There are few things that form a definitive milestone in one’s life quite like an extended stay in a Mental Hospital. So much pop-culture has explored this mecca of self discovery, but you may not realize that many of the Girl Interrupted/Cuckoo Nest films depict a world a little more idyllic than what actually awaits the mentally wayward. Besides the lack of attractive Hollywood talent, here are some of the more shocking truths that await you.
- You will most definitely get fat.
Any effort you have put into fitness leading up to your vacation from sanity is about to get blown straight to hell. The quality of the food varies from one facility to another, but considering they are serving cafeteria style fair to a likely unruly bunch, its gonna be full of carbs and all sorts of fatty, buttery, butt busters. I can’t say with 100% certainty that their goal is to constipate you, but prepare to not poop for at least a week. Add in the fact that a great deal of comfort will come from vending machine sodas and candies and you have a perfect storm of bad health decisions within reach in a confined space you cannot escape.
And for added punch, your medication is gonna fluctuate, which opens the door for all sorts of metabolic shenanigans. Which leads us to…
2. You will be pulled off your meds, only to be over medicated like a member of Pink Floyd.
This sounds awful, but from a medical stand point it makes sense. Most of the people in there with you are simply struggling with a meds issue. People grow resistant to their medication and eventually spiral out of control. The best way to make adjustments to one’s chemistry is to detox and start from a blank state. Add on to the emotional damage an extended period of faulty meds can wreck on the brain, and the best way to bring a person down from such lofty heights of delusion is to flood their brains with artificial calm.
People are often very belligerent and in a menagerie of irrational thoughts. The first goal of treatment is getting patients to ATTEND treatment. Sedated patients are typically much more passive and cooperative. It can be a recipe for relaxation and involuntary acceptance of one’s surroundings which is great if the thing that sent you to the loony bin was anxiety. But for others there is also the possibility of uncontrollable gas and dry body parts that are otherwise supposed to remain moist.
Regardless of the side affects, you are going to need this period of “I don’t give a f*%ck,” because despite what you might believe.
3. This is not a damn vacation.
I was under the impression that the mental hospital would be a place of isolation and calm. I needed some quiet to put myself back together with the aid of constant therapy and a feeling of security. Nothing could have been further from the truth. You are jammed in there with a throng of people just as, and likely even more messed up then you. You will share your living space with bi-polar depressives, paranoid schizophrenics, panicky Alzheimer patients, and even sufferers of alcohol and heroin withdrawal.
The last one threw me for a loop. There were two halves to my hospital. One ward handled mental illness on it’s own and the other was devoted to drug rehab. Modern medicine typically looks at drug addiction as a MENTAL health problem, so after detox, addicts will filter into the mental only ward to explore the root of their problem.
Every single person you meet in this facility will trigger the ever living shit out of every single mental hangup you ever nurtured. You will flow with hate and break like glass on an almost hourly basis. It is unrelentingly awful. And you know what? That’s the whole point.
Those breaking points are your opportunity to actually explore and identify the irrational parts of your psyche. You won’t get better in a sheltered and peaceful environment. You must be led to the source of your dysfunction, or in this case constantly bombarded with it like a soldier storming the beach at Normandy. Once you realize this, you can begin to engage with your therapy and take an honest look at yourself. You may even leave with a few new, interesting phobias. To this day I get horrified at the very sight of balloons due to an exercise involving a volleyball style exercise where a fellow patient thought the balloon was his father and constantly slammed it into my face.
You need to come to this realization quickly as well because…
4. Your time is short.
Before I went on my “mental vacation,” my father told me it would be the biggest mistake of my life because they would never let me out.
Good God he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mental health treatment costs money. The olden days where people would just lock up the feeble minded and relegate them to the “ward of the state” status is over. Your stay is often dictated by the whims of your insurance. Better insurance means a longer stay. The need of care isn’t really the true barometer for the amount of treatment you receive. The average stay in my facility was one week, so it was important to come to Jesus quick if you wanted to get true benefit.
Lastly, the duration of your stay has a positive benefit. My dad also thought my reputation and life would be ruined with the label of mental illness following me around forever. That is also thankfully false. I kept my job and suffered no consequences due to my care. If anything, my workplace was more than happy to keep up the slack while and went and glued the broken pieces of my mind back together.
To close out this piece, if you need psychiatric care GO! Regardless of the specifics to your facility, or the insurance qualms, or the comfort of your bowel movements, the benefits of treatment are real. I can attest firsthand that nothing gets better without some form of treatment. Don’t hesitate, get the help you need.
For more check out my memoir detailing the experience and learn of the circumstances that landed me in psychiatric care in the first place!