I’ll never forget Thursday, January 11, 2018, and this is the story of why.
A life with mental illness is never the sort of life that allows you to feel free. It’s a prison which holds its prisoners captive within themselves. There’s always something controlling your brain and chains on your heart. Your uniform is your diagnosis. The guards are your psychiatrist, therapist, and/or primary care physician. Your sentence involves medications, spending hours talking about your childhood, and even tracking your thoughts and feelings. You’ve probably been given a life sentence for crimes you didn’t commit…I know I have.
What happens when you share the dark, twisted thoughts inside your brain, though? What happens when a friend makes a call in order to ensure your safety?
You become a prisoner in an entirely different sort of way, having your rights to determine your medical care, your possessions, even your clothing stripped from you, leaving you with horrible paper scrubs. You might be handcuffed or strapped to a gurney, with officers and paramedics taking into radios about you in hushed tones.
I won’t forget Thursday, January 11, 2018, because that’s the first time I was labeled “involuntary” when admitted to psychiatric care.
I’m no stranger to my local psychiatric hospital: I’ve taken myself there and asked for them to admit me numerous times, I’ve worked through their intensive outpatient program (and graduated), and I’ve ended up there on nights I just needed to talk to someone in order to stay safe. Security greets me by name and all the intake social workers know my face and story. When you are admitted involuntarily, though, so many aspects of your treatment and care can change.
Doors are locked while you wait, cameras watching your every move. Showers are done in groups with 10 minute limits while a nurse stands and watches, your shampoo and body wash are a orange gel that never seems to clean the oil all the way back out of your hair. Hours in your bedroom are limited and they keep it that way by locking you out. You fight for the phone, those precious few minutes of calling those that you love happen out in public with someone else stomping their foot, desperate for their turn. Meal times are set, with limited time to eat, and food that you often want to question. If you need Excedrin, they’ll only give Tylenol, and it takes nearly an hour to wait for the order to go through. If you don’t seem to cooperate, solitary is where they’ll put you.
When you walk out those automatic, high security doors at discharge, the fresh air is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever had the experience to breathe. Though you know your brain is still under the influence of your illness and the pills, you skip through the parking lot with joy. You feel, if only for a moment, one simple thing: freedom.