On this day, 21 years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 19 days. I was 17. I’ve observed this time of year, every year since starting this blog 7 years ago, by revisiting the events surrounding it, in one form or another. This year, it feels like not a big deal at all. This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s felt less and less traumatic as the years have gone by. Processing it in therapy has helped tons too.
One way I do know it still has some sort of grip over me is, I’ve been working a lot on long-form autobiographical writing this past year and a half. At first, I wasn’t sure what my “story” was. I assumed part of it would include this hospitalization, but then I rejected that and focused on other times in my life. After floundering around with what to focus on, I finally told my therapist, “Even though I don’t exactly want it to be true, ‘this’ is the story.” (‘This’ refers to my senior year of high school, including the hospitalization, and my first year, more or less, of college. Maybe other stuff too; I’m not sure yet) She smiled at that. It felt momentous, as if I’d been on a journey and then found my way back home and declared, “here I am.” Something to that effect.
But I’m still avoiding this part in particular…
As a Freshman in college, I was taking a class called Personal Essay. I ended up writing roughly 8,000 words about my hospital experience as my class project. It was disjointed / not chronological. That’s the way I had to approach it, in order to get as much down as I could remember. My professor, who ended up telling me he had been in hospitals / treatment centers for addiction issues, was super supportive of me pursuing this. That felt good. I was really proud of the final product, and I ended up sharing it with a bunch of friends and family members, at the time. Since then, I’ve glanced at it here and there, but it’s been rough. When writing about my life around that time, I’ve skipped over that completely, rationalizing, “Well, I already have that part down.” And I do. But, I’ve gone back and revised and changed and tweaked everything else. That remains untouched.
I don’t really want to touch it. Maybe it’s good enough as is? I doubt it though. At some point, I will have to get past this, and face it down, if I want to include it in a larger piece. As for now, I’m doing everything but. Which is working out for the time being, but not for forever…
I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times for mania and psychosis; for some reason, the anniversary of this one, this time around, is hitting me pretty hard. Every year in November, I make a post to remember and acknowledge my first hospitalization, because it was so traumatic, and it’s stayed with me even now, 20 years after the fact. These two other, more recent ones were much easier to get past / work through. In fact, I’d even say that this most recent one was even cathartic, in a positive sense (not so much for my loved ones, I know!) But personally, it helped me heal from the other two times. And the fact that I didn’t boomerang into a deep, dark depression afterward… that I was able to take as much time off as I needed and kind of come back around gradually, organically, meant the world to me.
It’s been a very rainy May so far. It reminds me of looking out the windows of the hospital; it was rainy a lot of the time then too. It was my brother’s birthday, and then Mother’s Day, and right after that, I was admitted to the hospital. The Lilac Festival was going on; there are lilacs in bloom right now. We have a lilac bush; I can see the flowers from our dining room window.
Last year during this week, I was preoccupied with a trip to Massachusetts to visit our friends. I didn’t think about the fact that we’d be away during this week. It occurred to me while we were on the trip, I think. I remember being hyper-aware of everything blooming at that time, exactly. We smelled lots of flowers while we walked around different parts of Boston and Salem. Things weren’t in bloom when we left, but suddenly, bam!, they were, when we got back.
I’ve been super stable, mental health-wise, for a long time now. I’d say I re-stabilized by September of 2017, and I’ve been good since then. Great, even. Super productive with creative projects. Anxiety has been at an all time low. I have energy. My mood is very very very even-keeled. Iike, maybe a little too much. Meaning, there’s so little variety in how I feel, from day to day. But… I’ll take it. I haven’t felt any compulsions. I haven’t been having obsessive thoughts. The only down-side to my mental landscape, in an ongoing way, is that I sleep a LOT. And I have trouble waking up in the mornings. I usually sleep 10-11 hours a day, on average. Which is most likely a side effect of the medication I’m on. (Seroquel.) But, also, as the years have gone on, I’m also realizing it just might be how much sleep is actually optimal for me. I generally slept that much, if I was able to, long before starting this medication. And I used to beat myself up about it, like I was being lazy and unproductive. And whenever I’ve had to get on an earlier schedule, such as during summers, for work, my mood, energy levels, and motivation have always suffered. Probably because I wasn’t sleeping as much as I seem to need to.
So I’ve decided to give myself a break. It works out much better if I let myself sleep as much as I tend to need to (as opposed to how much I think I should want to, I guess?), life goes much more smoothly.
Huh, I went on an unexpected tangent about sleep! I meant to write about my most recent hospitalization. Actually, I’ve already written, in a word document, as much as I could remember from my week-long stay. It was jam packed with activities; it was action packed. So maybe I’ll just cut and paste a slice of life from that time. …I just pulled it up to find an excerpt I could put here, but it’s total nonsense! No one paragraph makes any sense within itself. Also I burst out laughing a bunch of times. I think it’s not quite ready for consumption yet. But it might be, one day, as part of a larger project…
Every year around this time, I revisit the first time I was hospitalized, which was Veteran’s Day weekend in 1999. It used to feel like the worst thing that ever happened to me. And, in terms of fallout, I still think that it was – it just no longer feels that way.
Two years after this hospitalization, I wrote an essay for a class, including every little thing I could remember about the experience. A few months ago, I gave that document to my therapist to read over. I didn’t necessarily want to delve into it or have her probe me about it. I just wanted for her to have read it. And she really only said one thing: “There were always questions about whether you had been in a psychotic state or not. This definitely shows that you were.” And, strangely, I was satisfied with that. As if I could lay to rest whether I needed to be there or not. For the most part…
I’m currently giving my most recent hospitalization (from 6 months ago) the same treatment, as best as I can remember. I’m up to 2,500 words so far, and only about 15% done. I don’t have any plans for it other than just something that I want to do for myself. We’ll see. I feel like there’s not much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of psychosis. (If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!) That does not mean I have lofty goals for where I could take this writing; it’s just a motivating factor, something that pushes me to try to capture it as best as I can.
Here are the other posts I have made, yearly:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma – Four years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist.
That specific trauma is still there – Three years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is no longer a big deal – Two years ago, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal. The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it.
Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name change – Then last year, I wrote about how other things were going on, and I really didn’t have the space or time to reflect. Which was perfectly fine. Between the election results, working on getting my name legally changed, and other emotional markers, it just didn’t come up.
This year, I am thinking about it, but it is more in terms of “one of the times I was hospitalized,” rather than, “a traumatic event – the worst thing that ever happened to me,” etc.
I’ve been thinking of all the little occurrences that go into the bigger story. Like, for example, in that state, my mind was so malleable and adaptable that it seemed like, theoretically, anything could be true and just as easily, not true all at once. Which is one of the reasons I avoided watching any TV. (There were two TVs on the unit – one played music and had legalese constantly scrolling, in both Spanish and English – like a “know your rights” kind of thing. The other TV had a remote and listing of channels, and we could watch whatever we wanted, 24/7.) At one point I did sit down, and there was a documentary on about pineapples. (Er, rather I’m sure the documentary was on something more broad, but I saw the pineapple part. I started yelling about the unlikelihood about these pineapples growing. Don’t pineapples grow on trees like sensible fruits? What were these miniature pineapples growing up from fronds in the dirt?! A patient who knew-all immediately matched the intensity I was spewing, and argued for the realness of these pineapples.
A few months later, my spouse’s aunt was visiting from Hawaii, and sure enough, she grows pineapples on her property and sure enough, she had pics to prove it. I can now accept it fully.
I was in the hospital for psychiatric reasons, for a week in mid-May. It went so much smoother than my two other “stays.” (Those occurred in 1999 and 2015). I attribute that smoothness to:
– Having a complete social network around me for the first time in my life
– The fact that even though I had never been to THIS hospital, I was able to draw from my experience in 2015, and use that blueprint to (semi)-successfully navigate my way through, this time around.
– I was already on meds that were working pretty well, for the first time ever. This means that my psychiatrist wasn’t just taking a shot in the dark. She was just tweaking what was already working. (For me, specifically, this meant getting my Seroquel (anti-psychotic) increased from 200mg, to 600mg, dispersed into three 200mg doses throughout the day, and discontinuing the Wellbutrin (anti-depressant), at least for now.*
So, what were my priorities?
1. Getting on an adequate sleep schedule.
2. Eating the hospital food without having too many digestive issues (this included not relying too heavily on food visitors brought me, even though I was so grateful that they were doing this.)
3. Interacting as opposed to shutting down: Unless I was knocked out on meds, I was up and about, talking with people (sometimes shouting at them), pacing the halls (“going for a walk”), coloring with different medias and different methods / trying to do number puzzles (figuring out what was feeling more “right brained / left brained”), marking my turf / territory in ways that may have been specific to me (this, right here, would be a post unto itself… I’ll leave that for another day…
Some peripheral priorities / goals that I tackled / attempted and had some success with was:
1. Watching out for other people, checking in to see if they felt safe.
2. Micromanaging free-dance party / art times.
3. Getting other people condiments and other things they might need / want.
4. Modeling my behavior off of others / acting as a role model.
5. Pushing for Gym Time and Therapy Dog visits.
6. Reinforcing privacy vs. getting help. Also reinforcing quiet hours and other scheduled parts of the day.
7. Taking a shower every day (night) at the same time (10pm).
8. Dispensing important information.
I realize this post is a pretty vague sketch of some important things – this might serve as just an outline for me to fill in more interesting details / experiences / stories…
*I was also administered a shot, which I refer to as a “Haldol Cocktail.” 5 parts Haldol, 2 parts Ativan, 50 parts Benadryl. Plus, of course, my Testosterone shot – 50mg.
I could easily write a 5,000 word essay on this topic; maybe one day I will. This is an abbreviated version:
Over night, my brain became a frenzied jumble of free associations. Every system I could imagine (friendships, technology, routines) opened up, and I was in the center of all of it, connecting all the dots.
I thought that Leelah Alcorn, the trans-teen from Ohio who committed suicide, was an elaborately staged message created by a group of people on Tumblr. Meaning, I thought she was not a real person – more of a call to action, one more thing to add to “The Transgender Tipping Point,” and finally really make some changes happen.
But I thought a lot of things right around this time period, for a couple of days. I believed I’d been chosen for amazing things, I was choosing my own adventure, and the further I could get before running into a dead-end setback, the more rewards I would gain. If I made it to my therapist’s office, she was going to give me this new phone I’ve had my eye on. If I made it through the entire day, I’d be going to a party thrown by everyone I know. I briefly had the thought, “My partner wouldn’t like that; that’s too much.” So my logic led me to believe I shouldn’t make it through the day at this rate. I should definitely get the new phone, but I should see what my therapist thought after that. Maybe.
Some things were already in motion, and there was no stopping me! My social media outlets were blowing up! My blog was going to get huge at this rate, and I was going to get a book deal out of it. Should I quit my job? I kinda like working there, as a janitor, so I’ll keep my job. I better write a note so that everyone will know I wanna go back to work. I pulled out one of those Mr. Sketch scented markers – it was Blue Raspberry – and scrawled out really big and doodle-y on a piece of artist’s paper, “I will want to go back to work.” It was barely legible. When I showed my therapist a few hours later, in fact, she couldn’t read it, so I just had to tell her I want to go back to work. I wouldn’t want to be someone who sits around all day, writing their book. I would get bored!
I called my therapist at 2AM and asked her, “Can you just come over?” I called her again at 7AM, just to see if she’d drop by instead of me meeting her at her office at 9. I was making some really cool displays in the house, and I wanted her to come check them out. I was playing a record – The Days of Wine and Roses by The Dream Syndicate, and everything was clicking into place. (Actually, the record is still on my turntable, untouched 4 months later – I’m playing it right now.) The lyrics were making perfect sense and informing me of things I should write down. “You say it’s a waste / not to learn from mistakes.” “Textbook case.” “It’s Halloween.” “She remembers what she said.” These messages were of utmost importance. This record was THE record to end all records.
By 8AM I was so bored and fidgety from doing stuff all night long, that I decided to take off for my therapy appointment early. I had everything I needed packed – My toothbrush and toothpaste, notes from work, and 6 bottles of hoarded Androgel (my prescription allows me to get more than I need, so I just collect them). I had no clue what would be happening next or how long I’d be gone after therapy (I might be put up in a hotel!), but I could figure out clothes and other stuff later.
Driving was a bit tricky. I was relying on intuitive cues, more than the rules of the road. Fortunately, my gut was telling me to slow way down and put my hazard lights on, rather than try to drive at the speed my mind was racing. I still got there early; when I arrived, I slammed my backpack into the corner of the waiting room, above the door. To alert the security cameras that I knew all about it. A man briskly walked past me and out the door. He was planted there to exit when I arrived. I proceeded to be loud and messy. I dumped out a bin of toys. I knocked over a chair. I said, “I’m borrrred!” I talked loudly about a Mazda advertisement on the back cover of a magazine. I finally understood how advertising worked – they weren’t fooling me! In fact, this whole magazine was rigged. I should just take it with me – I’ll need it later. I stuffed it into my backpack. One other therapist was there (this was a Saturday) and she tried to gently corral me until my therapist got there. She picked up the toys. She said she’d call my therapist for me. She talked to me in a steady and soothing voice. She wasn’t patronizing me.
Finally, my therapist arrived. We engaged in a delicate dance around each other. I knew on some level that I was going to the hospital. But I also knew that wasn’t necessary, and she was totally going to come over and check out my displays and then I’d be reunited with my partner to proceed with the most fun day ever! In reality, my partner was on her way to North Carolina with family (I’d successfully convinced her everything was fine / I believed she was just out with friends and I’d see her in a couple hours.) My therapist started calling hospitals for availability, and I conveniently went to the bathroom to shield myself from that stuff. I came back and dumped out all the contents of my backpack. This would be more fun. She immediately sorted things into piles to make sense of it. She called my partner and left a message. She asked me what my best friend’s phone number was and I told her. I left the room again while she talked on the phone. Before I knew it, my best friend was there! Magic! Everything was going my way.
I talked to my friend about the displays and we played Rubix cube. Suddenly we were all leaving. They led the way, and I went into the bathroom again. I wasn’t so sure anymore. I yelled out, “I set some things in motion, and I don’t know if I want it to go this far.” We were still just going to my house, right? My therapist replied, with forced enthusiasm, “Come on!”
I got in the car with her; my best friend went separately. I curled up into a ball and shielded my eyes from the world. I started to feel sad; I verbalized what I thought about Leelah Alcorn. I said, “I don’t know much about it. I know her name, where she’s from, and that’s about it.” She had been on the news. That was big. What I was trying to convey was that no one knew much about it. If everyone just saw her picture, her name, and her suicide note, maybe she wasn’t real. And maybe this kind of stuff happens all the time. What is real in the media? Scattered thoughts breaking down. My therapist said, “I don’t actually know where you live.” I replied, desperately, “Yeah, but you can find out.” She had a smart phone. People with smart phones seamlessly glean information all the time.
We weren’t going to my house. When we stopped and I uncurled myself, we were at the hospital. But it still wasn’t too late. If I just told her this is where it ends, and we go to my house from here, everything could still be OK. I looked her straight in the eye; I put my face two inches from her face. I said, “This is where it ends.” This had worked with my partner a few hours earlier. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Everything’s going to be OK.” I gave her the green light to go on her trip. This time was different. My therapist probably interpreted that as, “The journey ends here, at the hospital.” I meant here in the car. Still though, I complied and followed her. After all, my best friend showed up here too, so it probably was all OK.
Five hours later, I was on the psych ward. I’d been in the emergency department. My mom had shown up. I had talked to my partner on the phone – it finally sunk in she was 6 hours away, and she and her family were turning straight around. My best friend had been with me. My therapist had left at some point. I’d peed in a cup. I’d gotten blood drawn. I’d signed some papers by drawing big loops over the entire page, not knowing what I was signing, exactly. But now, it was just me, and suddenly my choose your own adventure had come to a dead halt. There was no more choosing. I started yelling, panicking. “I NEED MY VITAMIN D PILL AND ELDERBERRY SUPPLEMENT!” I needed to maintain my body’s delicate homeostatic state. I was given a pill and took it; it was Haldol. It knocked me out for 18 hours. Before I faded out, the nurse was talking to me really sternly. She was really butch. “Do not start shouting on my unit – we don’t do that.” “I know I know it’s not like me at all…” “Also, you smell really strongly bad so I’m going to shut your door.” Then she started yelling. “He gets whatever he wants!” And I was out.
I was in the hospital for 4 nights (5 days) a little over a month ago, for psychiatric reasons. Although this was a very trying time and I was in an extremely vulnerable head-space, I was mostly treated with respect and dignity (as much as seemed possible, given the conditions). In terms of my trans-status, I was treated with respect and dignity across the board.
While in the Emergency / Admittance Area, my family and friends present must have spoken behind-the-scenes, on my behalf about the fact that I am transgender, because I didn’t mention it at all at that point. My friend later told me the intake leader (don’t know his exact title) told her that he has a transgender son.
Also my partner later told me there was signage throughout the hospital about their non-discrimination policies. I found this to be accurate in the way they run things. Everything was by schedule and protocol, no special treatment and in general no immediate response to a want (like, “can I get a pencil?” “Can I get a snack” elicited a quicker response.) At times, I found the ways they were doing things to be confusing, and I wasn’t explicitly told how things are run (when mealtimes are, when med times are, what is allowed and not allowed, etc.) I just picked up that information as I went along, as best I could. Not sure why that kind of stuff was never conveyed to me, but it all did make sense in terms of treating everyone fairly.
I got the sense that not every staff member got the memo about male pronouns, but the more “important” positions definitely did, and they took the lead on that when conversing with other staff members. For example, one of the team leaders asked an overnight staff person to “open the shower area for him,” and that staff member said, “What?” and looked confused. The team leader just repeated herself and no problem arose.
I was in an extremely fuzzy, drug induced state the first 24 hours of my stay. As I started to pull out of that and notice my surroundings, I picked up on certain things. If you woke up early enough to make it to the morning meeting at 8am, you could get non-decaffeinated coffee and also information about the day! I was surprised how few people came to the meeting (it felt like one of the highlights of each day.)
On the first day I was capable of making it to the meeting, I was still very much in my head and not at all with it. An out-of-character-for-me event happened. I interrupted the team leader 1 minute into the meeting. I stood up and went to the front of the room. I said I’m new here and introduced myself. I said I’m transgender and could everyone use male pronouns? (If only all comings-out could be this easy!!!!! I feel really proud of myself for this one.) Another patient asked excitedly, “What’s transgender? That means you were born a girl, right?” He seemed ready to continue conversing at length, but another staff member made attempts to derail him and get the meeting back on track, which worked immediately. I wasn’t done with my spiel yet though. I concluded with, “And there are no knives allowed – I heard that early on!” before sitting back down.
I also chatted with another patient about my transgender identity at one point.
The first day I was there, I did not have access to Androgel, but that seemed part of protocol – it takes time to clear personal belongings including prescriptions, maybe? I did not yet have my street clothes or reading material or slippers either. The second day, the nurse brought my Androgel and seemingly played dumb with how to apply it and how much. I told her I apply 1-2 pumps daily (I apply 1 pump, but my prescription states 1-2 pumps). I told her it’s supposed to be applied to your upper arms, but I do my thighs. I told her I have to go into my bathroom (in private) to apply the gel, and she waited for me. The other times she came with it, she referred to it as a spray and also as a patch. She was vague about my dosing. She let me do my thing and then hand it back to her. Although this all felt confusing, I think it was an attempt to convey, “this is your thing and we trust that you will take care of it. We don’t care what you are doing in this regard.” It felt validating.
Although the hospital was far from a pleasant experience, and I would say there were a couple of instances while I was in the emergency department in which I was treated as less than a person with dignity, in terms of my trans-status, they got it right, every step of the way.