Two nights ago, my mind broke. Or snapped back together. It’s still difficult to articulate, but regardless, two nights ago I found myself in a mental health crisis
This has happened before many times. Like too many others, when faced with the stigma associated with asking for help, with letting other people know I’m not okay, I’ve always stayed silent. Riding out the worst of it, praying it all works out okay, and doing it alone.
Not this time. This was the worst, most overwhelming, terrifying night of my life, and I couldn’t do it alone. So I’m the middle of the night my sixteen-year-old daughter drove me to the emergency room forty-five minutes away.
My husband was four states away, and dealing with a parent’s mental health crisis alone is not something any kid should go through. So, I did something else if never done before and messaged a friend saying I needed help.
So, I went to the hospital, and my friend came, and they drew blood and made me pee in a cup. And we waited.
After a couple hours a therapist from the local mental health center came to “screen” me. She spent five minutes in the room asking questions. She left for a few minutes, came back, and told me she was recommending I go for a voluntary inpatient stay at a hospital.
She even had a brochure. Her selling point was that it was the only hospital in the state that allows smoking. She explained to me that a voluntary stay meant I could leave at any point if I wasn’t comfortable being there. I agreed she could start the process of seeing if they had a bed.
She left my room and went out to the nurses station where I could see her through the blinds they told me I had to keep open. She say there for three hours. I walked past her once, towards the bathroom, and she never even looked up from her cell phone she was texting on. After three hours she got up, shuffled some papers, put here bag on her shoulder, and left. She never spoke another word to me.
Approximately three more hours passed before a nurse came in and told me it looked like there was a bed available. The only problem, she said, was that they wanted to make sure my port (I recently went into remission from breast cancer and still have the port I received chemo through) was flushed before I came. She offered to have someone come flush it for me.
ER nurses don’t typically deal with ports, and I learned there is definitely an advantage to someone with experience doing this. After being stabbed in the chest by three different nurses with four different needles, my port was flushed. Just in time for them to come tell me there wasn’t a bed after all.
We left the hospital with a prescription for valium and a promise someone would call if they found a bed somewhere.
That call came about an hour later from a doctor at a hospital that had an available bed. He explained the ins and outs of a voluntary hospital stay, and we started the two hour trip to get there.
Within the first few minutes of arriving, I was strip searched by a staff member who quite loudly introduced herself as a “mental health worker,” and my belongings were sorted into a laundry basket in the common area where other patients could see them. My friend and I were pointed to some chairs in the corner to wait for the nurse to finish checking me in.
Over the next two hours, we sat. The entire time my anxiety grew. The staff made me uncomfortable. I had briefly seen my “room” during the strip searched, and the bed sat barely a foot off the ground. Nothing felt right and I knew I didn’t need to be there.
What I needed, what I had expected when I asked for help, was someone to talk to me. Someone with training and skill to process with me everything I was overwhelmed with. Someone to help me look at where the flaws in my logic and assumptions were at. Someone to tell me, even if I was crazy, that I wasn’t alone in dealing with this.
I got a chair in the corner.
After a couple hours of now overwhelming anxiety, I told the nurse I wasn’t staying. She took me to a room where she explained to me that it was a locked ward and once I came in, I couldn’t leave. When I challenged her, she then told me if I wanted to leave I would have to be screened for involuntary treatment.
After I very assertively explained to her that I had some serious concerns about the hospital’s informed consent process, she discovered that in all the time I sat in the corner, no one had actually given me the paperwork I needed to sign to admit myself. Still, they called in a crisis worker to talk to me. In the end, it took them as long to unlock the doors as they had left me sitting in the corner.
I went home. I took a valium and I got more sleep than I had in two weeks. I woke with the same sense of overwhelming anxiety. I spent nearly 24 hours of my life trying to get help and got valium.
So I ran away. My children are being cared for, and I am at the first stop of a road trip to get out of my own mind and find a way to see things differently. I’m safe and I’m okay, but I’m alone. Because in the United States, even having excellent insurance is no guarantee you can get mental health care.
I want to be healthy and I want to be okay, but it looks like I’m going to have to figure it out, at least for now, on my own.
I’m not sharing my experience in a hope to deter anyone else from seeking care. Just the opposite. Mental health care is vital and we have to demand access to it. To quality care. I hope to find a way to someday do that. But for now, I’m going to work on getting my head screwed on straight.