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The Turning Point in My War
I entered the psychiatric ward of the hospital disconcerted, anxious, and scared. The bright lights, cold air, and childishly decorated walls were a new sight for me. Hospital staff sat at their desks, took my impermissible clothes and personal belongings, and put them into bags to be taken by my parents who were still with me physically. I walked down the corridor, following a staff member to my new room, unable to be told how long I was going to be living there. I was given a set of paper thin bed sheets to go along with my bare, twin sized mattress. The one window overlooked the commons in the middle of the hospital; however, the window was sealed shut and marked with writing from a countless number of patients who had spent nights in my bed before me. Only then did it come to my realization that I didn’t know when I would be able to get my next breath of fresh air.
I knew why I was admitted into the psych ward, but it still didn’t seem real that I was walking down the corridor to my new living space. I had never imagined being inside of one. My only knowledge of psychiatric centers had come from television and movies. Prior to my admittance, I was only self- diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and my mind and paper were the only receivers of my thoughts and emotions. That night, after talking with a mental health professional on staff, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The reason I was admitted into the inpatient psychiatric ward was because I was labeled as a high risk patient with suicidal ideations and a plan to carry it out. That night was the turning point in my life, and after the period of time that followed it, I became a changed individual with a reason to live, goals to accomplish, and tools to prevent a return of my old self.
Let’s explore the roots of my disorder from the earliest stages of my life. As a child, I always sought and expected the best of myself, I wouldn’t tolerate failure. I would tear up in elementary school if I got a question wrong. My tests had to show perfect scores, and I had to beat everyone else in the pool or whatever sport I still played. I had very poor self-confidence and self-esteem. I made myself into a perfectionist, with a fatal flaw—I was not perfect. As I grew older, my expectations of myself grew to unmeasurable levels, and so did those from my parents.
Soon though, the expectations became too much to handle. I needed an outlet, something to take the weight off of my shoulders, and I found marijuana. I tried many other substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, and opiate pills, however my drug of choice was marijuana. I smoked almost every morning and every evening, sometimes even a third time in the afternoon when I returned home from school and before swimming practice. When I smoked, my tension was temporarily relieved, my stress was gone, and the high allowed me to relax. In the morning, I was able to go to school and make it through the motions for most of the day. At night, I was able to feel the euphoria and drift into a dreamless sleep. When I was high, I didn’t feel rushed or pressured; instead, I felt free and my thoughts could be organized, and the volume of noise in my life lowered to a whisper. I was dependent on smoking. I needed it to function and keep myself moving every day. I had a great system going that my parents and most friends had no idea about; however, my system abruptly came to an end right after Thanksgiving in my junior year of high school.
The last day I smoked before going to the hospital was for Thanksgiving Day. I smoked in my room before each course was served in my dining room. I’ll never forget how much better the food was that year. The day after Thanksgiving, my mother took me to get massages with her. While we were gone, my father and younger brother ventured into my bedroom and accidentally found my stash of marijuana and paraphernalia while going through my closet for old clothes that I grew out of. I returned home to a drug test that I failed with no doubt and a lot of explaining to do to my unsuspecting parents.
The conversation took place in my kitchen, where I immediately broke down crying and begged for their help. I begged for a therapist and expressed the need for medication to solve my self-diagnosed psychiatric problems. I had begged once for a therapist the year prior—not mentioning my drug use and habits—but my parents hadn’t taken my concerns seriously until the day after Thanksgiving. My parents and I decided unanimously that I needed help, and my parents decided to drive me to the hospital directly following our conversation at night in order to register me as a psychiatric outpatient and begin the process of finding me the help I needed.
At the hospital, I had to be interviewed by a counselor on their staff in order to be assessed and given a quick diagnosis of illness and risk. The counselor I had to meet with spoke to me and asked me many questions about my habits and personal life. The most serious question that she asked me was if I had intention to commit suicide. I replied back no, and her follow up question was, if I were to kill myself, how would I do it. I responded that I would overdose on my mother’s Vicodin that she kept hidden. I was immediately written down for having suicidal ideations and a plan to carry it out. My response—even though I immediately regretted it—saved my life.
After concluding my meeting with the counselor, she filed the paperwork and left my locked room to share with my parents in a separate room her executive decision to admit me to the inpatient psychiatric ward at the hospital. I was given a few minutes to speak with my parents alone before I would be led to my new home for an indefinite amount of time. Never before had I seen my father cry until the moment I was brought back into their room, and I haven’t seen him cry since then either. Then we were escorted to the inpatient ward, where my clothes, shoelaces, wallet, and phone were collected and given to my parents to bring with them when they leave. As my parents gave me hugs goodbye, I became more aware of my surroundings.
My admission gave me the opportunity to find the help and support I needed to start medication and to meet others who were openly suffering from the same illnesses, albeit worse than mine based off of the time spent in the ward. I met with a psychiatrist for the first time there, and after he corresponded with my parents, the only way I would be discharged was if I started treatment with psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. So after my parents gave their permission, I started medication for depression and anxiety. I was able to prove that I had calmed down, that I had adjusted to the changes, and was ready to check out of the hospital. I checked out two days after checking in, and I began my new life while waiting desperately for the antidepressants to start working.
For the following month of December, the medication had to build up in my system to begin working. I stopped smoking, so that month was the most difficult time period for me to get through because of the lack of an effective medication. It was that month in which I truly began to contemplate suicide. I even wrote an unfinished suicide note that I wanted to complete and perfect before I killed myself. I had no desire to live and very little support to get through every day except for the therapist that I began seeing every Saturday morning.
My therapist provided me with an outlet to share my thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t share my personal life with my friends out of embarrassment. Every Saturday though, I could be myself in his office, not the person I acted as amongst my friends and peers during the week. Together, we looked into my subconscious and found the roots to my problems. Because of him, I gained the many tools to become happy and intrinsically motivated. I gained a desire to live, and I learned methods and tools to employ in order to handle the stress and challenges of everyday life. The medications I took for depression, anxiety, and insomnia made my life much easier to handle, but I made it very clear to my parents and doctors that I wanted to be medication free as soon as possible.
With the support I had and the advances I made in dealing with my issues, I was completely off medication after only seven months of taking them. I stopped meeting with my therapist after nine months. I haven’t been back to a therapist since then, nor have I resumed medication. I have made many personal accomplishments since then, such as qualifying for nationals in swimming and achieving the Scholastic All- American status in high school. I also currently hold the freshman record in the 200 backstroke for the Division I Swimming and Diving program at the university I attend. I have been happy and without suicidal thoughts since that time period. I am a changed and highly improved individual, with an excellent support network of close friends and family.
Everyone is fighting a war, and every day is a battle. In order to win the war that is life, every battle does not need to be won. However, my turning point in the war was going to the psychiatric ward, and my fight is not over. I am thankful for all of the opportunities and people in my life that continue to support me every day, and for those that have helped change my life and who I am as a person. My life isn’t perfect, no one has a perfect life, but I have grown to become satisfied with mine, and motivated to be the best that I can possibly be.