It’s hard to believe that it was 10 years ago this week that I had the worst and one of the best weeks of my life.
Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, I struggled with depression and anxiety. There were a couple of trips to the emergency room but no overnight stays. In February of 2004, one of my co-workers and the one who worked closest with me, took his own life. It hit me hard and I didn’t take it well. It was a week or two until his service in early March and by then I felt well enough that I went to his funeral and even spoke at it.
As the next couple of months went on, I went back and forth between having good days and bad. Between being anxious and maintaing a good facade. But I could feel the downward spiral starting. There was one day at work where I was so low, my store manager took me to the ER to make sure I was okay and not a threat to myself. I never fully appreciated or thanked him for that and, due to circumstances later, didn’t get that opportunity for a while. I went home the same day.
Going home meant sitting in my apartment by myself. I didn’t have a lot to distract myself with at home. I didn’t have cable, I didn’t have a lot of friends over, and at the time I didn’t do too many things outside of work to occupy my time. A lonely time and an unfortunate incubator for extreme overthinking.
After talking to my psychologist and psychiatrist, I thought I things would get better. Unfortunately, I suffered a major setback and had a major anxiety attack. This is when the thoughts of self-harm were the greatest. I went to the ER again and it was then that I decided, along with my family, that I needed help. Intense and focused help, not simply hour-long sessions on the couch.
After trying to decide on the best place to commit myself, I decided that Providence (now Swedish-Cherry Hill) would be the best place for me. Before entering, I had to have been the most scared ever in my life. I had no idea what it would be like but I knew I had to do it. Entering the psych ward was basically disconnecting yourself from the world. No phones allowed, no internet except during a specific hour of the day, no leaving the floor without permission and a specific plan. Things you take for granted no longer existed. There was no tv in the room so you didn’t spend all your time watching it. There were no locks on the door to the room or to the bathroom in case the nurses needed access. All your belongings like Discmans, pens, keys, were locked up in a locker and had to be checked out and only at specific times. There were mandatory group sessions throughout the day, although you could pick the order in which you did them. Oddly, there was one amenity afforded to the psych ward that wasn’t allowed anywhere else near the hospital: we had our own smoking porch. I certainly took advantage of that area.
Having arrived in the middle of the day, I got walked through the plan and the schedule for each day. I made my dinner selections and waited until my first group sessoin that evening. As it was my first session on my first day, I was allowed to listen without having to share too much. It was at this first session where I had the greatest awakening. As we went around the circle and I listened to the problems everyone was dealing with, how long they had been in the ward, the progress they had been making and more, it really put into perspective what I was dealing with. It wasn’t so much me minimizing my legitimate worries and issues but rather me realizing that these were things that didn’t have to be fatal. I could deal with these problems because they weren’t bigger than me. It was an amazing feeling.
I did end up sharing in the group and after the session, one of my doctors came to my room and talked to me. We discussed how I was feeling and he told me that based on what had happened and my realization, I didn’t need to spend the entire week at the ward like originally planned. After considering it for awhile, I decided it was best to stay the whole time and continue to work on myself. It’s amazing how much you can get accomplished when you don’t have the distractions of everyday life.
We weren’t allowed to have unlimited visitors. I only had one visitor that wasn’t family. I was truly thankful to have a friend/co-worker visit while I was there. It was one of the few times during the week I got to leave the ward and I even got to leave the hospital for a little bit. It was nice to have a little connection to the outside for a bit and nicer to have a familiar face with me. It was Cinco de Mayo and there was a special menu in the cafeteria that day. My menu selections didn’t refect that but I remember all the banners above the food advertising Choco Tacos. To this day, anytime I see a Choco Taco, it reminds me of May 5, 2004.
I don’t get to see the friend who visited me much anymore. There’s no good reason for that but even though I don’t get to hang out as much we used to or talk as much as we did, I know I have a friend who will always be there for me. I know that because she was there when I needed her the most. Giving me someone to socialize with both in and out of work, helping me get through the death of my co-worker and visiting me in the hospital meant more than I could ever express.
Anyway, 10 years later, whenever I feel like there is something that I feel might become overwhelming, I think back to that week and try to put it all into perspective. I used to not tell people about my experience thinking that people wouldn’t understand. But I think a lot of people could benefit from a similar experience. Not necessarily being in a psych ward for a week but just being able to be alone in a supportive environment without the distractions of the day to day grind. I’m certainly a better person for having done it.
And if you ever feel the same, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it. It’s never easy, you might feel ashamed about your emotions or you might think people won’t take you seriously. But communication is always the first step to feeling better. And if you notice someone who looks like they might be down, don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing. They won’t always want to talk about it and you shouldn’t press them if they don’t, but they will appreciate you even taking the time to ask. Sometimes that’s all someone needs. They just want to know someone cares. And if they do decide that they want to share, the best thing you can do is listen. People don’t always want answers or to be “fixed”, they just want to be heard.