I know I do a lot of crazy, and weird things - but did you know I have actual paperwork that says I'm not insane? For reals!! Just wicked smart!!! Read on ...
Back in 2007, I was a hot mess. Like hotter than hot mess. I was working a pretty kick ass job, but it was incredibly stressful. The median age for my position was 45 - I was 22. I was also in a relationship that wasn't the greatest, I loved the goober, but one day I just snapped. I had spent my entire life being completely reliant upon outside validation for my sense of self, worth, and overall being - that I literally had a nervous breakdown.
I don't remember the day of the week, or if I was working, or any of the circumstances really that lead up to it … I just remember that day feeling incredibly overwhelmed. Not the overwhelmed that makes you want to go and hide in your comforter for the day, the kind of overwhelmed that is followed by a panic attack. I sat in the upstairs bedroom and started crying. Everything in my body ached. I just couldn't stand it anymore. I was so sick of dealing with shitty people, I never felt appreciated, I stretched myself so thin for those that didn't seem to care. I worked my ass off in a high stress job and all I got was sexually harassed on a daily basis … I just couldn't take it anymore.
I laid on the floor and thought about suicide, but recognized that I didn't really want to die - I just wanted to go away for a while. I left the house and started walking down the street, still crying. I didn't know where I was going, and I didn't know what I was doing - I just couldn't be in that house anymore. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, and again, loved him very much - but he was horrible for me. He stifled me, there's no other term for it. Just not a good match. Having that as your home base while working such a stressful job in and of itself was a recipe for disaster.
So, I walked. And walked. And walked. Didn't know where to go, didn't know what to do. I walked down to the end of the street, and saw a rehab center. *lightbulb* Rehab! I walked in, my face drenched in tears, eyes sunken, body defeated … I said to the front desk, I need help. She came around the glass partition, and took me into the back office. She looked at me so lovingly, and said what's wrong? I replied, I am a danger to myself. I just don't know what is going on, and I don't know what to do. She asked me if I was on anything, and I said no. She then informed me that this was a drug rehab center, so they couldn't help me here - but could make sure I get to someplace safe.
They asked me where I lived, and if I could call anyone … I asked if they could call my boyfriend. He was working on set of a movie at the time, he's a transportation coordinator … basically, anytime you see a car on a film, he's the guy that makes that happen. I don't remember talking to him, but I remember the rehab lady saying that they were going to take me to the hospital, and she wanted to know if she should call an ambulance or if he could come and get me. He couldn't leave set, so he sent one of his staff to pick me up and away I went. Most awkward car ride ever. I knew this guy pretty well, but he just kept asking me what had happened, why did I start to feel this way? I couldn't explain it. It was 22 years of pent up anger, depression, and overall emotional instability.
I just couldn't take my life anymore, it was a complete nervous breakdown.
He dropped me off at the hospital along with a bag filled with couple of things that he had gone to the house to collect for me; the rehab center had called over, so I was greeted by a nurse and taken into the emergency room. She asked me if I had thoughts of suicide, and I told her I had tried it in the past, but failed. I said I just couldn't take it anymore and didn't know where to go or what to do - I just didn't want to hurt myself. She understood, and gave me a blanket. I just sat there in this weird comatose state. Incapable of moving, and clearly incapable of any reasonable thinking. She told me I was going to be admitted into the hospital, and that they were going to take me upstairs to rest. She explained there was something called a 5150, where it means you are declared a danger to yourself or others, and I was being placed on a 72 hour hold. 72 hours I thought? But I had a plane to catch in 2 days. I couldn't be kept here involuntarily for that long! She said I had no option - I wasn't allowed to leave. That didn't sit very well with me. Rather than lash out, I stayed as calm as possible thinking that if I can just stay cool I can manage to talk my way out of this.
I was taken up to the 5th floor, where I was officially admitted. They took me into this room and asked me a series of questions, followed by a search of personal belongings. They took my belt, shoelaces, money, and bobby pins - apparently those were too sharp … weird. I was then given ativan and taken to bed. I remember my head hitting the pillow, and hearing the clicking of the stapler from the nurse in the nurse's station. Click. Click. Click. Click. I was so emotionally drained, and light headed …click. click. click. click. Then came the occasional shuffling of footsteps. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Nurses shoes, quiet but deliberate. My eyes closed and opened slowly. Closed and opened slowly. I thought this is it, I got what I asked for. Here's an escape - I am now officially crazy.
I drifted off into a deep slumber only to be awoken every 3 hours by nurses taking my vitals announcing "check!" You have got to be fucking kidding me, I thought. I fell back asleep. I was then informed that first group therapy began at 9am. The first day, I overslept. I assumed someone would wake me up, or say something … but they didn't. Their job is to only check in on you, and make sure you are alive, not tell you where to go or what to do. I put on the hospital footies, grabbed the meds that were waiting for me at the nurses station, and went into the main room. There were so many people in there, at least 15. I sat and started to play cards. Solitaire. It wasn't long before I was approached. It was like in prison, I hear what are you in for? 5150 - danger to myself or others. He laughed, replying "schizophrenia" been in and out my entire life. Cool, I said wanna play "Crazy Eights"? Seems appropriate!!! He smiled.
A nurse approached and informed us that it was time for lunch. I grabbed my tray and sat down at the table with the most people. Socializing has never been a problem for me, clearly being in a nuthouse was not going to impede my interactions. I introduced myself at the table and asked for everyone's name. They were all incredibly kind. Not exactly what you would have expected from a room full of "crazies." I was shocked at the age of the group, these were my peers. I had these visions of Michael Jackson from the Simpsons, 40 plus year old, bald, fat men running amock screaming incoherent babbles … these kids looked like you or me.
Lunch was garnished with polite conversation. Discussions of favorite bands, or which nurse had the most pungent odor danced about; this was not at all what I expected. After lunch we were all escorted into another session of group therapy. I sat at this long table, with a big white board - and just absorbed. I looked around at these faces, and knew I didn't belong here, but recognized that this could be an incredible learning experience. Most of the kids had been in there for a few months, with one or two sprinkled in on a few day holds. We went around the table and discussed what we were feeling, the most commonly shared emotion was anger. I sat, listened and empathized … but knew so through and through that I didn't belong. I had this moment of, well if I'm not crazy then what am I? How is it that I have all this energy, and am constantly going in one big circle after another? If that's not madness then what is? Why can't I just be normal? This fucking sucks. The session ended, and I pulled the therapist aside asking if I could be let go. I told her that I didn't think I belonged here anymore. She said there was nothing they could do for 72 hours. I told her I had a plane to catch to go and see my family back east, and she said again, there was nothing she could do. I shook my head and started to cry. What did I get myself into.
Next up on the list was "outside time." Psych wards are no joke. You are literally on lock down. You can't go outside, you can't leave the ward … it's just one long hall, a series of rooms with two people in each one, a nurses station, a cafeteria, and a room for group therapy. That's it. Going outside is a big big deal. We went downstairs, single filed out a back door as to not mix in with any of the so called normies. The nurse handed us a basketball, and said go play. I riled the group together and assembled two teams. I had become the group leader of sorts, and declared it was time to play HORSE. Dude, I totally kick ass at that game. Yay for having an older brother to play with as a wee lass. We played for about a half hour, followed by an epic game of ping pong. I really genuinely liked these people. I could tell they were all slightly "off" for lack of a better word, but their eyes were so kind. They felt safe here. The nurses were very appreciative for the cheerleader like spirit that kept everyone going and provided a fun afternoon.
Back upstairs we went for visiting time. Two hours allocated during each day where visitors are allowed to come in. I got excited, hoping to see my boyfriend. I didn't call any friends, I only called my parents once … I was so ashamed there was no way in HELL I was ready to announce to the world that I had a nervous breakdown. I sat in the room, and waited … my boyfriend never showed. He was working, I totally get that, but I remember sitting there thinking this is the loneliest I have ever felt in my entire life. I am sitting in a hospital, after a nervous breakdown, and not a single person came to visit.
It was heavy.
I managed to pick myself up by what would have been my bootstraps if I was allowed to keep them, and just started to play around with the other patients. It was like being in kindergarten again. You didn't know necessarily what everyone had, or how long they were in for … we all just played games. Scrabble, to cards, Connect Four … it was awesome.
I then went over to the TV area, and started watching my favorite TV show at the time, Dirt. A show that was cancelled a few years back with Courtney Cox. The schizophrenic came and sat down in the chair next to me. I asked if he had seen this show before, he said no. I was like dude, it's soooo good. I turned up the volume as the program returned from commercial break.
For those who haven't seen the show, Courtney Cox plays this sleazy tabloid editor with a paparazzo sidekick who is schizophrenic. Yep, there I was, sitting in a psych ward watching a TV show with a schizophrenic while sitting next to a schizophrenic. I turned and asked him, is that what it is like? He smiled, saying nothing and everything all at the same time.
Shortly after I retired to my room to read, and called it a night. The next morning, I got a chance to meet with the hospital directed shrink, and explained my dilemma. I told him that I had a temporary lapse in rational thought brought on by a prolonged stressful environment that I will be remedying upon my return. He said, I can't release you until the 72 hours were up. I then said, I had a plane to catch later this evening, and I would be going home to my family - safe and sound. Could I be released to their custody?
He thought about it, and continued to ask me a series of questions. Any history of mental illness? I said I thought my great grandmother was bi-polar, but I wasn't sure. He took out his little pad and wrote me a prescription for lithium. I kid you not. One question. One semi answer. And I was on lithium.
The side effects were HORRIBLE ... my voice was outside of my body. I don't know how else to describe it. I would speak, but it's like in the movies, where the words appear on the screen coming out in a little word bubble from their mouth ... only this was real life, and I just felt like words were no longer mine. I was able to produce them in my mind, but when I physically spoke them, I was incapable of retaining ownership. Strangest thing I have ever experienced.
I went back to the doctor, and said this wasn't right. He said it would take 2 weeks for it to fully kick in, and just stay with it. I asked again, if I could go home. That my plane was in a few hours, and I would be eternally grateful and perfectly willing to immediately make lifestyle adjustments.
He took me aside into this little room adjacent to the nursing station; he said, Jennifer, you're smart. What are you doing here? I said excuse me? He said, I've been looking over the notes from group, and from the nurses, why are you here? I didn't know what to say. I replied very simply, I just needed a break - can I go home now?
He said there was nothing he could do for me tonight, but if I could get a ride at 9am in the morning, I would be released. He indicated this was only the second time in his professional career that he has released someone early from a 5150, and he was only doing it because I was going home to family and would not be alone. I smiled and cried with this sheer excitement for life - and immediately popped on the phone to my parents asking if they could change my flight.
They could, and the next morning, my boyfriend came and picked me up to take me to the airport. I remember walking out the door of the ward, and looking back at a few of my friends. I didn't say good bye, because I'm not a good good-bye-er, but I instead replied, smell ya later and topped it off with a smile.
I remember sitting in the truck being taken to the airport, looking around outside, and feeling incredibly overwhelmed yet again; this sense of freedom was a bit jarring. I was in control of my life again. I was only in the ward for 48 hours, but I had already reverted back to a child like state of relinquishing all responsibility.
I spent two more weeks on lithium followed by a lot of therapy sessions to determine that I was not at all bi polar, just very smart, and VERY creative.
It's funny looking back now, having the validation of building a brand entirely on your own, I just see things differently. I process things incredibly incredibly incredibly fast. Which at times has been a gift and a curse. It's my thing; I had to learn to own it. I don't regret having to go through this experience; up until I started this website, I was still on so much medication it would make your head spin. But those were just other people trying to make me normal, which is like trying to fit a square peg in a circle hole. I'm different - and that's awesome. It took me a while to understand, but this experience certainly help shed some light on my life. If you're still sticking out like a sore thumb while sitting in a room filled with people who have been declared by the state as mentally insane, then I think its time for some lifestyle adjustments. This experience taught me compassion, and enabled me to relate to people that I otherwise would never have had access to.
Shortly after, I broke up with my boyfriend, moved out of his place, and got my own apartment downtown. It was a big adjustment, but the very first step in recognizing my own organic awesomeness.
Thanks for reading!