My Summer in the Psych Ward

TRIGGER WARNING: DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, SUICIDAL IDEATION 

Picture the opening of the movie, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. A clinically depressed teenager checks himself into the hospital late at night after dealing with suicidal ideation in the middle of New York City. He tells the doctors he feels stressed, overwhelmed and scared. Now replace this teenage boy with a twenty-year-old girl and replace New York City with London, Ontario. This is a recount of the two weeks I spent in the adult psychiatric unit of Victoria Hospital this past summer. 

To put this story into context, I’ve dealt with borderline personality disorder (BPD) for years. BPD essentially causes unstable relationships, self-image issues, impulsive behaviour, and trouble regulating moods, among other things. After spending weeks dealing with increasing financial stress, an awful breakup, a failed summer school course, and so much more, I didn’t feel safe being alone at home. I had never feared for my life this deeply before, so I knew it was time to get help. 

It turns out University Hospital does not have a psychiatric department, so they kept me overnight in the emergency ward before sending me off to Victoria Hospital in the morning. The staff at University hospital all tried to be very understanding and considerate of my situation. However, my memory is a little spotty, as I spent most of that night and the next few days disassociating. Once I arrived at Victoria Hospital, I spent another day and a half in the emergency room while I waited for a bed in the psychiatric ward to open up. Although I was in the emergency department, while I waited to be admitted into the psychiatrist unit, I was assigned a personal support worker to monitor everything I did, escort me to the washroom, and make sure I stayed safe. Luckily for me, she was very sweet and continuously printed off crosswords for me to do while I waited to go into the psychiatric ward. 

Once a bed opened up, I was escorted upstairs to the adult psychiatric unit. After several long, dimly lit corridors, we reached a security desk. The backpack I brought,  containing a change of clothes, a blanket, a stuffed animal (for comfort), and toiletries, was taken and locked up behind the desk, along with my phone charger and hair clips. I was searched with a metal detector and eventually led into a meeting room where a nurse and a nursing student explained that I had been put on a form three. A form three means they can keep me in the hospital up to 14 days, more if I seem too unwell to leave, and less if I seem to be making good progress. Following this discussion, I was given a tour of the floor, which was essentially a few hallways, a dining hall, a TV room with a singular exercise bike, a tiny library, and the showers. I was then left alone in my graffiti-covered room with my new roommate, an older lady who often whispered to herself and angrily glared at me. 

There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the psych ward, as one can expect. The worst part was that I could only charge my phone using the outlet behind the nurses’ station since we couldn’t have chargers in our rooms. This gave me hours to fill without any connection to the outside world. On the first night, I was given some colouring sheets and pencil crayons to help me kill some time. I also started reading The Help, which was enjoyable, but unfortunately, I never managed to get through it. Additionally, they brought me my first hospital meal, which luckily tasted a lot better than it looked. 

her campus western, psych ward Original photo by Liv Saldua           My first dinner in the hospital, which they told me was “vegetarian lasagna”. 

On the second day, I decided to leave the tiny little window and graffiti in my room and take a walk around the floor. This was one of the best decisions I could have made because while I was walking around this tiny square I got to call home for the next fourteen days, I met a ton of people who I’m still friends with to this day. I met Noah first, and it turned out he knew most of the people on our floor and was kind enough to introduce me to them. Meeting people my own age on the floor helped me to feel less alone in what I was going through. I also met a ton of wonderful ladies who reminded me of my mum. I’m not sure if it was all the kindness they were showing me and advice they were giving me or the fact that they were mothers themselves, but being around them provided me with a sense of comfort. 

her campus western, psych ward Original photo by Liv Saldua           Noah and I on our third day of being friends.

While we’re on the topic of mothers, mine came to visit me while I was in the psych ward. My mum has been one of the biggest supporters in my battle with mental health issues, and seeing her was very bittersweet. My mum is one of the strongest people I know, and throughout my life, she has only cried in front of me a handful of times. I had never given much thought to how what I was going through affected the people closest to me before, but seeing her burst into tears when she saw me in the hospital for the first time was heartbreaking.  She brought me some outfits (She was only allowed to bring me three changes of clothes), so I was finally able to wear something other than the uncomfortable hospital gowns I was only allowed to have on until that point. Thankfully, she also brought me things to keep my boredom at bay, like a journal to write in and my tarot cards. I introduced her to all my new friends and showed her around the floor before she left that evening. 

her campus western, psych ward Original photo by Liv Saldua           My mum seeing how (un)comfy my bed is.

Days became more or less the same. I’d wake up around 8:30 am (quite a feat for someone who’s usually up around 11 or 12) for breakfast and a vitals checkup, then take a shower. We were given a 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body wash to use in the showers, which were just empty rooms with a showerhead and a drain.  Between the water never being quite hot enough and the knowledge that someone would come check on me every ten minutes, I ended up taking pretty quick showers. Following my speedy shower, I would typically have a cup of tea and just hang around with my friends in the common area. None of us really had a concept of time in the hospital, we just knew the times they would bring us food and the times in between. We would usually spend our days walking laps around the floor or napping. It was just nice to be able to hang around people my own age who understood what I was going through on a personal level because we were all going through it together. At night, those of us in our twenties would hang out in the dining area and do tarot readings or colour and just talk about life. Before we went to bed we would get our vitals taken again and be given our medications.

Every morning, we would meet with our assigned psychiatrists so they could assess us and determine whether or not we were making sufficient progress. Imagine my relief and excitement when mine said I could go home a few days early! She explained to me that as long as I had psychiatric support outside of the hospital, I would be okay. My mum came to pick me up that same day and took me home. Although I was missing my friends, we all got out within a few days of each other, and plan on having reunions every now and then. 

When I got home, I rewatched It’s Kind of a Funny Story because I wanted to see how much of the film accurately portrayed the psychiatric ward experience.  life, and it turns out it more or less is. The movie hit the nail right on the head when it came to depicting the bonds you form with other patients. It was also surprisingly realistic in the way it portrayed group therapy, the communal phone we use to call home, and the fact that your roommate may not be someone you would expect. The only thing that was wildly untrue was the ending of the movie when they have a pizza party in the psych ward. You cannot, in fact, have pizza delivered to the psych ward, and the only reason I know this is because there was one late night that we tried and then were promptly sent to bed by the nurses. 

Overall, I would say that as poorly as I was feeling, the psych ward was an all-around positive growth experience. It was good for me to go to a place where all I had to worry about was feeling what I felt and knowing I was safe. The staff were kind, for the most part, I was given resources to continue coping with my illness, and I made lots of friends that I’m still in contact with today. Being in the hospital also gave me a chance to realize what a solid support network I have in the outside world. With my mum coming to visit, my family texting me constantly, and my best friends video calling me every day, I felt so loved and supported when I needed it most. I also realized needing a little extra help is totally okay, whether it’s through therapy, medication, or even hospitalization. So many people told me they were glad I went in and got help, and honestly, I am too. It truly doesn’t take long for things to start getting better. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the 24/7 Canadian Crisis Hotline at 833-456-4566, or visit camh.ca for more information regarding mental health assistance. Help is always available.

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