It was my third day in lockdown in the psych ward and I was scheduled to leave. After breakfast, one of the doctors took me to a private room to talk. He told me that I was not ready to leave, and as he pushed a form and a pen towards me and said that I should extend my stay to seven days. I was stunned. My 72 hour lockdown was almost over and I was being asked to stay? I stared at the form and the doctor proceeded to tell me that I was not leaving whether I signed the form or not. I was not ready and they could not let me go. “If we force you to stay it’s complicated and there’s a lot of forms for us to fill out, so it’s just easier if you’ll go ahead and sign that you agree you should stay.” I continued to stare at the form and thought about all the time I wasted being on the wrong floor with no help to improve my mental health. I agreed I wasn’t ready and I signed the form.
Things were much different on the third floor. We could choose to just stay in our rooms the entire time, and there were many who did so, but most of us hung out together, went to life skills classes together, went to group counseling sessions together, and went to arts and crafts sessions together. My favorite time was when we were allowed to go outside in their highly secured recreation area. My roommate and I went to the basketball court each day to play H-O-R-S-E. Fortunately he sucked as bad at basketball as I did so I never had to be embarrassed. I was taking the medications they provided and I occasionly had private sessions with a psychiatrist, but not the same one each time. Those who were addicted to prescription medications continued to believe they were superior to those of us who’d been addicted to street drugs and a couple of them made sure that we understood that. Eventually it got the best of me and I had a heated argument with one of the other patients. Afterwards it became less of an issue, but I don’t think I changed any hearts and minds.
In my downtime I would go to my room and color. Of course we weren’t given pencils or pens so all my artwork was made with crayons. One of the patients was an elderly actress who told me she loved frogs. She said she had frog figurines throughout her home so most of the pictures I made were frogs for her. She loved them and placed them throughout her room. She was old and cantankerous and I enjoyed every minute with her. She loved telling me about her acting career and I listened intently. We agreed to stay in touch so that I could go over to her home and watch her movies and then she transferred out of the hospital to go to the Betty Ford Clinic near Palm Springs. Sadly, we never met up again. Casting off friends has gotten to be a norm for me, and it’s something I’ve been working on.
Agreeing to stay the extra days was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had no appointments to worry about, I was fed three meals a day, I could sleep all day, color all day, chat all day…for that one week I didn’t have to think or worry about a thing. It’s one of the few times in my life where I felt truly at ease.
On my fifth day of lockdown I was called to one of the offices and there was an ocean of doctors there. I thought I had done something seriously wrong, but now I know they were all resident doctors in training. The doctor who called me in was friendly and joked around for a few minutes and then got right to business and said “What if I told you you’re going to be on medication for the rest of your life?” I responded that I had assumed that all along. He seemed relieved and proceeded to tell me that based on my family history, my personal history and their observations that I was a textbook case of a person who has chronic depression. I’d been diagnosed with depression twice before, but this was the first time I took it seriously. He also said “It’s critical that you continue with Alcoholics Anonymous to maintain your sobriety, but all the 12 stepping in the world is not going to relieve you of your depression because it is a chemical and biological condition.” Years later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic depression.) It is not uncommon to be diagnosed with depression only to have it changed to bipolar later because a psychiatrist typically has to watch your mood and behavior over an extended period of time to diagnose BP, which is a luxury a hospital visit does not have. I was just two days from being released and despite my comfortable stay I was ready to go home.
Tomorrow’s article is the last of this week long series on my experience being in lockdown in the psychiatric ward.