I’m a planner. I plan my day, my week, my year, the next decade of my life. It doesn’t seem to matter that most of my to-do list never gets done; I still plan because it’s makes me feel productive and safe. Like I am so in control of my life. One thing I did not plan on-EVER-was going to an adolescent psych ward (or any kind of treatment for that matter.) And yet, it happened. And it’s time to talk about it because, although it was totally unplanned and in some ways it was a horrible experience, it was apart of my journey.
Ironically, the night I entered the psych ward, it was the 4th of July. It’s ironic for two reasons. The obvious one being that yeah, I was going to a psych ward. The other reason being that during that time I was in a serious relationship with anorexia, which if you’ve dealt with an eating disorder yourself or any other mental illness or have even distantly known someone with one, you know that they are anything but “freeing.”
But as I rode in a cold shuttle bus at midnight on my way there, I felt scared, yes, but I also felt slightly relieved. Anorexia had taken over my entire life and I was tired (not to mention very hungry!) Some small part of me hoped that just maybe, this would be the answer. I was in an odd place mentally; I wasn’t in denial, per say, but I wasn’t completely accepting that I had an eating disorder. My relationship with food was a little screwed up and maybe I had lost a little weight but it wasn’t that bad.
But still I silently hoped that this was the answer; that I would leave in a few days, cured and happy and back to my old self.
Spoiler alert: This didn’t happen.
During the next 10 days, however, I learned more about humanity, mental illness, and the shame and stigma surrounding it than I had in my entire life.
I learned that a psych ward is not a cold dungeon, where they chain you and leave you for the rats. I actually had a pretty typical room as long as you ignored the fact that there were bars covering the window and that the desk and chair were nailed to the floor. Oh and that annoying little part where you had to get a nurse to unlock your bathroom.
I learned that people are people no matter where you meet them. I met some of the strongest, nicest people while I was there; I also met some of the meanest. They were not “crazy” in the sense that I imagined. They were people, just like me, who had gotten hit hard by life and coped with it the best way they knew how.
And I saw human rawness. I saw tears and heard angry words that had been held in for much too long. I saw the cloud of depression and despair hang over so many. I saw anger and frustration. In essence, I saw every human emotion known to man. I myself felt all of these emotions. I soaked my pancake thin pillow almost every night and prayed to God to make it go away.
And I did things that I am not proud of. I skirted around meals, trying to get away with the bare minimum, which was easy enough as none of the staff had ever dealt with eating disorders. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it; I was so entrenched in anorexia that I was blind to how disordered I truly was. But I still am very thankful to all the nurses who made me Ensure milkshakes and talked to me and sat with me during some very anxiety ridden meals. It goes to show that you don’t have to be an expert on something to make an impact.
In the end, I didn’t get all better; I actually made very little progress in terms of recovery and much work still lay ahead. But I wouldn’t take it back. Why? Because I met some amazing, inspiring people. Because I found that a lot of the lies surrounding mental illness were just that: lies. Because I found that I’m a lot stronger than I sometimes think. And because I learned a very important lesson: at our core, we all just vulnerable human beings, trying to get through this crazy journey we call life. We all struggle with different things, yes, but we all struggle.
For a long time, I wanted no one to even know about my stay in the psych ward. I thought people would judge me and label me “the crazy one.” I didn’t want anyone to know that hey, I had my breaking point too, that my life wasn’t always planned and color coded. But the shame cycle has to stop somewhere. Because guess what? It’s not shameful to have a mental illness or to seek help for it (again and again if you have to.)
Let’s admit that we all have problems and begin to accept that that is completely okay.