I have not written anything on E2 for several years now, primarily due to my overwhelming depression
and a fall back into drug use
. I've suffered from schizoaffective disorder
for about six years (yes I hear voices sometimes but I'm not paranoid of people nor am I violent), and have been suicidal on numerous occasions. In 2012 I was assaulted and left with a brain injury that made it difficult for me to speak or write for almost six months. I've been clean
now for over a year.
In the past three years I have been hospitalized nine times due to my troubles, and I thought I would share my experiences of each of these on here. Psych wards vary in decency, and I spent time in five different hospitals. These personal accounts might prove interesting to those who are curious about what goes on in such places. This is a long write-up but there's plenty of other experiences I might write about in the future about this terrible period of my life. I'd prefer to share more about the events leading up to each hospitalization, but for brevity's sake I'll try to give only the necessary information. There are nine of these, so here we go...
During the summer of 2010 my depression had reached a critical state. My anti-depressants
had stopped working completely in June and by August I was having days where the pain was so awful it was indescribable
. I drove to work one morning (a part-time job I could barely hold onto in the first place) feeling like I was going to explode
, and immediately walked into the manager's office screaming and in tears. I told them I needed to go to the hospital. My mother picked me up and drove me, and when I arrived at the ER I told the front desk I was depressed and needed help because I didn't know what I might do.
After I was seen I was told that I had to stay in the hospital psych ward for at least three days. I was not aware until then of the 72-hour hold they are required to do with a suicidal individual. I guess I was hoping the doctor could just give me some new magical med right there and then let me go, but no. So eventually I was wheelchaired up three floors to an eight-room wing at Southeast Georgia Medical System.
Of all the places I've stayed, this was the best one and probably the least interesting in terms of events there, but it was my first, so I was simultaneously on edge and exhausted from my emotional state the first two days. When I was first wheeled in a young woman walked by on her way to the med room and smiled at me. I quickly looked away. Why was she here? What was wrong with her? Nothing too dissimilar to what I was dealing with, I would learn later.
There were two beds to a room and luckily nobody else was in mine. Each room had its own bathroom and shower with a door that closed but wouldn't lock. There was a T.V. room at the end of the hall, and no one was there either so I watched The Simpsons in peace before going to my room for the night. One of the upsides to this hospital besides the kind staff was the fact that there were so few people staying there. This was not the case at every place I would visit, unfortunately, but it would be another year before my experiences became a little more Ken Keysian.
I was told I'd see the doctor in the morning and at approximately 8 a.m. a man walked in my room along with three other people holding clipboards. I sat up, rubbed my eyes and stared at what appeared to be a team of people on my case. Yep. A team.
The others turned out to be interns, however, and I sobbed to the doctor for about ten minutes about all my pain and how all the medicines I'd been using the past few years had stopped working. He gave me the name of a med he was going to try, and even though I was certain it wasn't going to work and that I needed something more drastic ("Are you going to tell me how to do my job?" he asked), I quieted down and waited for medication rounds later in the day.
At this hospital they had three group meetings each day- at nine a.m., one p.m. and six p.m. At the morning meeting you filled out a piece of paper describing how you felt that morning and what your goal was for the day. There were four other people at that first meeting I attended. The girl I saw when I came in the night before who was bi-polar and suicidal, an older man with depression and alcohol problems, a woman in her fifties who suffered from extreme anxiety, and another man who never spoke. I did not find out what the last man was struggling with.
Each of us had to speak at least a little about what was going on with us at that moment (the one man excluded), and then we were let go. Each meeting was like this. Nothing too strenuous.
Lunch was served before eleven on that wing (they had a whole hospital to feed), but the food here was honestly not bad. You could even order chicken strips or hamburgers and French fries if you wanted sometimes.
I was given my new medication a little after noon, and this time around, it worked. My mother visited me around two in the afternoon, and half way into my conversation with her I started feeling more talkative and upbeat, and by the time she left I was feeling much better.
That same afternoon a woman brought a Wii game system into the T.V. room for us to play. We played baseball and it was enjoyable. The next morning when the doctor came to visit me I told him how much better I felt and thanked him. I asked if I could leave but he told me I should stay for at least one more day. That afternoon I spent time talking to the woman with debilitating anxiety. She wasn't doing that much better but our conversation was good; she felt safer being in the hospital. I remember one more person being admitted that night, a woman who was coming off heroin. I was allowed to leave by noon the next day.
Several months after that first hospital stay I unfortunately met someone at my job who re-introduced me back into the world of drugs. I'd been clean for over three years, but the following years of my depression and psychosis
left me vulnerable to my own weaknesses, and although my new medication had been helping I was still having difficulties. I began using 1-2 days a week, and by late February of 2011 I was in another critical state
that led me back to the E.R. I assumed I'd be sent up to the third floor of the Southeast Georgia hospital again, but this would not be the case as that ward was full. In fact the hospital was so overrun that day they had no rooms in the E.R. available so I was stationed on a stretcher
in the hallway from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., unable to rest as the hub-bub of the place went on around me.
In the pre-dawn hours the nurse told me my ride would be coming to send me to Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah. Soon after a police officer showed up who handcuffed me and drove me one hour north of Brunswick. Walking into this new facility, I knew it wasn't going to be the same type of place I was prior.
This time I was facing two large rooms divided by a glass wall with a doorway, and an elevated nurses station on one side connected to both rooms. Along the opposite side were doorways to two other rooms, each with eight beds apiece, one for men and one for women. There was a room on one side of the nurses station with bathrooms and shower stalls, which I later found out was for both men and women. The showers were open and the toilets had doors that wouldn't fully close. You basically just had to be wary of other people when you entered.
It probably had to do with it being the wintertime or something, but this place was full of people too. I had to wait almost eight hours until I was processed before I was allowed to go lay down on my designated bed. There were no doors to the bedrooms either, and people were allowed to stay up all night in the main room watching T.V. if they wanted so you just had to bear the noise. (Every other place I'd go to besides this one had you be in bed by 10 p.m.)
Some of the individuals staying here were more questionable. More than one person had a disturbing look on their face or seemed to be acting funny, and one guy with dreads kept sitting by the women and staring at them uncomfortably. He did this to me a while as I was eating the peanut butter sandwich they tossed to me for lunch, but I ignored him and thankfully he went away.
I tried watching the T.V. with a broken corner of the screen for a while (someone had thrown something at it at some point), but the volume was so low you could barely hear it due to all the noise around you. You had to ask an attendant to change the channel, which they would or would not do depending on their mood. Early that first evening a grey-haired man was admitted who yelled aloud every few minutes his grievances with the government, among other random annoyances he had on his mind, and this became irritating very quickly. For the remainder of my time there- for two more days- he... never... stopped. An attendant would tell him to be quiet once or twice a day, but to no avail.
Dinner that night was something else. The food here was so bad I found it to be mostly inedible, and I'll tell you that I'm really not that picky- especially when hungry. But I barely managed a few bites and the same went for the next couple of days.
For some reason I did not get my medication that night- the one I was already taking and needed to take until the doctor prescribed something new.
The next day I saw a psychiatrist who decided to add Abilify to my current medication. Even though Abilify had stopped working for me a few years before I told her I'd give it another shot.
On the way out of her office I noticed a short hallway to the left leading to another room. The door to it had an extremely thick round glass window in the center, and when I peeked inside I saw a black stretcher bolted into the floor with straps hanging down from the sides. This was what they called the "bubble room," for patients who got out of hand. Yay.
I also discovered that occasionally someone from that ward would get sent to another section, Ward 6, but I would not be headed to that ward yet. Not this trip.
A middle-aged woman was admitted that second day who seemed completely devastated. She cried nonstop. There was a particular nurse there who was extraordinarily rude to all the patients, and at one point when the crying lady walked by her the nurse made a face and exclaimed "Ew! Ew! Get away from me!" as she scuttled off. Very professional.
Again that night I did not get my medication. I asked why and the nurse told me she hadn't received what she needed from the doctor.
I needed my medication.
By noon the next day I was very weak and slightly dizzy. I told them I needed to see the doctor and they said I'd have to wait my turn. As I was holding on to the edge of a couch to help me stand, I watched my psychiatrist walk towards her office on the other side of the room. I tried to reach her but fell to the ground two feet in front of her, knocking down a few chairs to my right. Everyone looked on shocked as I cried and told her I hadn't been given my medication. An attendant nearby took me to the cafeteria, gave me a bologna sandwich and managed to fetch my meds. Afterwards I went and laid down while I waited for my medicines to take effect. Taking both at the same time actually made me sick to my stomach, but I didn't care. I just wanted out of there.
This was the third day so I called my mother and pleaded for her to come get me as soon as possible. I almost screamed when she told me she was busy all day with meetings, but thankfully my aunt was kind enough to make the drive up to Savannah and rescue me.
My drug problem continued. By August of that same year I was back upstairs at Southeast Georgia Medical System, this time with a two week stay. My doctor was the same I had before, which I'd requested since I had actually been visiting him at his private practice since May. We'd developed a close relationship; he'd helped me a lot on several occasions and he really wanted to see me clean. I was content to stay there for two weeks because it kept me away from the temptation
of drugs and there they could monitor/adjust my meds on a daily basis.
Memorable people on this ward included a woman who had taken a cocktail of drugs while drinking at a bar and was tasered by police outside the place when she became irate. She was technically dead for two minutes, she said. Also a middle-aged woman who had grown increasingly dependent on her Xanax medication- eventually she'd barricaded herself in her bedroom and held a knife to her throat, prompting her sister to call the police.
The latter lady was a complete mess the first few days of her stay, but was doing tremendously better by the time she left the following week. Both were easy to talk to and made the time pass by quicker while I was there.
Once more, after the afore-mentioned visit, I continued my drug use. I moved to a new apartment where things steadily worsened. I started hallucinating
regularly when I was sober and I would go into trances, and one night- actually a brief spell when I'd been sober for three weeks and feeling almost okay- I was shaken and thrown out of my bed at two a.m. by an invisible force
. I began hanging out with an increasingly sketchy/dangerous crowd, and on March 15, 2012, I was beaten and raped
by someone I'd foolishly allowed into my apartment that night. (I might write about this event with more detail in the future, but I don't know.) Again my mother drove me to the hospital, and I don't remember much about the process of getting checked in except that I was flailing all over the place and speaking unintelligibly as they wheeled me to a bed in the E.R. They injected shots of Haldol
in my ass and when I awoke I was being transported by ambulance to the lovely Georgia Regional in Savannah once again.
I slept in the back of the ambulance during the ride, and slept on a couch in the waiting area while the five-hour process took place before I could claim a bed. A young man woke me briefly to take pictures of my two black eyes. I pretty much slept for three days- even though I can't remember I must have gotten up for my meds and to eat a few meals- and on the third day I forced myself to get out of bed and take a shower. You can imagine how bad I smelled.
The showers here were ice-cold and the water never heats up, and the water automatically turns off every 60 seconds so you have to keep pushing a button to turn it on again, but afterwards I felt a great deal better. Even though the medicine I was taking at the time was yet to be changed or adjusted, it seemed to be working far more effectively after I'd been at the hospital for several days.
The place was still a mess and the same apathetic workers ran the place as the year before, but this time around I was more thankful and accepting. My situation had become so bad, I felt safe in this disturbing hospital. I even seemed to be able to tolerate the food a little more, and I was able to have decent conversations with some of the others residing there.
I was kept on that ward for a full week while they tried to find a rehab facility for me to go to that had room and that wasn't too expensive for my mother. (I had no insurance and all the places that were free had no vacant spots.) No one was supposed to stay on that ward for that long, so by the end of the week they had to walk me over to the all female section of Ward 6.
This section was basically one very large room with five bedrooms branching off the sides, each of these with three to five beds. There was a television on one end and a set of bathrooms and showers on the other. A medication room next to the entrance and a nurse's station across from it. As they took care of my paperwork when I first entered, I saw no one in the large center room except a girl who appeared to be in her early twenties standing still in the middle of the room, swaying slightly back and forth. I doubt I'd ever seen such dark circles under someone's eyes. She stared at me zombie-like as I stood by the nurse's station. This section usually held around 15-20 people at any given time, and the rest of the them at this time were in the bedrooms napping.
The center room had several long rows of chairs directed at the t.v. and a few round tables that sat four people behind those. I sat in a metal chair in one of the rows and watched as the young girl started to walk around the room maybe three times before she stood still again, swaying for several minutes, and then again took a walk around the room. She would do this for the majority of the week while I was there.
Some of the women in here had rather extreme cases of paranoid schizophrenia and had to be watched fairly closely by a line of three attendants who sat in front of the long glass-encased nurse's station. One girl had a tendency to walk up to people and rear her arm back like she was about to punch them, although usually she was able to be stopped by an attendant specifically meant to monitor her. I found it very unsettling to see her do this since I'd just been beaten up barely a week before, and her attendant made a point to keep her further away from me after I let her know how much it bothered me.
A few other girls with paranoia would flip out on occasion, often towards someone next to them who they felt for sure was about to harm them somehow. One black woman with a lazy eye swore she heard two girls in a nearby corner plotting to attack her.
There was another somewhat zombified young black woman with wild hair who had a bed next to mine, and at some point during my first day she took the Bible next to my bed. (Although I'd never been religious my mother had packed one for me just in case.) When I noticed it was missing I asked the girl about it.
"That was my Bible. It's not yours." She sat on her bed with her legs crossed, staring at me in a daze.
"Yeah it was hers." A skinny girl sitting behind her spoke. Okay. Letting that go.
There were maybe three girls during this visit who were lucid and kind enough to talk to. Other than that I kept to myself during the remainder of the week until they finally managed to find a rehab center in Atlanta for me.
A lot happened in the two and a half months between the last hospitalization and this one, but I won't go into everything. After six weeks I was forced to leave the rehab center in Atlanta because I took medication for an extreme sinus infection
while I was still at the doctor's, rather than waiting to take it to the nurse in the main office where I'd have it administered. I had no idea such a thing would prompt them to kick me to the curb
, but it did.
Making another long story short, a month later a slew of cop cars surrounded me while I was walking in a neighborhood with nowhere to go. I was clean (I'd used one night about a week before), but mentally I was a wreck. The cops were sure I was up to no good, but really I was just homeless. I asked them to call an ambulance because I was suicidal.
Off I went up to Savannah for a third time. This time it was only four hours after I arrived that I was sent to Ward 6, and here I would stay for another week until a new rehab center could be secured. The girl who was always trying to punch people was still there, but she was less volatile this time around. The first bedroom I was placed in had a girl who seemed nice and ostensibly normal when lucid, but about four or five times a day, for an hour each time, she would retreat from reality and fiercely argue with an invisible person. She usually paced while she did this, and she would talk very low and fast with a panic in her voice.
She began doing this in the room while I tried to take a nap that first afternoon. As nicely as I could I asked her if she could go into another room so I could rest.
"I'm talking to God," she said, annoyed. I gave up on the nap and left the room.
Eventually I was put in another room where I had only one roommate. She seemed nice and fairly quiet, but I could tell something was off about her. One time in the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of her talking to someone excitedly. I looked over and saw that she was holding her hand up like it was a puppet.
"Hello," she said when she noticed me looking. "This is Sherry." Her puppet hand moved to indicate that it was who she was talking about. "Sherry says hello."
I quietly got up and walked out to the two attendants on duty. I told them the situation and asked if I could be moved to another room. They laughed and said she was harmless, and that I was not allowed to switch rooms. I returned and told the girl in a friendly voice that I needed to sleep, and she stopped talking.
A tall black woman was on the ward who had almost no hair because she'd burned it in a fire she'd started. She got very riled up at one point and it took five people to drag her to the floor so they could give her a shot. She was placed in the bubble room.
There were several others I could talk about, but this is already awfully long. I'll just mention that during this stay there were three other relatively normal women to talk to, and everyday the four of us would sit at a table on a far end of the room, play cards and watch the others around us warily (and sometimes amused). Eventually they sent me to a cost-free rehab facility that was back in Brunswick.
I completed the short stint at this rehab center (this one lasted only two months), and while there they placed me on Geodon
, the best medication I had tried thus far. Two weeks after I was out however, "the voices" told me they were taking away my meds and within three days all positive effects of Geodon were gone. My doctor immediately tried some of my old standbys but nothing worked. Within another two weeks I was using again. By mid November of 2012 I was once again at the Brunswick hospital.
I forgot to mention previously that the cozy 3rd floor psych ward at this hospital had been closed earlier that year because it cost the hospital too much money to keep it running. I was certain I'd be sent to Georgia Regional again but this time they told me there was a bed at the Crisis Center right there in Brunswick. I'd heard about Crisis but for some reason until then I had been under the impression that it was only for drug detox.
Crisis was basically one long hallway, with a swell in the center as a main lounging area. One end of the hall was administrative offices and the other was bedrooms for the men and women. There was a small t.v. room with another screen that was slightly messed up due to an angry outburst. There were maybe 14 working channels and a short stack of the worst movies ever made. (I cannot remember most of the titles but it included "Witless Protection," starring Larry the Cable Guy.) The bathroom and showers closed and locked though, and there was warm running water. The food wasn't bad here, and the staff as a whole were probably the nicest I'd encountered so far.
My first few days were miserable since I was still in a suicidal state, and all I did really was sleep. By the third day I started feeling a little better, and I staked my place in the t.v. room and proceeded to watch whatever was available- anything to keep my mind off of negative thoughts.
I would stay here for two weeks. Seventy-five percent of the patients ("consumers" they were always called in these places) were going through drug detox. A lot of sounds of people throwing up in the bathroom in the middle of the night. A few had anger management problems. My roommate during most of my stay was a suicidal alcoholic German woman who I got along really well with. These rooms had only two beds each, with doors that could fully close. The place could hold up to 15 consumers.
Two group meetings a day were held Monday through Friday, in which a counselor would work to motivate us and ask us general questions about what we could do in the future to change our lives for the better. AA meetings were held on Tuesday nights and NA meetings were held on Thursdays.
On the weekends a very friendly and outgoing probation officer part-timed as an attendant, and he would bring in a large box of better movies and even some bootlegged ones. He would also generously buy us good soda and snacks on Sundays.
I spent Thanksgiving in Crisis, but the workers made it as nice as possible and brought in some delicious Thanksgiving dishes they made themselves. The doctor even overrode the rules and let us have caffeinated coffee from Dunkin Donuts that morning.
My doctor here was a nice man who tried a very new medication on me, which of course didn't work, but despite that I started feeling better by the second week and I found a half-way house to move into when I left.
About two months into living at the half-way house I'd started having occasional visual hallucinations, and my depression worsened again to the point where I had to return to the hospital. No bed available at Crisis, but alas, one was offered at St. Illa, another Crisis-like center about an hour south in Waycross
, Ga. Luckily no Georgia Regional again.
St. Illa was set up in a similar fashion to Crisis. The workers were not as friendly here, but the television had Dish and the food was honestly close to outstanding. (I'd heard a girl at the half-way house raving about the food here.) Again I slept the first three days, waiting for my chemical imbalance to somehow improve despite the fact that no meds were helping. On day three I set up camp in the t.v. room, and this is where me and a few others would get hooked on the Law and Order SVU and NCIS marathons for the next two weeks.
St. Illa during this time had more men residing on the unit. A 12-3 ratio. Although this place seemed to have the strictest rules in keeping the men and women from over-interaction, it seemed more of them tried to break these rules than anywhere else. Not a lot really, but enough to make me a little uncomfortable at times. I'd say overall the other patients were friendly and unintimidating though.
Group meetings were held 5 times a day at St. Illa, which I hated. The first number of days I either didn't go (despite their many attempts to get me out of bed) or I was pissy during the gathering if they tried to make me speak.
I was faring better by the second week, but the voices warned me a few days before I left that things were about to get worse.
Three days after I returned to the half-way house, my brain started severely messing up again, this time maybe worse than ever. I was crying almost all the time (even though I tried to hide it), and I thought I was about to flip out during the serenity prayer
at an A.A. meeting one night. This went on for almost a week, and then eventually one day I felt like I was retreating into a ghost world
in my head, where nothing felt real around me and the only comforting thought was of being strapped in a straight-jacket
in a padded room. Honest.
I sat awake and in tremendous pain all night that night, and in the early morning hours went into the kitchen for a butcher knife
. One of the girls wrestled the knife out of my hand and took me to the hospital.
I was screaming while sitting on the floor of the E.R. for a while. They gave me an Ativan but it didn't help. I was sent to Crisis where an orderly saw how bad I was doing and offered me shots of Haldol and Ativan, but again these did nothing. For the next few days I cried my eyes out and had horrendous nightmares. One night I woke up and hallucinated that they locked a psychotic murderer in the room with me and I screamed until someone ran down the hall and opened the door.
I was somewhat better about five days later, but not much. One of the workers noticed that it was my birthday one day and actually bought me a cake and everyone sang to me. I was still in a daze but very thankful for their kindness.
Two weeks later I was released and although I wasn't suicidal anymore my anxiety level seemed to have increased permanently. The woman who ran the half-way house would take it a little easer on me for the rest of time there.
I continued having short bouts of hallucinations and "ghost retreats," I called them, a few days a month for several months. The head of the half-way house helped me look into getting electroconvulsive therapy
(ECT)- commonly known as "shock treatment
", and we attempted to get things in motion for this treatment at Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., about an hour away. We ran into all types of problems trying to get this set up, and by the first week in June of 2013 I needed to be hospitalized again. The woman who was helping me drove me down to Baptist so I could be taken care of in their psych ward.
Baptist Hospital was in downtown Jacksonville and sat right alongside the St. Johns River. The psych ward here had large windows in every room facing the river, which was really beautiful, especially at sunset. The workers weren't always nice, but some of them were okay. The food wasn't particularly good but it was edible. Every consumer I met here was friendly.
They had two televisions here with cable so a large group of us watched a lot of SVU, Pawn Stars and Antiques Roadshow. There was an elderly lady there who had tried to kill herself at some point, but had survived and her memory was in complete disarray. She no longer had a proper timeline in her head, and couldn't remember how long ago she'd tried to kill herself. It could have been months or days.
I was not a big fan of my psychiatrist at Baptist. He seemed easily irritated and he said I couldn't have ECT until I completed a set of tests for him that I wouldn't get a chance to take for another two months. I did improve during my stay and I was released eight days later.
It is now January 2014 and I have not been hospitalized since last June- but if I do end up going back I'll probably add to this write-up. Medications are still not working, but things have been going slightly better. I was given the ok for ECT but I haven't made an appointment yet. I have not hallucinated in about seven months or retreated into the ghost world, but my depression and anxiety varies from day to day. The voices and symbols never leave, but the severity of them alter occasionally. As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece I have been clean for about thirteen months, and although I'm still dealing with some of the trauma
I've experienced over the last few years, I will continue to hope and try for a better future.