breaks. These breaks were much anticipated, even by non-smokers, for we were able to go outside 3 times a day. Time outdoors seemed the essence of freedom. Comraderie was also established as it would be in any social setting of this nature; cliques were formed, separations distinct, and loyalties evident. I am by nature a 'loner', but get along with most groups, so had little problem 'fitting in'. I recall now that the entire time I was feeling more comfortable and 'safe' than I had felt at home.
Sunday, July 7, 2012, I met with the psychiatrist one last time and the logistics of exiting began. The doctor was surprisingly accurate-I saw him only twice during my stay-in his diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder, and I was given 2 non-addictive medications to treat both; they have been very effective at keeping my symptoms at bay.
The leave-taking was terribly quick, it seemed-I had paperwork to inspect and sign, final instructions were given, and I gathered my few belongings. Saying 'goodbye' to my fellows was a strange experience, it felt as if I were no longer a 'part of'. I was being released.
Hours before I left, my husband called and told me he would arrive around noon-he actually arrived at 10 a.m. I was rushed out the door of my now comfortable place of solace to the reality of family and friends; though now I was armed emotionally to battle the demons that had gotten me there in the first place.
To my loving man I said, "I love you so, and thank you for driving so terribly far to pick me up! Now do give me a smoke, I need to breathe again."
~I have been quite successful in adapting to my home situation since West Hills; I know few people who experience no stress at home. My time there provided me with emotional tools to handle the demands of daily life. Now I truly feel free.~
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