Fourteen years ago today, I was taken to the emergency room and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for nineteen days. It was by choice – I voluntarily admitted myself, but once I got there, I realized that basically, I was stuck, and things got much much worse for me. Essentially, I went from being in a confused and vaguely depressed state to suffering a full-on paranoid psychotic break from reality, which in retrospect, I believe could have been avoided had I not been there at all. My plan in my head was to go there and sleep and restore my mind and body for a day or two, and then make a plan from there. Their plan was to do what they do, on a medical and legal basis, and this took so long, I was unsure if I was ever going to get to leave. Also, I was a month shy of 18 years old, so I was not yet a consenting adult, and my parents signed everything that needed signing. (On the other hand, I’m relieved I was not yet 18, because that month’s difference was the difference between being on the Adolescent or Adult unit. I am glad I was with people my own age and younger.) This was during my senior year of high school. I went back to school with a (mis)diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and even more of a disconnect from everyone around me. I felt even more isolated, and self-stigmatized than before. I sank into a severe depression. I dropped out of a few of my classes and took a leave of absence from my job. I tried to stay occupied with some art classes at school, but nothing at all interested me. As the summer before college started, things finally did start to lift. I got my driver’s license. I started to hang out with friends a little bit. I felt excited to be moving two hours away and starting college.
This experience has stayed with me as a lasting trauma. In college, I wrote a lengthy personal essay about it, trying to capture every tiny thing I could remember. I was in therapy for a long time after – I was actually doing a lot worse in general after being discharged. I was on a lot of pills and unsure if they were helping. Therapy, at least, was helping. Therapy has been the one thing I’ve done for myself that has made the biggest difference in my adult life. Therapists have taught me how to be a verbal person and communicate with others.
About a year ago, I worked at talking through this experience that still haunts me, in therapy. My therapist was a little hesitant to delve into it – she’s not too big on rehashing the past. But she did help me through it, and encouraged me to talk with my mom about it, in order to dis-spell some long-held beliefs that might have actually been way off. Such as, “it didn’t really affect my mom that much, that I was there.” So I did talk to my mom about it (however difficult that was), and felt myself getting to a new place through doing that.
And then this year (every year around this time, I’m thinking a lot about it again), I decided to gain access to my medical records from back then. I didn’t know how to go about that because the hospital I was at has since been closed, demolished, and rebuilt into a new multipurpose health facility. But I was told my records are somewhere, on microfilm, and I can get them at a fee of $0.75 per page. So I went through the request form and noted I’d like to be informed of the length of the document before it’s sent. Two weeks later, a heavy package arrived, with a bill for $168.10! I thought we were talking about something in the range of 40 pages! This thing is 210 pages, and this bill is much more than I want to pay. (So I did email back and forth, explaining my request was ignored, and I did get the bill knocked down to $100.88 – still way more than I was planning to pay.)
The document itself is largely made up of pages that have no interest to me. And many pages in which I can’t read the person’s handwriting. But, in the process of gleaning as much as I can from it (and skipping over quite a few things that feel triggery, for right now), I’m coming to some kind of new terms with what happened to me, way way back then. And, something is lifting.