Life in a Psychiatric Hospital - Part 2

Routine.

Visit any psychiatric ward, anywhere in the country, and you will find a daily routine that the caretakers follow. Why is routine important? Why are vitals taken each morning? Why are meals served at the exact same times? Why are groups part of every day?

Because in the throes of withdrawal or with someone not long after a suicide attempt - the mind is shattered.

USS Constellation  - I run by it most mornings.

USS Constellation - I run by it most mornings.

Imagine your mind as a ship. You are the captain of the ship, but you are also every officer, every deckhand, and even every piece of wood and rope that make up the ship. Then a storm comes, the ship/you runs aground, and splinters into pieces. You reach out and grab hold of a floating plank, where you desperately try to keep your head above water in the heaving seas.

You become the captain of a wood plank, floating alone in the chaotic abyss.

Routine is the starting process for rebuilding a ship. You don’t throw wood and nails into a dry dock and expect a ship to come together without a plan. Nor should you expect that to happen with your mind.

Most hospitals follow a routine:

Vitals are taken every day so the nursing staff and doctors can notice any significant changes in a person’s physical health.

Vitals are taken every day so the nursing staff and doctors can notice any significant changes in a person’s physical health.

  • Morning

    • Wake up, vitals, meds

    • Breakfast

    • Group session

  • Afternoon

    • Lunch

    • Group session

    • Break

  • Evening

    • Group session

    • Dinner

    • Meds

The routine is dull, uninteresting, and unexciting - by design!

Imagine you’re desperately gripping your wooden plank, and, by some miracle, a party cruise liner breaks over the horizon. You are rescued and immediately thrown into a world of bright lights, loud noises, curious food, and you haven’t a clue what the destination is. You’re grateful to be out of the water, certainly, but you have a whole new host of issues to navigate.

Now imagine you are saved by the Coast Guard. Everyone is wearing the same uniform, everyone fits into a particular role, everyone is calm in the face of danger. A medic checks you out, you’re given a blanket and a cup of coco, and told where you will be taken to next. You’re just as grateful to be out of the water as you were in the first scenario, but all of your issues are taken care of for you.

That is the magic of routine. It gives a mind in chaos something to hold onto. Something that makes sense. Something that can be counted on.

That is where recovery can begin.


A GIGANTIC thank you to the following people for breaking my $1,000 goal for the Baltimore Out of the Darkness Walk!

  • Collette Dixon

  • Roger and Margo Coleman

  • Lou and Mary Jo Corsetti

  • Caitlin Corsetti

  • James Hunt

  • Samantha Perrine

  • The Smith Family

  • Natalie Wills

  • Kate and Mark Bernal

  • Andi O’Connor

  • The Assaf Family

  • Kevin Greene

  • The Arney Family

  • Jim Fiora

  • Cara Morris

Life in a Psychiatric Hospital - Part 1

There is a common misconception that a psychiatric hospital will be eerily similar to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest". Uncompromising doctors treating crazy patients with a strong helping of electroshock therapy and powerful antipsychotic medication. Such were my preconceptions of what was an underwhelming, boring, but ultimately helpful experience.

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On July 5th, 2011 I voluntarily checked myself into the Ridgeview Institute after my hanging attempt. At intake I answered a myriad of medical and personal history questions in triplicate, was interviewed about my most recent mental health problems, given an ID wristband, and led behind the first of many locked doors in the complex. 

An orderly brought me into Cottage C, which specialized in addiction recovery and mental health issues consisting of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. From intake I was sat down, got my blood pressure and temperature taken, then told to wait for a staff member to search me and inventory my belongings.

After thirty minutes of people watching, which is very amusing on a psychiatric ward, a nurse ushered me into a very utilitarian office where all of my belongings were searched. Even the clothes I wore were searched for contraband or possible weapons or tools I could use to harm myself. 

After the search I was fed a rather delicious meal of fried fish and vegetables, and then a nurse showed me to my bedroom where I met my roommate. A very polite older gentleman there for treatment of his severe alcoholism. Once I saw the bed, I laid down and tried to rest because I had not slept well since my suicide attempt three nights earlier.

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I was on a fifteen minute bed check, which meant that every quarter of an hour a nurse came into my room with her smartphone as a flashlight to check that I was still breathing.

You may think that is a little much, but it is essential for someone not far removed from a suicide attempt. The bed checks also establish a regular pattern for a shattered mind to recognize and accept.

My mind was in utter chaos, and knowing a nurse would check in on me every fifteen minutes was oddly comforting.