The Best and Worst Part of Being in a Mental Hospital: Visitation

I am a 38 year old mother, wife, daughter, college graduate, executive, volunteer, member of the church choir, respected community member and I am mentally ill. Not only that; I have suicide ideation. I attempted in November 2012 and was hospitalized. Later, I was diagnosed as having Major Depression, OCD (possibly PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have not attempted since nor did I previously. But that is not because I don’t have the urge to.

During my hospitalization in November 2012; there were many things I had to get used to very quickly. This is not easy for someone who is at their ‘rock bottom’ with no light at the end of any of the tunnels I was looking down into the future I was forced to take part in. I was here and that was that. So I realized I was going to have to go along with the program. I would do everything I was asked and participate to the best of my ability. Even though all I wanted to do was lay in bed and sleep. I resisted taking sleeping pills because I was also scared. I held on to the ward schedule like it was my Bible; and it was:
6:00am – Wake up
6:30 – 7:30am – Shower/ TV time/ Meds
7:30am – Breakfast
8:30am – Group Therapy
10:00am – 12:00pm – Individual Therapy Sessions
12:30pm – Lunch
2:00pm – Group Therapy
3:30pm – Recreational Therapy
4:30pm – Free Time
5:30pm – Dinner
6:30pm – Family Visitation
8:30pm – Shower/ TV time/ Meds
10:00pm – Lights Out

Family Visitation…I dreaded this time. Every day of the few days I was hospitalized I knew that no one was coming to see me but yet; every day I would brush my hair, make myself look as presentable as possible and go sit in the television area where family was allowed (they couldn’t go back into our rooms or the treatment areas).

It wasn’t that my family WOULDN’T come see me, it was that no one knew I was there. It was a secret. My parents were on a cruise (which is why I chose that time to …do what I attempted to do) and didn’t know I was in any hospital, none of my friends knew except for my best friend and she was at work during visiting hours (She had made sure to gather up my personal items and bring them in for me the first day I was there but I was not able to see her). My brother and sister in law knew because they had my children and were taking care of them for me, along with their own three children who were ALL under the age of 3 (so obviously they had their hands full). The only other person who knew that I was there was D., the ex-fiancée and the person I called the day of the attempt. Although he was very helpful to me that day, I think he knew it may not be a good idea to be around me too much then. I was the epitome of vulnerable and I couldn’t let myself depend on him at this time.

So there I was every day; watching all of the patient’s families come and go. Some crying, some angry, and some looking a bit uncomfortable to be in such a place. These were some of the most emotional times for all of us. The patient’s because it stirred up the routine. Some reacted well to seeing family; some did not. I just observed and wished there was someone there for me; even though I knew it was my choice to not let anyone know I was there. These two hours were heartbreaking. I had truly never felt so alone. But then I looked around me; along with those undergoing withdrawal (they were hospitalized for drug and alcohol dependence), and one other who was there for suicide ideation (although he had not attempted; only threatened), there were mostly elderly patients who were suffering dementia. No one ever came to see these elderly patients. Some would, like me, dress up and come and sit in the common area as if they were awaiting visitors. I would go and sit with them and see if I could notice that that made any difference to them. Sometimes one would hold my hand. Although many were so far gone, they didn’t even know their own name and rarely spoke anything at all and when they did, it wasn’t coherent; I think that being there together alone (they in their own mind and me in my secrecy) we assuaged each other’s loneliness just a little.

Before I came to this facility, elderly and mentally ill people made me very uncomfortable. I was a prisoner to my own stigma I suppose. I have never known more gentle people than some of those I met in the mental facility. On the third day of my hospitalization as I sat, with my legs curled up into my chest, fighting tears and rocking myself into some sort of comfortable state while watching the news and the families as I did every day, I saw my Aunt Patti come in the door.

I LOVE my Aunt Patti! Everyone does. She was a cheerleader in high school and still has that natural uplifting attitude and easy to like demeanor as I imagine she did back in her high school cheering days. I saw her and broke into tears. “I didn’t think anyone knew. I didn’t expect anyone to come and see me. But YOU are here!” I hugged her tight as I noticed the look of concern and fear on her face. The very same look I anticipated seeing on my parent’s face when they found out. She said she couldn’t stay long as she had an appointment she had to make, but that she just learned I was here and had to come and see me. We chatted some about how I was doing. We had some small talk about my cousin’s new baby and family stuff and about my parents being away on a cruise. She told me she loved me and hugged me again before she left. She still has NO idea how much that short visit meant to me. It was then I knew I had to do whatever it took to come back to being ‘Me’. And that I never wanted to be back in a place where my family would worry about me again. I am still working on that.

I still think about those little old ladies and men sitting in the common room awaiting their loved ones that will never come and see them. The people that won’t have an Aunt Patti to surprise them and give them something worth living for. I wish I could go and see them and let them hold my hand. But unfortunately, only family are allowed. Sadly…



About Christine O.

I had been a young, single Mom to two girls for ten years; until March 9, 2014 when I married my soul-mate Jason. I’m a former 20 year+ full time executive in a demanding field turned business owner (this year); marathon runner, daughter to the perfect parents, oldest sister of a highly successful ‘normal’ younger brother and ‘functional’ single-mother (of 3) sister, coach, boss, best friend, member of the church choir, volunteer for the local NAMI, AFSP, and CASA organizations, and have over time become well acclimated to the world of mental illness after a life changing event or two. I have also become known in my community as the one who takes on the High School year after year in attempts to have a Suicide Prevention Program in place (as in Texas statute). My goal in writing, blogging and learning as much as I can about such subjects is to defeat stigma associated with brain disease, preventing suicide in the future, and saving my family.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, children, depression, family, Health, major depressive disorder, mental illness, OCD, single parenthood, stigma, suicide, suicide attempt survivor, Therapy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Best and Worst Part of Being in a Mental Hospital: Visitation

  1. Caitlin says:

    This made me cry! I don’t know how any of us got so lucky as to have aunt patti. She has always been there, and has always gone out of her way to make me feel loved and welcome, since everyone quit talking to me. It makes me sad to know that not everyone has their own aunt patti. I’m glad she was there for you. 🙂

    • Christine O. says:

      I agree. She has always been there for me, too. Way back when I got divorced and was somewhat disowned she still opened her arms to me. I hope she knows how much we all love her!! 💕 and same for you, Caitlin. I love you very much and am SO glad that even if our family isn’t as accepting as they should be, as they are supposed to be; you have found THE ONE that makes up for feeling alone in this world. So I love him so very much, too. Xoxo

  2. Mountain Man says:

    This was a great read! Thank you for sharing. It’s amazing how one little touch of light can illuminate the darkness for us, huh? Keep smiling! 🙂

  3. mm172001 says:

    I am in the Partial Hospitalization Program that is at the inpatient facility where I generally stay. While our hospital allows anyone who knows your code to visit, there are only allowed 2 people at a time and it is for 1 hr 7-8 pm. Yesterday I suggested to the hospital staff about a program to help people hospitalized for the first time or to visit patients who don’t have visitors, my focus was on those who have been in the situation peers, consumers, whatever you want to call us. They said there had been talk and they were working on it, which is good. They wouldn’t let me come back after I was released to visit a patient I met, I could only drop off clothing because at that time (not sure what the rules are now) you couldn’t visit someone if you had been in the facility with in the last year.
    Also our hospital offered no individual therapy. Groups and rec/art that’s it. Other than that similar schedule.

    • Christine O. says:

      That sounds like a great idea! I wish I could go see some of those older people. I’m not sure if my hospital had that rule about not being able to come if you have been a patient…

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks for your post. I spent 3 weeks in a psych ward and struggled through some of the toughest times of my life. But at the same time I meet some amazing people, patients and nurses and my doctor. It was a great support system and without the other patients there I wouldn’t have recovered so quickly. I was definitely in the right place. 🙂

  5. ann says:

    You have the love a man who wants you and is committed to you. Be more honest about this integral component to your recovery if you hope to influence others.

    • Christine O. says:

      Thank you for reading, Ann. This part of my story was a time when I was a single mom. I had no love life then, but I understand how knowing that I have now found the love of my life would bring you to misunderstand this story which was from a time (2 years+ ago) when I felt very alone. I do want to point out that depression and anxiety do also affect those who have great partners. It does not discriminate.

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