How a mental hospital stay changed my life

Mental illness means I battle my own mind on a daily basis

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I’m writing this article with the intent to speak of mental illness in depth and will share stories of personal experiences, struggles and recovery in hopes to spread more information about this important aspect of life that affects us all. Reading this may surprise a few, or make some people uncomfortable. Please try to keep an open mind, reach out to ask questions and take breaks as to not overwhelm yourself, if needed.

Some parts of my story may be triggering. If you need to reach out to our school counselors, who are available for support, you can find links on the school website under “student services, LST.” Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 service to anyone in emotional distress at 800-273-8255. NAMI, which I reference below, has many resources on their website at nami.org

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, or NAMI, 1 in 6 U.S. youth will experience a serious mental health disorder, and 50% of all lifelong mental illness starts at the age of 14. Mental illnesses are not crystal clear, and experiences vary from one person to another. Here’s my story:

Junior year, I began to worry about college and constantly thought of what more I could do to seem productive, successful and worthy. I forgot that I should be doing things that interest me and make me happy. The joy of doing anything at all had disappeared from my life. Yet, I held certain expectations for myself that I wouldn’t dare break and continued to overwork myself.

I was under such extreme stress that I would break down at random times during the day. I’d be in AP Lang and I’d start thinking about how my writing is not AP level and how I didn’t belong in this room of smarter students. I’d zone out and worry until I started silently crying in my seat and asked to leave the room. Some days, I’d wake up and refuse to leave my bed because I was afraid to go to school and mess something up.

When a person is overworked and under lots of pressure, they might literally shut down; our body’s mind and nervous system can’t always differentiate between something that’s a real threat and a perceived threat. This means your body may react to stressful situations as extremely as life-or-death situations.

What came next was a complete change. I began to always feel down and the anxiety wasn’t a motivation to do anything anymore. I started skipping club meetings and was never in the mood to hang with friends. I didn’t crave ice cream or movie nights. Even my crying stopped, which was really frustrating as it’s how I get my emotions out. I became numb. I did things I’m not proud of and will forever regret. I stopped talking to friends and family because I felt like my repetitive vents would burden them, or that they’d find me annoying.

It’s true what they say about slippery slopes; you just don’t see them coming. Self-harm became a daily thing and hiding it became easier over time. I learned the right things to say so that no one would worry about me.

At school, I’m known as the bubbly and constantly smiley girl. What made my struggle so difficult is how I constantly felt like a fake. Everyone thought I was the brightest ray of sunshine, and I never wanted to disappoint them, so I kept up the act. I’m the happy girl that anyone can come to for advice and can rely on, so I couldn’t step back and show people the reality.

In January, 2019, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety, and I was prescribed antidepressants. It wasn’t an easy process to tell my parents that I wanted to go to therapy or see a doctor.

I learned that depression runs in my dad’s family, and it was a relief because for so long I didn’t understand why I was sad. My mind constantly said “People are depressed because of tragic reasons. What reason do you have?” I felt guilty because my life is better than many other people. Sadly, some people label depression as being ungrateful and hard to satisfy, but in reality, it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Things began to get better as I stopped self-harming and the medications made me feel a bit more neutral instead of sad all the time. I started being honest and telling close friends, who all shared the same reaction of being completely thrown off guard and shocked.

The year went on, and I was doing well in school, had amazing friends, and everything was good. Everything was so good, it terrified me. I experienced anticipation anxiety about falling back into depression. In my happiest moments, I’d start thinking, “What if I’ll never have a day as good as this again?” When I hung out with friends, I’d start to worry,“What if they leave?” The frustrating part was being aware of how irrational these thoughts were, but being unable to stop them.

I became so drained of the constant anxiety and numbness that I didn’t want to live like this anymore, but at the time, I was unaware of my options and felt helpless. I had just experienced a high in life and didn’t want to fall back into what I thought would be an inevitable low.This was not rational thinking, but it came from fear and anxiety. Our minds can block certain unpleasant events out as a defense mechanism, and my memory is not very clear from that night, Oct. 6, 2019.

I went to Condell’s ER where many tests were run and many nurses and doctors rushed in and out of my room. I kind of just layed there. What was going on was so intense, but I couldn’t care less. I didn’t speak or cry or move; I layed still in a hospital bed while life outside continued to go on.
Once my physical health was deemed alright, counselors started to assess my mental health. They asked so many questions, and I barely replied to any. I remember being upset, feeling lost, and not knowing what to do to feel any better. I immediately regretted my decision because of the mess it had created and felt a flurry of emotions ranging from regret to disappointment. My parents were informed that I’d need to spend the night just to monitor my health. I shut off and waited for the next day where I could go home and pretend like nothing ever happened.

The counselor asked me many questions and tried to understand what led to this. I explained how my life is as perfect as can be, and how just six days before that I was at homecoming with my friends dancing and celebrating.

I spent the night with a sitter assigned to my room; her job was to watch my every move since I was deemed a threat to myself. I feel bad for how rude I must’ve been to her, for she spent the whole night sitting in a chair watching me while I ignored her and layed in bed. At one point, I got up and told her I was going to use the bathroom, and she started following me. I didn’t care at first, but when she said policy was that I couldn’t close the door, I freaked out on her. I explained how I was old enough to pee by myself, and she politely told me that due to circumstances that put me in the ER, I was not labeled as being able to do anything myself. I silently cried at how pathetic I felt. It was upsetting to feel like my control was stripped away, but these people were keeping me safe and their actions were a vital part of my recovery.

Morning came, and I was given my clothes back and was ready to head home. However, I was so silly for thinking so. The counselor informed me that Condell did not have a psychiatric floor, and I’d need to be transferred to a different hospital. He gave me and my parents options to choose from. “No, thank you, that’s not needed,” I told the counselor. He seemed to almost laugh at me. He explained how this wasn’t a choice, and how I had to be hospitalized. My parents and I panicked. I was 17 at the time and explained how my parents have guardianship and told them to take me home. The counselor calmly said that he’d sue my parents for medical neglect if they did so. Once again, I felt helpless and pathetic, but in reality this decision being made for me would become one of the most important and life changing decisions in my life.

No matter how many times I begged and apologized and promised to never repeat such dumb actions again, they refused to let me leave. Yes, it was their job but something felt like they truly cared about my wellbeing and wanted to help me. I was told an ambulance would be on its way to transport me to the hospital.

On Oct. 7, 2019, I was admitted to Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital.

The unit consisted of five rooms with two girls in each, and patients ages ranged from 12 to 17. Similar to me, it was some of the girls’ first visits, but for others, it was their second or even third inpatient stay.
My hospitalization lasted six days and gave me a lifetime of advice.

We’d start the day off with group time where a counselor talked about what the day would look like. We had extensive therapy sessions, ranging from individual therapy, to group art therapy and even music therapy. If you are anything like me, you may feel guilty venting to friends and family or worry about burdening them; a therapist’s job is to listen to you, and that’s why it felt easy and natural to talk to one.
At the hospital, the girls were all friendly and welcoming to me. They helped explain the rules and showed me around. It hurt my heart to know that they experienced the same pain I did, but it also was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone.

I was assigned a psychiatrist and a case manager to track my progress throughout my stay. The psychiatrist visits didn’t go well at first, as he kept asking me to ‘dig deeper,’ and I always walked away frustrated. I hoped he would just tell me what my problems are, but the man wanted me to figure them out myself.

There were many experiences at the hospital that helped me. Each day only allowed for one hour of school work. I hate to admit that I had many arguments begging the nurses to let me do more school, and I’m glad they didn’t. I was there to focus on myself, not catch up on Calculus.
I learned that sad music is a good outlet of emotions, but can trigger and worsen the situation. After leaving the hospital, I deleted my sad and angry music so that I could do things to cheer myself up, rather than put myself in a bad mood.

We weren’t allowed to be in contact with anyone — no phones or visits, except for parents. This terrified me, because I had disappeared suddenly and I wondered what people at school would think. However, it was relaxing to spend a week without my phone. I didn’t have to do anything. Nothing was forced; everything I did was a voluntary choice and for myself.

My parents came to visit the second night, and my mother’s eyes were puffy from crying. On the other hand, I was smiling wide. They were confused at how I could be happy in a psych ward. I always felt the need to mask emotions around people. At the hospital, there were girls with similar depressive disorders, but also some with eating disorders, substance abuse and PTSD. The environment among these girls felt surreal, as there was no need to cover up anything.

We were given worksheets to help guide recovery. One that really helped me was about how to address cognitive distortions. It taught me to challenge my irrational thoughts and put things into perspective. I learned that not every situation is a life or death scenario and that my anxiety made up irrational thoughts that I chose to believe. Your anxious thoughts are lying to you.

I also learned a lot about communication, such as using ‘I statements’ instead of ‘you statements.” This means trying to say “I felt upset because of this and that,” rather than “you made me upset.” You statements can cause people to get defensive and quickly escalate an argument.

My medication dosage got altered, and after leaving the hospital, I stayed on the higher dosage for a while before decreasing it once again. Medications can be very complicated and need to be tailored specifically for each person. With antidepressants, some actually worsen the situation. Some people may need to switch between a few before finding one that works, and some people may even try a combination of medications. It’s important to seek professionals’ advice and only take what is prescribed to you; you should also never stop taking pills suddenly and without informing your doctor.

I was encouraged to celebrate all progress, no matter how small. I started recording how many days I’ve been self-harm free on an app. It’s called ‘I am sober’ and can track progress for anything you’d like. It’s made me feel excited to reach a month, and two, and now I’m at six!

No one can handle everything alone. Do not wait to hit rock bottom to seek help. We are always encouraged to reach out, but in my worst moments, I found it difficult to do so; instead I encourage you to reach in. Check in on friends and family, and spread some kindness.

The process has been long and tiresome, but worth it. There is so much good in the world and you do not want to miss out on any of it. I almost missed Thanksgiving, my 18th birthday, and my five seconds of fame on Tik Tok. I would’ve missed out on many amazing opportunities such as the fact that I work at ColdStone now and enjoy every second of it, or how I got my first cat and have so much love for her. My days are so much brighter and happier now, something I would’ve never guessed was possible. Everyday I wake up and feel proud for making it further than I ever imagined I could.