In Hospital…or In Hiding?

It’s funny, because although no one would ever question a hospitalisation for physical illness, inpatient treatment for mental illness – and for that matter rehab for drug/alcohol addiction – can often come under scrutiny. There is a school of thought that while hospitalisation may be beneficial in the short term, at the end of the day us crazies or drug addicts have to return to the real world, stop hiding out, and deal with the problem.

And yeah this is true. I get that. I have little doubt that there are people out there who, particularly in the case of mental illness, prefer being in hospital to being at home. I met a few. They were basically homeless and hospital offered them a sanctuary. In hospital you are freed from responsibilities. You don’t have to work. You get your meals cooked for you. You get a bed and someone changes your sheets and cleans the toilet. Just like with jail, where offenders break parole to get back inside, institutionalisation is a real thing, and a real problem for some people.

But, you’ve got to understand, when you are in hospital you lose your basic rights. Privacy for starters. Ever tried going to the toilet with a nurse watching you? Had to point out the diagram (on a seven point scale, with one being “you’re never gonna pass those rocks” and seven being “basically a puddle of brown water”) that best illustrates your latest bowel movement? Had absolutely no choice as to what instruments are poked into your various orafices? Whether you are hospitalised for physical reasons or mental reasons you become property of the medical system. And that ain’t fun.

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While you are in hospital you have to put up with a lot of shit. Sharing rooms with people who snore or basically don’t understand what a toilet flush is. Eating reconstituted crap for dinner. Other people’s noisy visitors. People stealing the food you store in the patient fridge. Getting no choice as to what to watch on TV. Only getting to see your loved ones at certain times of the day. Having your clothes and possessions confiscated.

If all that is better than being at home, everyday life has got to be pretty damn hard. The two times I was hospitalised because I ASKED to be hospitalised, life WAS extremely hard. Both times I fought and fought for months, eventually realised that I was going to get extremely unwell or possibly do some damage to myself, and asked for inpatient treatment. It was a last ditch effort. It didn’t occur to me that I could be hiding from life. I just wanted to get better, and hospitalisation was my final option, so I COULD get back to my life.

For each of my hospitalisations, whether for physical or mental reasons, I have been admitted because I was not well enough to cope without 24/7 care, and I was released when I was well enough to care for myself. Whether I was an inpatient for bipolar disorder, the delivery of a newborn, ovarian torsion, surgery, or my autoimmune disease is irrelevant. Whether I stayed for 24 hours of nearly half a year is irrelevant. Each of those times I needed care. I received it. Then I went home. Most of those times I had little choice. All of those times I did not want to be in hospital, and left as soon as I was medically fit.

For each of my hospitalisations, whether for physical or mental reasons, I have also had to go back into the real world, learn to dress my wounds by myself, remember to take my medication, stop lying in bed all day, and continue my recovery on my own. I knew this and I accepted this. And for each of those occasions I was practically begging my doctors to be released.

But this is my personal experience, and I know everyone is different. I do understand where people are coming from when they question the value of hospitalisation, in particular long term hospitalisation. It is not a natural environment. It isn’t an ideal situation.

However, hospitalisation for any illness is less than ideal. For patient comfort, to retain some semblance of a normal life, and, yes, due to the strain on the health system, outpatient treatment for all illnesses is always preferred. But sometimes people need more than outpatient treatment. And the choice (or the un-choice) of being admitted into a psychiatric facility, or going into rehab to kick your drug habit, should be respected in the same manner as physical hospitalisations are.

While I was in the mother and baby unit, I voiced these issues to a nurse. I told her that I was worried that people would think I was just “hiding” from the real world. I didn’t want people to think less of me for receiving inpatient psychiatric care.

She just laughed and told me “Rachael. You’re not in Club Med. You’re in hospital.  You’re REALLY REALLY sick, and we are helping you get better. You NEED to be here. Just like you would NEED to be in hospital if you had appendicitis. And they are not going to let you go until we know you will be safe.”

For me, personally, hospitalisation, being torn away from my family, giving up my rights and freedom, and being subject to unpleasant tests and experiences is pretty high on my list of Things I Like To Avoid. But in saying that, despite my complaining, my hospitalisations for mental illness have saved my life. And for that I will be ever thankful.

What is your opinion of psychiatric hospitalisations?

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10 thoughts on “In Hospital…or In Hiding?

  1. Being hospitalised for my broken mind was different from being there when I had a terrible infection requiring IV abs. The latter was necessary to make me physically well but the stays I’ve had on the psych ward felt like I was “choosing” to be ill because I wasn’t sectioned (but my CPN had told me if I didn’t submit as a voluntary patient he was going to consider it).

    No one called me an “attention seeker” when I needed a week in a bed with IV drugs and morphine for the pain. People have called me one for becoming so very mentally disordered and distressed in order to save my life I had to be put in a mental hospital.

    I’d like to ask those people to stay just two days on the ward I did. Where you have to share a bathroom coved with other people’s excretions because the staff don’t care its a mess and the cleaners have already cleaned it that day. Where someone checks you every fifteen minutes and writes down where you are and what you are doing and even though you are they “voluntarily” you can’t leave the ward even if you beg. Where your kids are waiting in the family room to see you and the time slot is running out but you can’t go and be with them because I nurse must walk you to that room and everyone is too busy. Where you don’t eat properly because no one has asked if you have any dietry needs and then huff and puff about your freinds and family bringing you some food. Where you are physically ill as well as mentally ill and left in a soaking wet cold bed shivering despite you asking nicely for fresh bedding (I think the night staff only speak ‘grunt’). Where you’ll see noone bother to find out what the woman who can speak no English is desperately and hysterically trying to tell the staff and it will deeply worry upset you. Where you’ll see patients physically assaulting other patients. Where you youself will be randomly punched in the head for no reason at all. Where you’ll see a different nurse each day, each one will have a different opinion about you and make you believe X is for the best, then the day the other nurse will tell you Y is best, then another will say something else and you’ll feel like you’re being torn in several different directions and feel manically confused and desperate. Where you have to eat you food with your hands because they ran out of plastic cutlery and you’re not allowed proper metal utensils. Where the night is punctuated with emergency bells and you’ll have a hard time sleeping because you’re used to responding to them yourself in your own work so you get pumped full of adrenaline each time you hear it. Where they’ll fiddle about with medication and you’ll suffer side effects you don’t understand and scare you and you’ll not have any loving arms to hold you in the night and help make it a little more bearable. Where you’ll find dismantled razor blades on the floor or your room after it’s been ‘cleaned’. Where you will be dehumanised and finally left out on the street unconscious to be found by your husband and children.

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    • My God! What an absolutely horrific story. I am so sorry that you were subjected to this inhumane treatment at a time when you were so vulnerable. It is appalling, and absolutely disgusts me that you were treated like that.

      Thank you for sharing your story and experiences, and taking the time to comment. I hope that you managed to get the help you needed in the end. Wishing you all the best.

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  2. When you need to be in the hospital, you need to be in the hospital. Yes, there are downsides to psychiatric hospitalization, but I found it necessary at one time in my life. I stayed inpatient for two weeks and in partial hospitalization for months. I needed the help and received it. I feel fortunate that I did. Unfortunately, the hospital I attended is under new ownership and the program is no longer of the same high quality.

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  3. Wow – what a super-powerful post! I don’t usually read anything about hospitals & mental illness & haven’t for the past 15 months. I had 7 hospitalizations since Rilla was born in 2007, and it still feels too soon for me to read about it. But….due to the fact this is such an awesome blog I dipped my toes into the water & read this. I emerged unscathed and even more inspired by you than I already am! And I totally agree with your point of view!!!!

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    • Thank you Dyane, as always, for your lovely comment 🙂 7 hospitalisations must have been beyond difficult for you, and I can totally understand why you wouldn’t want to read about it! Thank you for reading this, and for your words, and compliments. They mean a lot 🙂

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  4. I have been hospitalized now three times, each time was a dark “adventure”. It took me awhile but I finally started writing about the experiences and all the memories I have from being in them. I have flashbacks to certain moments regularly and nightmares regularly (they are no longer psychosis nightmares just very strange and very dark!). I have had these since my first hospitalization in 2007. I found that writing about it really helped. I learned something about myself and the world each time I was in there. As much as I do not want to go back (and my last hospitalization was just this past early September 2014)..I am still thankful for the help I received. There are major downsides to each facility I was in since the mental health industry has so many challenges and so little money (from what I can see). Thank you for writing about this!!

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  5. I see people hospitalized for all sort of things, and I place mental illness right up there with physical illness. The only difference for me is that one labs will often help, as may fancy test, CT scans, MRI’s but with psychiatric illness they won’t. Everyone needs something in this life; and sometimes we have to get it from others, be it over a coffee or in a hospital.

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  6. Reblogged this on christinejbaxter.net and commented:
    Sometimes you need to look at things just a bit deeper. Maybe in Australia the Mental health system is better run but not all of the times that I have spent in the hospital were helpful to me. I thank God for the friends who gave me the strength to endure the torture that the American Mental Health system can dish out. I can guarantee that I was never hiding but I can also tell you that I wasn’t always helped more than I was harmed. But I have always been seen as less than due to any hospitalization. That is the saddest truth of all.

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