A Day In The Life Of A Mental Hospital

6:05 am: You lie awake in your tiny bed, underneath the salmon covers, your neck sore from sleeping on one pillow (you asked for another but you’ll need a doctor’s order to have more than one). Your sleep medicine has worn off and you are now once again a prisoner to your insomnia. All there is to do now is listen to your roommate snore and mutter to herself in her sleep and the sounds of the nurses talking and phones ringing at the nurses station. You remember a Seroquel induced nightmare you had previously in the night in which you were trapped in a house that was filling with water, drowning and gasping for air. You make a mental note to mention the dream to your doctor later on.

7:00 am: Morning checks. A tech bangs on your door just as you have started to drift off into a sweet sleep again and informs you that you must be up for breakfast in thirty minutes. You incoherently moan something that resembles an “OK,” roll over and close your eyes again.

7:10 am: Brush your teeth, brush your hair, make your bed, put on a sweatshirt.

7:15 am: You drag your exhausted body out of bed and grab a cup of the weakest, wateriest coffee you have ever ingested from the nurses station. You line up against the wall and prepare to be paraded down to the cafeteria.

7:30 am: Breakfast time. Today is Friday so its pancake day, which means spirits are high among the residents. Eggs with cheese, bacon, grits and cereal are also served in the cafeteria, which reminds you of the one at your elementary school. You opt for cheerios—which you will eat by putting three at a time into your spoon (you are very ritualistic when it comes to your eating habits)—and a few sips of coffee.

7:45 am: You are put on one-on-one after each and every meal, which means a nurse must accompany you at all times because you are bulimic and they don’t trust you to not vomit up your food. This upsets you greatly and you cry.

8:30 am: Community group. You discuss in length the rules and regulations of the hospital (only use the phone for ten minutes at a time, bath buckets are under no circumstance to be kept in your room, no towels or food in your rooms, no physical contact with other patients). Someone complains that their book is missing, someone else cries about something you can’t even comprehend. Someone always cries during your meetings. You set a daily goal (to finish your book, do laundry) and share why you are here. Most people are there for depression, some for anxiety, many for suicide attempts. One or two are there for insomnia, a few for manic episodes and one boy about your age is there for homicidal ideation. It isn’t as scary as it sounds, he is actually very sweet, close to your age and you are already starting to become close with him. His name is Todd and he beat up one of his friends for stealing his now ex-girlfriend. You yourself are there for a suicide attempt (flashback to overdosing on 3000 milligrams of Seroquel, sleeping for 36 hours and then slitting your wrists, spewing blood all over the walls of your college dormitory).

9:10 am: You meet with Dr. Williams, your amazing psychiatrist. He is a young man who always looks perpetually concerned; He is unbelievably kind and compassionate. He runs through the usual routine of questions: do you feel like hurting yourself, how are you sleeping, how is your mood (no, bad, depressed) and he takes you off of your Lithium and ups your Abilify. He also prescribes you Ambien, which is stronger than the sleep medicine.

9:47 am: Code one! A 90-pound schizophrenic girl screams and punches the walls (she hears voices and sees monsters that aren’t there) and a code team is called to sedate and restrain her. Incidents like this are uncommon in your unit but not unheard of. They take her away, kicking and screaming.

10:00 am: You and Todd sit side-by-side reading a book and holding hands. His hand is rough and you can’t help but smile. He makes you a little less scared in an unfamiliar setting like this. A tech glares and scolds you for breaking the coveted “no-touching” policy.

11:30 am: Process group with your social workers. Today’s topic is “combating negative thoughts.” You do an exercise where you write a negative thought and three positive ones to counteract it. Several people cry when they read theirs and one man launches into an off topic diatribe on the importance of exercise until the social worker, Tonya, politely cuts him off.

12:30 pm: Lunch time. Pizza is being served today so everyone is happy, except for you who is a diagnosed anorexic. You get a salad which you down in mustard and pepper (anorexics have strange eating habits) and a diet coke. You don’t finish your salad and a tech tells you if you’re going to lose points for not eating, which means you might have to stay longer. You cry.

1:00 pm: Vital signs are taken. They weigh you and make you stand backwards on the scale.

1:15 pm: You drink a ton of coffee and experience a sugar/caffeine-induced mania and decide you’re going to start writing a book. A tech tells you to calm down and makes you drink a glass of water.

2:00 pm: Recreational therapy. You watch the Karate Kid and popcorn is served. You don’t eat it, which gets noted in your chart by a tech.

2:30 pm: Education group. A short older lady who claims to have once been a back up singer for Aerosmith preaches on Bipolar disorder and the evils of not being compliant with medication.

4:00 pm: Visitation hour.

5:00 pm: Line up for dinner. Tonight is beef stroganoff (everyone groans) and steamed carrots. You don’t eat and spend dinner hour making an elaborate design out of your peas and carrots.

6:00 pm: You sketch a picture of Todd and he draws one of you. It’s true love.

8:00 pm: Closure group. You review the daily goals you set. Some people meet them, others don’t. You met both of yours (to finish your book and do laundry). A lady who is in there for bipolar disorder breaks down and sobs for 20 minutes about not achieving her goal.

8:30 pm: Finally out of sight from the techs, you and Todd watch TV, his head in your lap, you stroking his hair.

9:00 pm: Night meds, a very popular time of evening for obvious reasons. Everyone races to be at the front of the line. You would think they were giving out hundred dollar bills and not psychiatric medication. You dutifully take your Seroquel and Gabitril for sleep and your Abilify for depression.

9:30 pm: Everyone hangs out in the common room, laughing and talking about anything and everything. You are a big happy family and for a moment, just a moment, you feel like a normal teenager who is not spending her summer in a mental hospital for being a depressive-border-lined personality-bipolar-bulimic-anorexic mess. Life is good.

11:00 pm: “Lights out!” a nurse shouts. The manic patients and insomniacs groan in disdain. Todd kisses you when a tech isn’t looking and your heart melts.

11:15 pm: You happily drift off into a deep, medicated slumber, thinking that today was not all that bad and tomorrow probably won’t be either.

Mental hospitals are very misunderstood places. There is a certain stigma not only attached to being a patient in a mental hospital, but to the whole field of mental health to begin with. The people I met during my stay at Holly Hill were not crazy. They were not nuts. They just needed a little extra help and a safe, relaxing place to recuperate from their problems. Most of the people I met were perfectly normal, functioning members of society with jobs, families, friends and a positive future. Some were students, like myself. Going to a mental hospital is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by and I encourage everyone to take that step if they find it necessary. Life can be overwhelming and sometimes we just need to heal. Holly Hill changed my life. I went in suicidal, depressed, and a terrified mess, and two months later, I came out, in the process of being healed, with new friends, and a new perspective on life. My hospitalization not only saved my life, it changed it. TC mark

image – digital cat


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  • Topriko

    i really, really liked this

  • Geoff

    yes… at 22 it was like that, plus runs for booze, lots of nicotine, and mad hatters tea parties at lunch time… 5 months, and yes – life changes… life changing…
    thank you for this

  • Rio

    this was incredible.

  • Merav

    thank you

  • annwyn

    People must stop viewing “mental illness” as a stigma; or even worse, as a weakness of some sort.
    We’re talking about a chemical imbalance in the brain– you can’t just “cheer up” or “snap out of it”.
    Thank-you and good-luck to you too. 

    • Sarah

      this, this, this 1000x this.

      i’m dating a nice, if confused, guy with bipolar disorder, depression, and G.A.D. he’s on xanax, lexapro, and seroquel, which has made him gain some weight, which, in turn, has given him sleep apnea.  i told my mom this not too long ago and tied it to the seroquel and she said “well maybe he should just stop taking it then and get over whatever it is” and it basically broke my heart because they’ll never “get it” and basically will never understand or accept him.

      i wish more people thought like you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

    damn that was absolutely fucking fantastic

  • http://www.jeffreyandflora.com Flora

    Thanks for writing this. I used to work in mental health and was constantly explaining to people that our patients just needed a little extra help.

  • http://www.jeffreyandflora.com Flora

    Thanks for writing this. I used to work in mental health and was constantly explaining to people that our patients just needed a little extra help.

  • Allison

    Thank you for writing this! I work at a psychiatric hospital and constantly have to explain that my patients are just like you and I but under unordinary circumstances.

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    Metaphor for modern life in general

  • http://imlikecocaine.wordpress.com/ Ana

    i’ve been there. people still judge me for being in a mental institution. they still have issues when they find out i’m on medication. still, they sometimes act a thousand times more crazy than i would, and no one points a finger at them, because they don’t have a chart with a creepy diagnose. 

  • http://nothingspaces.com Carina

    Thank you for sharing. I hope it helps me understand and be more sensitive and patient towards people who are going  through a difficult time in their lives.

  • Fran

    its nice to know when you’re not alone :) thank you for the incredibly insightful piece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Lisa, it’s your birthday.  Happy birthday, Lisa. 

    • Amanda Viers

      michael jackson?

      • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

        You got it. 

    • Greg

      Thank you based god

  • C.

    Thank you for writing this.  I’m a nurse, and although I’m not working at a mental health floor, I understand the environment you described.  I had my clinicals at a large metropolitan hospital on their psych floor, and it was interesting.  Yes there is stigma to it (unfortunately), but it really isn’t as bad or scary as people think.  Yes there are things you haven’t seen before, but it really was an eye opening experience.  There are people that just need a little help at points in their life, and I was glad I was able to be there for them. And yes I saw people there that went to the same university as me.   Being admitted, like you said, should not be shameful or embarrassing.  In fact, I hope people get the help they need so they can feel better. 

  • Seymour Blake

    Awesome. I’m glad you wrote something like this because it saves me the trouble of doing it myself. Great essay.

  • spaz

    I was in a partial psychiatric hospitalization program for 3 months (bipolar – yeeah!). I met some amazing people. It is amazing how friendships form so quickly there, yet only 2 of mine are still in touch (one close).
    I was doing fine, a little loopy, until life problems snowballed and I ended up in partial. The extra support I received allowed me to turn my life around, hopefully into something that won’t drive me back there.

  • Shwax

    “A Day In The Life Of A Mental Hospital”
    6 a.m. – you’re a building
    10 a.m. – you’re still a building
    4 p.m. – STILL a building…maybe you prefer edifice

  • Guest

    made me want to stop eating again

  • Emilyblue1233

    But what happened with Todd? I must know!!

  • Anti-Climacus

    Luved this piece about u and ur rich white ppl problems. 

    • Anonymous

      Hey, fuck you guy. Poverty and status as a POC actually increases your risk of schizophrenia, for just one piece of evidence for mental health not being a white ppl problem. But judging by your typing style you’re probably some kind HRO styled “dnt care abt anythng” flavor of hipster troll so I’m dumb for even typing this out.

      • Anti-Climacus

        You’re absolutely correct- you are pretty dumb. 

      • Guyerson

        Nick, you are a huge douche.

      • Anti-Climacus

        I’ll make sure and give Nick the message? 

    • Anonymous

      Also, like most people who complain about people writing about “rick white ppl problems,” i.e. non socio-economic/threat-to-one’s-well-being problems, you probably don’t actually do anything about or give a shit about “real” problems.

  • Anti-Climacus

    Luved this piece about u and ur rich white ppl problems. 

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for making a step forward in minimizing the stigma of  mental illness. The sigma certainly kept me from seeking treatment for depression for a long time. I am only in the beginning of my treatment now, but it has taken an insane amount of time and bravery to start it. Unlike most physical illnesses, coming to the realization that we even have depression can be a huge challenge. And then admitting this, and admitting that we may need treatment, is yet another hurdle to get over because of the sigma associated with the labels and treatment. It is devastating how much is lost because of the fear of being judged and marginalized for seeking treatment for a real illness.
    This article explains all of this well, for a more objective source of information:http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189155_1,00.html

  • Guest

    I work in a psychaitric hospital. Maybe I shoul submit an essay on working with patients…

    • London

      Please. Please, please. I love those perspectives and it would most likely be as well received as the teacher article.

    • London

      Please. Please, please. I love those perspectives and it would most likely be as well received as the teacher article.

      • Guest

        My perspective on working in a psych hospital is most likely not as “nice” as some think it should be…  Honest yes, nice, not necessarily.

  • Emily

    I liked this but it was  badly written.

    Also try a few more commas next time, and when you want to abbreviate ‘it is’ to ‘it’s’, NEVER forget the apostrophe.

    • really?

      wow, fuck off.

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