72 Hours

You want to know what 72 hours in a psychiatric hospital is like. You wanting to know is OK. Everyone who hears this part of my story wants to know what 72 hours in a psychiatric hospital is like. Even I, more than 16 months later, want to know what 72 hours in a psychiatric hospital is like, because I was and wasn’t the one who checked himself in at the end of a disastrous relationship.

The rooms are bright, and the doctors wear white coats over casual clothes, and doors don’t lock. Clocks don’t have hands, as if time doesn’t pass, or, to keep us – still, now, I think that once you’ve checked in, you never check out, even though you do check out, if that makes sense – from counting the 72 hours, one minute at a time.

Jewelry and belts are out, as nooses can be knotted in leather and gold. You won’t find a mirror, utensils are plastic and come in one variety – a spork – and toilets have little water in them (as if anyone would attempt to drown themselves in a toilet). Doctors don’t – can’t, really – remember your name; too many patients, not enough doctors.

Medication is suggested, and sometimes forced, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a say in the pills you’ll be forced to take.

We can try lithium, the woman who became my psychiatrist asked me (and that’s another thing, you see therapists and social workers and group leaders and psychiatrists, and you have no say in the therapists and social workers and group leaders and psychiatrists you see, because you are stuck inside a suite – I use this word liberally – of locked rooms).

No, I said. I’ve heard about the side effects.

We could try Lamictal, she said.

What is it?

It was originally developed as an antidepressant, she said, but it proved ineffective. Then it was used to treat epilepsy.

Is there any harm in my trying it? I asked.

A few people have experienced severe side effects, she said.

What sort of side effects, I asked.

Their skin starts to fall off. She says this matter-of-factly. I look at her. But if I prescribe this for you and you notice something happening, we would stop immediately.

At least she was honest with me about the side effects, I thought, and then I told her I would try Lamictal, which I continue to take every day.

I had a say in the food I ate. Each morning, I was given a menu of choices for the day, and I selected what I wanted. No dairy if I didn’t want it, or meat, or desserts. But I wasn’t allowed to eat the food in my room. And I wasn’t allowed to open cans of soda, or drink from cans of soda. Sharp edges and veins don’t mix in a psychiatric hospital.

My wife wasn’t allowed to sit in my room, which I left only to eat, so she and I sat in a hallway, where staff could see us. No inappropriate touching. No plotting to escape. No escape, really. While my wife and I were talking one night, a woman carrying two packed bags kept trying to push open a fire escape door. The door, like all others, was locked.

Clocks continue to not have hands and no one wears a watch and no one will tell you the time and if you’re in a bed by a window you can watch the sun move across the sky, but can you really tell time by the movement of the sun? Day and night, that’s how you tell time when you’re in a psychiatric hospital.

The beds are comfortable to a point, and curtains divide rooms in half, offering some privacy. Not enough, though. The man is the next bed brought only 16 pairs of white underwear with him, didn’t understand why he couldn’t smoke, and demanded that nurses help him find peace.

Can’t help with that, one nurse told him, though she promised to check into the meds he got to help him sleep.

Wake up in the middle of the night and you cannot turn on lights in your room and sometimes an on-duty nurse will give you another sleeping pill, but if your doctor hasn’t approved you using sleeping pills, the nurse will not give you anything.

You’ll see men who bark and rock and walk in circles, and women who cry and demand phone privileges and who leave rice crispies on lunch trays – which happened to me, and which remains one of those moments during my 72-hour stay that continues to amuse me.

Stay in your room all day, and staff thinks you’re depressed. Don’t spend time in your room, and staff thinks you might be manic. Go to Bible study on Sunday if you want, or Saturday game night, anything to disrupt a routine that is not your routine but has become your routine.

Collect your belongings at the end of your stay – if you’re allowed to leave; staff and doctors can insist you stay past your 72 hours of observation – and promise that you’ll meet with someone after and promise that you’re better and promise that you’ll continue meds and promise that you’ll never be back, but staff have heard these promises and may take bets on the ones who will return.

Beat the odds and slowly get better and look back on those 72 hours as when everything changed and when everything began, or continue spiraling downward and wonder why you didn’t couldn’t wouldn’t get better. TC mark

image – Phoebe


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  • Saikia

    72 hours? Try two weeks.

    • Saikia

      Or one week rather, it felt like two weeks lol

      • Kaagers

        Oh, I got excited for a second thinking someone stayed almost as long as I did. a month here. I guess I’m the most crazy.

      • Munchimaid

        1 month and a half I beat you. 

  • Dreamingupsidedown

    This was well-written, I enjoyed it. 

  • Christine

    Wow. That was nothing like my stay. I was there for over a week. I finally got the help I seriously needed. It was one of the most positive times in my life, and would turn out to be a huge turning point. The break up that pushed me to the edge (as well as a ton of other factors I’d rather not go into) was horrendously painful, but I will always be grateful for my time in Springwood.

  • Munchimaid

    Great article.  My stay was unusually long because my social worker was in charge of finding me an apartment and it took her over a month to do so.  But there was more freedom in what we could do and we could go home for a certain amount of hours…but seriously the worst time of my life.  It’s also about around the time imeem deleted everyone’s account and music playlists moving to myspace. Worst. Month. Ever.  

    • Munchimaid

      P.S. Lamictal sucks <3

      • Holly

        How long were you on it? Are you off of it now? I’ve been on it for 1.5 years, and I’m trying to quit.

      • Munchimaid

        I was on it for 3 years and it didn’t do anything. Try Wellbutrin. Works pretty well with most mood disorders and/or depression. I’ve been on that for a year and never been happier.  

    • Estelle

      lol wellbutrine made me anorexic and a chronic insomniac and the physchiatrist didnt believe me when I said this because she thought I was just a druggie and so that went on for a year, eating no more than a granola bar every few days and getting two hours of sleep a night. worst thing about it was i was a minor and i litterally had to wait until the day I turned 18 so i could make my own decisions and find a new psychiatrist.

      and celexa made me suicidal to no end. it was horrifying.

      but medications work differently on everyone, too bad i havent found one useful to myself yet

  • RKP

    “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

  • bones

    i spent 17 years in a psych hospital. working as a nurse. we only admitted from maximum security prisons. your experience is a cakewalk compared to what walked through my door on a given day. i was scared shitless almost all the time. it was like a wrecking ball in the deepest part where i hid my self. that was some years ago but i will never be free of some of those images.

  • Holly

    Re: Lamictal. Skin falling off? That’s a little dramatic. I’ve heard many things, but I’ve never heard a doctor tell me that one. Great piece, otherwise.

    • CW-

      it’s called stevens-johnston syndrome . your skin doesn’t necessarily fall off, but the rash can easily kill you.

    • http://www.nicholeexplainsitall.com EarthToNichole

      Yeah, Stevens-Johnston. Whatever you do, don’t Google image search. I took Lamictal for about a month and woke up one morning with bruises covering my entire body. No thanks…I’d rather be “unstable” or whatever.

      • shootnee


  • Abigail

    Three different stays in a psych ward, each a week long. The three longest weeks of my life. He’s right, time stands still. Everything’s surreal. I felt dehumanized by a horrible psychiatrist my first time who treated me like the various compulsive lying court-ordered convicts in my ward, even though I admitted myself voluntarily (but couldn’t leave voluntarily), had committed no crimes, and had been nothing but compliant my entire visit. Good article. 

  • kgb

    It was a much needed 3 days for me.  I scrounged any paper I could find and spent the time drawing.  Unlimited food and drink selections were great!

  • http://twitter.com/imabeescientist Melissa Kathryn

    I was in a therapy session and made some confessions about suicidal thoughts; twenty minutes later, the therapist had called the police and they escorted (read: forced) me into a police car and drove me to hospital. The intention was to keep me 72 hours in the psych ward. Luckily I am extremely skilled with words and managed to pass it all off on the therapist’s over-reaction (when in reality I had every suicidal intention possible). The idea of a 72 hour stay in the hospital like that frightened me.

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

    three weeks in a so called sanatorium. then two painful weeks next to psychosis and schizophrenia, beginning with a sequence i could’ve swore i imagined. wake up, don’t know where you are, the door is locked, you look through the little window and see a girl on the other side of her window, touching it as if she was touching you.
    zyprexa, seroquel, seroxat, on and off, on and off, story of a BPD sufferer.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous


  • Jen

    Thanks so much for posting this.  It was insightful.  I recently had a friend get checked into a hospital for about a week after expressing signs of suicide and her visit felt much like your own.  It’s a careful balance they take in trying to make patients safe, but at the same time not making them more mad from the stay.

  • Frustrated

    I’m sorry – 72 hours? I understand that it was frightening and it is dehumanizing, but I can’t help but feel frustrated by your article.

    Having been in a psych ward, twice, each time for over a month I don’t really understand what you were expecting to achieve out of such a short stay and how three days was such a trial.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    I’ve really enjoyed your writing, but I don’t think I was anywhere near as drawn in by this installment as your previous TC posts. 

  • Anonymous


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

    One guy posts about the psych ward and everyone else jumps on the chance to prove they’re crazier than he is.

    • Munchimaid

      Only proving to show that we’re not alone when something like this happens. It’s a terrible experience to go through for most and humor(e.g. calling ourselves crazy) helps soothe a reader’s pain who is probably feeling a range of emotions upon reading the article :)  

  • anon

    A place I was admitted to didn’t let you stay in your own room other than at night time, the lack of privacy was the worst thing in such a depleted state, and having not slept through the night going through admissions then being told you’re not allowed somewhere to sleep in the day. I ended up laying on the floor of the corridor cushioning my head with my hands as best as I could. Nearly as bad was having almost no choice of food and being blackmailed into eating, told that otherwise I’d have to stay longer and maybe be fed via a tube as they’d diagnose me with an eating disorder (which I had no history of) to justify it. Some wards must be good, but so many it seems do terrible things to people when they’re in incredibly vulnerable condition.

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