#MHYALit: You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath
Today author Ami Allen-Vath shares her experiences with suicidal ideation, depression, hospitalization, and more. We continue to be so honored and proud to share these honest, vulnerable posts. Visit the #MHYALit hub to see all of the posts in this series.
I basically told them I was having flashbacks from the sexual abuse I’d experienced as a middle-schooler. I told them I couldn’t handle life. I told them I had an eating disorder, that I was bulimic and couldn’t handle hating myself and my body anymore. But one thing I didn’t mention was my mom and stepdad’s alcoholism. I didn’t talk about the yelling and physical abuse I’d witnessed. The fights that seemed to happen every weekend. I didn’t say that I stopped inviting friends over and did my best to answer the phone first so friends calling wouldn’t hear their sloppy jokes and slurred words. The laughing and partying that went on a few hours before the fighting happened. I didn’t write about this because I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d already been through a lot, so I felt like I should have my shit together already. Being a teen in a home with alcoholics felt messy and embarrassing. So, I omitted the alcoholic and domestic abuse stuff, even though the stress and secrecy was wearing me down.
So, I folded up the letter, took a bunch of pills and cried. And then I was sobbing. I realize now, I wanted to be heard. My crying woke my sister. What I remember from the rest of the night is my stepdad carrying me to an ambulance and soon after, the hazy snippets of the noise and chaos of an emergency room.
After being in the hospital a few days, I was admitted to the AIP. Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Fifth Floor Locked-Unit. Prior to my hospitalization, my association to a place like that was “crazy house.” I didn’t want to be there at first, but I really didn’t want to be at home. I met doctors, therapists, took different tests and went to groups and individual therapy. I met kids that had similar and different issues. I took a break from life. I really, really needed that. It was a time to focus on me and shut out the outside world. It was a safe haven and I couldn’t be hurt by the bad choices of my family and I couldn’t hurt myself. Most kids stayed for a week or two. I saw a lot of kids come and go but I stayed for a month.
When I went home, my problems were still there but I was equipped to handle things better. Life’s past and present issues didn’t want make me want to die anymore.
But about ten years later, it happened again. I had a two-year-old and had just left an awful relationship. I was living with my best friend and her new husband and they were wonderful and supportive. I also had an amazing therapist. The work I did with her had set me on a life-changing journey of healing from my past. I was working through a lot of issues I had because of the sexual abuse I’d been a victim of as a kid. I was trying to manage my eating disorder. It was very “one day at a time,” but I was trying.
But due to the issues I had with my ex, single motherhood, and trying to figure out how to get back on my own feet, I felt trapped. I felt like the “old Ami” who couldn’t get ahead. I became very delusional and found myself snapping into a different person. I’d write journal entries as the “old me” and slowly felt myself becoming “her.” I had a suicide plan. In a bad snowstorm, I drove my son to his father’s and said I couldn’t take care of him until I found a job and “got it together.”
But once again, even though I was telling my therapist a lot of the things I was dealing with, I wasn’t saying the important stuff. The stuff that had me teetering on the edge of the cliff. I didn’t tell her about my suicidal ideations. I didn’t say I’d sort of split into two people.
The “sane” side of me called the hospital. I made an appointment at a mental health facility and once there, the lady asked if I was going to hurt myself. I couldn’t talk. She asked if I needed help, if I needed to stay. At first, I didn’t know if I should tell her or not. But after a minute, I wanted to be heard. I cried. And shook my head yes.
Once again, I was in a new psych ward. I was with other adults who had problems that were just as heavy to them as mine were to me. The food wasn’t amazing. The rules could be annoying and patronizing, but being there was good. It was needed. I was safe.
I was there for a little over a week. I continued getting care and treatment after. I did my best to go to doctor’s appointments, therapist appointments and take the advice they were giving. Eventually, I stopped wanting to hurt myself.
And ten years later, which was last year, I got sick again. I’d recently moved with my husband and children to New Jersey from Georgia. Miles and miles away from close friends and family. My husband travels out of the state and country. He’s gone a few days every week. The town I live in is quiet and isolated, especially in the winter. I was now in a state where winters are cold and dark. I started writing more but once I was agented, I didn’t have enough time or space to do it. I didn’t have any family or friends to help out. I felt very alone. The stress was building at a rapid rate and once again, I felt trapped. I’m a pretty introverted person and love alone time but I missed adults. I missed having friends come by during the week. I missed going out to lunch with a coworker every once in a while. I missed going to my sister’s house on Friday or Saturdays, eating dinner together, and talking until late while the kids played.
I was seeing a therapist. It’d been great. We worked through a lot of the issues I had with my mom’s alcoholism. I told her about the anxiety and frustrations about not having enough time for myself and my work. I hinted at feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t tell her the whole truth. That I was constantly thinking about suicide and wishing I could just do it and get it over with. I didn’t tell anyone that once again, I was becoming very comfortable with the idea of death.
But then, with much prodding from my best friend, I broke down. I cried. I admitted that it’d gotten so bad that I wasn’t safe. That I was going to hurt myself. I told her she could tell my husband because I didn’t want to. I was too afraid, too ashamed. I felt too much: I am a mom! A wife! I have a book deal and my dream is coming true! I’m supposed to have my crap together. For my family, for me.
The next day, my husband drove me to behavioral/mental health hospital. It was my birthday. But, I was safe. I couldn’t hurt myself. I took a break. From the stress and depression that made it hard for me to breathe. It gave me, doctors and therapists time to come up with solutions in a space where I didn’t have to deal with everything else. I learned some new coping skills. And after a week, I went home. But I wasn’t done. I started a wonderful day program. I was there for about two and a half months. Aside from new coping skills and a sort of “survival” plan, I learned a lot of ways to change the irrational thinking that had been a catalyst to my stress and catastrophizing.
And finally, I learned that I NEED TO TALK. I need to be honest about how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t wait until my toes are slightly over the cliff’s edge to finally ask for help. I also learned the true value of hospitalization.
Being admitted or admitting yourself to a psychiatric facility is not failure. When you’re overwhelmed and trapped, when it feels like there’s no way out of your depression, you’re in crisis mode. Your life is in danger. And when you’re in crisis or almost crisis mode, it’s okay and sometimes very, very necessary to take a break from “the outside world” until you are safe.
Hey, I love vacations. I prefer them to be somewhere warm and sunny. I like great food and tropical views and access to a nice pool. But when you lose yourself, when you’re incurably depressed, you’re going to need a little more than amazing guacamole and pina coladas to get you rejuvenated enough to want to go back home. So, the next time you hear about someone going to a mental hospital/psych ward/behavioral health facility, or if you or a friend is in crisis, don’t discount a “mental health vacation.”
I know my experiences aren’t going to be the same as everyone else’s and I won’t sugarcoat all the details about if you ask. But don’t dismiss hospitalization because of what you’ve seen on TV or movies. It’s not glamorous but it’s also not a giant cuckoo’s nest. A big reason my stays were successful was because I was able to drop the stigma attached to being hospitalized.
For me, this is true: All three times I stepped into a psychiatric ward, I went in ready to take my life. And all three times I left, I was safe. I was still alive.
I’m here today and I will be here tomorrow.
Note to reader: I’m very aware that hospitalization requires money and/or a good healthcare program. In my case, my first two hospitalizations were paid for using state’s healthcare program/healthcare assistance. In the third instance, my husband’s healthcare covered a lot of the bill. We were then able to pay the copays with a payment plan. It was a lot of money, but hello! The cost of a life…very worth it. Please don’t let finances or the stigma you may have attached to lack of finances prevent you from seeking help. Here are a few resources you can start with:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.
Child-Help USA 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453) crisis line assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. The hotline, staffed by mental health professionals, also provides treatment referrals.
In areas where 211 is available, this number connects you with mental health crisis services in your area.
Meet Ami Allen-Vath
Ami Allen-Vath is an ice cream enthusiast and a loather of cilantro. She’s the author of LIARS AND LOSERS LIKE US, about a teen dealing with anxiety, grief, and first love––all during prom season. Ami can be found on Twitter: @amilouiseallen, Facebook and amiallenvath.com.
About Liars and Losers Like Us
For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.
When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.
With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one. (Sky Pony Press, March 22, 2016. SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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