I’ve mentioned before that I have been keeping a journal steadily since my first day on the psych unit. In this series, you’ll find transcriptions of journal entries I’ve been keeping since my first day on the inpatient unit. I’d like to share with you excerpts from each day, and then reflect on them a little, since I now have some distance from them. The journal entries are raw, stream-of-consciousness scribbling. I will edit out things that are redundant and redact people’s actual names, but beyond that these are the words I scrawled – sometimes with neat, steady hand; sometimes shaking with anxiety; sometimes frantic and manic. (My handwriting literally changes from entry to entry.) The ones from my first few days in the hospital, especially, are not written with any grace, or with much coherence. I was adjusting to medications and adjusting to the reality of my situation. Still, I think they may help give some insight into what it’s like to be on a psych unit, as well as present an opportunity to demonstrate the growth that has occurred since my initial intensive treatment.
11:10 AM: “New year’s off to a fantastic start – this has to be the low point of my life. I’m in a psych ward art group – watching people make mosaics and draw and looking at the work of former patients hanging on the wall. Some of it’s actually pretty cool. My anxiety is wicked high. I’m on the verge of a panic attack. So this journal is my grounding. There’s some banging, though, and that makes it hard. There’s a lot of noise, actually. I can’t believe I’m here. I’m angry at myself for needing this. I’m angry at every event that’s happened to get me here. I’m pissed I can’t cope on my own. I’m pissed I need help. Nightmares and flashbacks suck. There was a lady yelling in the ER last night and she sounded like my mom yelling at Tom to stop and I lost it. I’m angry at myself for being so scared of shit that already happened. I had to be a grown up for my whole life, and now that I’m an actual adult, I’m stuck feeling like a terrified kid and it sucks so bad. I can’t handle feeling so stuck and so hopeless that it will ever get better – which is why I’m here. It feels cosmically unfair that now that I’m finally safe, I fall apart and feel more in danger than ever before. I know I need to be here right now, but I’m so scared of what happens when I get out. I’m scared to face everyone. I’m so ashamed of myself. ………… I just need to keep reminding myself that this is what I need right now. I have to stop beating myself up over this. But I don’t know how. Maybe I’ll get there. I hope I get there. I hope I get better. I need to get better. This is brutal. I wish I had a cigarette.”
5:15 PM: “Ok, this fucking sucks. So bad. People check on me every 30 minutes. I’m panicky. I’m lonely. I wish I wasn’t here. I wish I could handle my shit on my own. I wish I hadn’t let this get so fucking bad. I promised Paige I won’t discharge until they say I’m ready, but my god do I want to. I want to pick up the phone and call someone and tell them how I’m feeling. But I don’t feel like I can. I still feel like I’m just a needy fucking child and I’m just draining everyone. ……. I know at some point I’ll say or do something to burn them out and make them sick of me. I KNOW that. …….. “No one can love you if they know HOW broken you are.” …….. They love the fun Sheila, sure – the tough Sheila – the strong Sheila – but who could ever love the broken, sad, heaping mess of pain and anger and awkwardness that is the real Sheila? I’m not strong right now. I’m weak as fuck. And I’m terrified. And I hate myself for being like this. Fuck everything right now. This fucking sucks. So much. I really hope this helps. I hope these doctors can do something to tape me back together. Please let them be able to help.”
So, these paragraphs are some (not all) of the thoughts I had and wrote down my first full day on the unit. I edited some out, because they were pretty repetitive. These sentences give a good overview of what I was feeling, though. As you can see, I was a big old ball of negative self talk and general angst. Stigma is a very real thing, and I can see my own internal stigma poking its grotesque face through every word I wrote in this entry. The idea that I am weak for needing support. The idea that I should have the will-power to push through on my own. The idea that I shouldn’t need help. I would never speak to a friend (or even a stranger) facing a mental health crisis in this way, but I was full of criticism for myself. Isn’t that often how we work, though? One of the group facilitators at Dartmouth said two things that I will always remember, “If my self talk were a movie, I’d get up and walk out of the theater.” and “If you could play the things you tell yourself out loud, everyone around would being crying for you.” And these things are true.
I think that everyone, to some degree, lives with their “inner critic.” That small voice in the back of your head that tells you you aren’t successful enough, you aren’t attractive enough, you aren’t smart enough, you aren’t rich enough, you are not enough. This critic is lying, of course. But when you’re living with substantial mental health struggles, that critic is in there with a megaphone and bright lights drawing all attention to itself until everything else is lost in the noise and the lies are all you can hear. Your lens gets so narrow, you can’t see anything beyond your self-loathing.
This is the kind of thinking that tends to land you in a psych unit, by the way. It’s the one thing that every single person on my floor had in common. It can come from many different places: bullies at school, abusive parents, teachers, extended family members, and partners. It can say different things, in different ways, but it always carries the same core messages: you are a failure, you don’t deserve love, you are defective, you are not enough.
It beats you to the ground with its cruelty. It warps your view of yourself until all you can see is that worthless shell of a human it wants you to believe is you. It is the source of that internalized stigma that prevents so many people from reaching out for help when they need it.
I will say, now, though, with complete confidence: going to the hospital was the best choice I could have made. There is no shame in needing therapy, medication, and support. There is no shame in needing more intensive, wrap around supports like IOP or PHP programs. And there is no shame in needing hospitalization. Reaching out for help is not only important, it could be life-saving. So, please, if you need help, ignore that inner critic and get it. You might hate yourself in the short term for needing it, but, as a friend of mine likes to say, your future self will thank you.
****** IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS SUICIDAL (OR YOU’RE JUST OVERWHELMED WITH ALL THAT NEGATIVE SELF TALK), CALL THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE AT 1-800-273-8255 FOR SOMEONE TO TALK TO. IF YOU ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER OF HURTING YOURSELF OR YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS, PLEASE CALL 911.