“I have arrived. I hope to get some relief here — what an oxymoron — getting relief in a psych ward. I have observed that two of the “goons” behind the courtroom facade have already spoken about my sunglasses – eyeballs! I observe flags here, but no peace symbols — it’s a source of agitation to me and a lesson in tolerance. I want to read …. I just met Mary, my first friend. Met Shirley, the snorer. This is going to be fairly interesting …. It has been a long time. I want to be well. I met Calvin in Housekeeping. I am waiting to see the nurse. Mary has left the building. 7:10 p.”
And so goes the first journal entry about my last hospitalization. Hopefully, it really is the last. Supposedly, aging is good for mental illness.
I just happened upon the journal that covered this hospitalization. I’d never journaled about an episode before.
This was a breakthrough hospitalization. I had not been hospitalized for quite some time. I was taking my meds religiously.
Sometimes the dam breaks, oftentimes because of stress. Like the Covid vaccination breakthroughs. No guarantees. At least my life was not at risk.
Recently on an empty Sunday morning, I went through all my journals. In recent years I have gathered them from being scattered throughout all my stuff.
I have A LOT of journals. I have 15. Most have been gifts. Of these journals, only one is completely filled. It is a gratitude journal I started in 1991.
The journals are random. No date order. One time I would write in this or that journal and then the next day I would write in another.
I got my last journal at the St. Louis Art Museum. Its covering is one in van Gogh’s Starry Night collection. I did not need it but I can’t resist van Gogh.
The bulk of my journaling is/was about gratitude. I probably picked this up from Oprah. I write in them about other things, too. I rarely journal any more. I try to maintain a journal of the books I read though.
I would love to have someone go through all these journals, tearing out pages where necessary, and putting the pages in chronological order. Things might make more sense that way.
This part is always a trip. During a stay you usually have one roommate. They come and go depending on their situation.
Only two roommates have left an impression on me. I’m thinking maybe a time or two I did not even have a roommate.
One time a roommate burned herself with cigarette butts on a fairly regular basis. Her wrists and arms were a mess and difficult to look at.
You have to be in a lot of emotional strife to do that. I remember she loved horses and rode a lot. She had borderline personality disorder.
During this last hospitalization, I had a great roommate. She didn’t stay long but it was fun while it lasted. I’ll call her Stephanie.
My journal tells me she was a chatterbox. Stephanie was 18 and attending UGA. We got along great. She liked me. She made fun comments.
Like, “This whole bipolar thing caught me by surprise.” Or, “I was just sitting here brooding and then Yvonne came in and I felt better.” Very kind.
Another entry: “On Stephanie’s discharge, a patient said to her waiting parents, ‘You have a wonderful daughter.’” The father replies, “Yes, we think so sometimes.” Then we wonder why we’re here and not the parents.
Next to impossible to get fresh air from outside. We were constantly under lock and key. I think we were allowed two outside breaks a day. Maybe 15 minutes each.
The downside of going outside was that we non-smokers shared the same “fresh air” as the smokers. There was no other place we could go. But you want to get outside so badly, you’ll take what you can get.
I was in dire need of exercise. You don’t have to be a genius or have mental illness to know that exercise trumps just about everything in getting and keeping your head straight.
Visitation was twice a week. One night during the week and on Saturday. They were brief. We were allowed two visitors at a time.
Visitation was in the gym. Shortly before setting the chairs out and a few minutes right before the time for visitation, there was a lull.
The guys played basketball in the gym then. I thought “Great!” I proceeded to a treadmill in an exercise room next to the gym floor.
I bet I wasn’t treading two minutes until some clinical assistant told me to stop and get off (a power play). It was okay for the guys to get exercise but not me.
I was livid. I really needed to move, get the blood flowing. It is stressful being in the hospital.
My privileges were immediately taken away. I ate alone — no more going with the group to the cafeteria. My phone time was limited.
No longer did I have access to sharps so I could shave my legs. An aide always stood by you for that anyway. And definitely no exercise.
I felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Not having a means of exercising was cruel — especially in a psychiatric hospital. Surely things have changed.
We were treated unkindly and some employees were heartless. I had been treated better in other hospitals — but none are a place you enjoy spending time. I understand this last hospital I was in has gotten a lot worse. I can believe it.
It’s as if you don’t have a brain and don’t deserve the one you have. The aides and clinical assistants ran the show. They lorded over you and bossed you around.
The nurses treated you with respect as did your doctor — although psychiatrists are in a league all their own.
Once I was assigned a room my first day, I immediately had an issue. My bed had no pillow so I asked for one. Didn’t get it. It was hours before I finally got one. And guess what? No pillowcase.
I spent more hours begging for a pillowcase. They don’t care about you. You’re just another nut job to them.
It is a demeaning atmosphere, at least that was my experience. Plus basically everyone is walking around chock-full of drugs so they can stabilize and be discharged. Me included.
It’s really awful.
I had an afternoon group I attended. Group can be fairly depressing. I mean, here I am with my issues (which I am not clear about) and having to listen to other peoples’ troubles. Sometimes compassion waned.
This is not a kind thing to say, but at the time compassion was not as much on my radar as it has come to be.
I like to regulate what goes in my mind. Group makes this impossible.
I wrote in my journal that I got kicked out of group twice. Once for sharing some candy Paul had brought during visitation. (Another power play … really, candy?)
The second time was because I spoke out of line and for talking too much.
Getting booted out of group is ironic. It is the only place you can openly talk and express yourself to get and feel a little better (supposedly) — and I’m not allowed in. Group is a required activity …. evidently not, another power play, why follow the rules?
I’ve never been a fan of group. I was not ever keen on listening then. I really didn’t want to share my troubles with strangers. And then years later, I start a blog and pronounce my woes in cyberspace. Ha!
No review of talking about psych wards is complete without mention of the doctors. I count I have had five or six psychiatrists through the years. I liked and connected with only one.
He was the doctor I had during my very first hospitalization.
His name was Dr. Brooks and “he got me.” I saw him on an outpatient basis for several years. He didn’t just prescribe meds, he actually did a little counseling.
I knew he understood me the day he said, “Karen, you are going to do exactly what you want to do.” Nailed.
So much was communicated in that one statement. He was so right.
I have pretty much always done what I have wanted to do — regardless of outcome sometimes or maybe not thinking things through. I remain true to my self — I try to anyway.
I think of him so often. I think he has passed away.
He was a great psychiatrist with a big open heart. He was the best. He was rare.
And so it goes …
I guess I have to admit hospitalizations and medications have been necessary evils. Dr. Brooks used to tell me that if it weren’t for these drugs, I would be in Milledgeville (and this was before I had a diagnosis or a drug regimen). That’s a depressing and frightful thought, and brutally honest.
Georgia’s state mental asylum is now known as Central State Hospital. It is located in Milledgeville. It has gone by many names since its opening in 1842.
It was founded as the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. No wonder it’s so hard getting rid of the stigma when you’ve started out using labels like those. Thank heavens for progress, as slow as it is.
At one point, it housed nearly 12,000 patients. It was the largest mental health hospital in the world. CSH now serves 200 mental health patients.
But we have good drugs now so no real worries for some of us. Psychiatric pharmacology has come a long way since 1842. I finally landed on the right combination and workable diagnosis. This was the difficult part.
Drugs have allowed me to function as a relatively “normal” human being. Some things just take time. Many people have helped along the way. I am grateful. Special thank you to those who genuinely cared.
As Rumi says, We’re all just walking each other home.
💙💛 🇺🇦 💛💙
Thank you so much for reading. I love receiving comments … dare yourself — Judgment Free Zone.
“Central State Hospital (Milledgeville, Georgia)”