An Anniversary Of Sorts

Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.

While J and I were having supper this evening, she mentioned that two years ago this weekend I spent my first night in a psychiatric ward. I had been transferred there from the Crisis Centre (which the Emergency Department at my local hospital sent me to after evaluating me earlier in the day), and the following day I would be transferred again to the hospital where I would spend the next three months under the care of Dr W.

I don’t remember much of that first evening, but J says that we kind of played Crazy Eights and talked. I say “kind of” because I apparently kept losing my train of thought and forgetting how to play. I do recall walking around in hospital clothing with a big plastic mug full of ice water that had “PATIENT USE ONLY” stamped on the side.

If you feel like you may want to harm yourself, please take two or three deep breaths, and contact or go to your local Emergency Department or Crisis Centre. It may seem daunting to ask for help, but you can do it. There are people who care about you in this world and they want you to feel better.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There are links and phone numbers that may be helpful on the Resources page, including a link to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) Crisis Centre list.

Stay safe.

My Hospital Experience

When I was first admitted to the psych unit at the hospital, I was in pretty bad shape. I could barely talk, I couldn’t sit still or think straight, and my arms would flail around like they had a mind of their own. I’d rubbed the skin on my knees until it was red and raw.

The first thing that I remember was being introduced to my nurse. In the ward I was at, everyone was assigned a primary and secondary nurse. If my primary was working, then that’s who’d take care of my medications and be available to talk or help me when I was having difficulty. If my primary wasn’t working that day and the secondary was, then that’s who’d take care of me. If neither primary or secondary was working, I’d be assigned one of the other nurses for that shift. At night I think there was a nurse and an aide working. Maybe two nurses, I can’t remember.

Every single one of the nurses I worked with was excellent. They made sure I got my meals, made sure I got my medications, and were always available when I was upset and needed to talk. I can’t say enough good things about them.

There were two aides who worked the day and evening shifts. As with the nurses, they were incredibly helpful and friendly. They’d wander around throughout the day and check in on everyone to make sure they were okay.

Once I was introduced to my nurse I had to change into hospital clothing and give the staff all of my belongings for safekeeping. I stayed in the hospital clothing for several days before they let me change back into my own clothes. Some people didn’t have to change into hospital clothes at all when they arrived, and others had to wear them for weeks. Everyone was different.

There were four doctors who worked in the psych ward. They each had outpatient practices as well. I’m not sure who picks which patient will get which doctor but I was fortunate to end up with Dr W. He introduced himself and put me as close to at ease as I was going to get under the circumstances. He asked me some questions and we talked for a while before he prescribed me some medication to start taking that evening. He also took me off everything that my then-GP had put me on. He would visit every weekday to see how things were going and to adjust my medications.

A day or two later, a medical doctor came by and checked in on me to see if I had any medical issues. Other than some significant heartburn from the sertraline, I was medically fine. She prescribed me some medication that immediately (and to this day) got rid of the heartburn.

The ward also had two therapists who worked during the day. One was an occupational therapist who held groups that helped people work through their illnesses and learn to understand what was happening. She was also available for one-on-one counselling, which I found very helpful. The other was a recreational therapist who would hold groups that varied greatly – sometimes it was yoga, sometimes we’d play board games, sometimes we’d make posters, sometimes we’d have a guest speaker, and sometimes we’d have a cooking group. Both of the therapists were incredible and gave me things to do during the long days on the ward.

There was also a social worker assigned to the ward. She was also very helpful and got me a lot of information on some topics that I was particularly interested in.

All of this is to say that every single one of the staff that I interacted with was amazing. I may have been very lucky but I hope that every psych ward has staff as patient, caring, and helpful as the people I met and worked with.

Mealtimes were 8:30AM, 11:30AM, and 4:30PM. Despite the poor reputation of hospital food, there was a lot of variety and it was quite satisfactory. I don’t like fish so I was miserable for a couple of meals until I finally asked them if I could be put on a no-fish diet. That was no problem, and from that point on I always got stuff I could eat. It was often difficult to get out of bed for breakfast but one of the aides would always come around and in a very pleasant manner round everyone up and sent them to the common area.

There was also a small kitchen that was open 24 hours a day. Milk, fruit juices, and bread were available if anyone wanted a snack between meals.

The common area had enough tables and chairs so that everyone could sit down and eat at the same time. On the wall was a flatscreen television and off to the side was a bookshelf that held books, magazines, board games, and puzzles.

There was another common area behind the main one. Group sessions with the therapists were often held in there. There was another television, a Wii, more board games and magazines, and a lot of DVDs that you could watch whenever you wanted.

As far as I know, there were three different kinds of statuses that people could be. There was the normal status, where I could wander around the ward or – if my doctor, my nurse, and I were all comfortable – I could wander off the ward. There was also a status where the nurses or aides would check in on me every 15 minutes. They’d do that to make sure I was doing okay. The last status was used on me once when I was in real trouble. They assigned an aide to me who would check in on me every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t doing anything suicidal and to be available if I wanted to talk.

I wasn’t allowed off the ward until I was feeling safe and my nurse and Dr W were confident that it was okay if I left the ward for a short time. I was initially allowed 15 minutes but that increased to half an hour, then an hour, 90 minutes, and then finally two hours. The first few times I left the ward were both exhilarating and a little scary. I’d wander around the hospital and if I had some money at the time I may have stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a little bag of candy as a treat.

Eventually, when things were getting better, I got passes where I could go off the hospital grounds. Initially I had to be escorted by family or friends, but later on I could go off the grounds for a walk to one of the local stores if I wanted to. I think passes lasted from an hour to two days, depending on how I was doing. Before getting discharged from the hospital, I had to go home on passes of increasing lengths to make sure I was comfortable at home and not a danger to myself. It took me quite a while before I was ready to do that, though.

Family and friends were allowed to visit during the day. J came by to see me every second day. FA would come by frequently, too. My parents and mother-in-law also came into town to visit me and see how I was doing. If I had permission to leave the ward, we could chat on the comfy couches in the hospital atrium, or take some time in the hospital cafeteria. If I had a pass, I could go out to a restaurant or even go home for a while. It was frightening to go home at first but it was exciting because it meant I was getting better. Plus, the toilet paper in the hospital was awful – the stuff we have at home felt like chinchilla fur compared to what the hospital had.

We would have two groups during the day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Typically, the recreational therapist would do one group and the occupational therapist would do the other. Attendance was encouraged but not mandatory, and people could show up or leave whenever they wanted. I remember having to leave a couple of meditation groups when I was still hearing voices and nobody had any problem with it.

The day and evening shift nurses would always take a few minutes to see how I was doing when they first started their shifts. There were two private rooms where patients and nurses or doctors could sit down and talk. I spent a lot of time in those rooms. Sometimes I was crying my eyes out, while other times I was able to tell my nurse how good I was feeling. The nurses always made time to talk.

People could also go to the common areas and watch television or play games or do their own hobbies. A lot of people (myself included) would spend time colouring or drawing.

A snack was brought out in the evening around 8:30PM. It was usually sandwiches and fruit. Evening medications started to be passed out at around that time, too.

I found nights on the ward could be difficult. I would have nightmares and would wake up with no idea where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I’d walk out and talk to the night nurse just so I could be near a living, breathing human being for a couple of minutes. Sometimes someone would be crying in their room or while they were talking with a nurse and I would feel so bad for them.

Weekends could feel very long. No groups, no doctor visits, and if I wasn’t allowed to go off the ward, I would spend a lot of time colouring, playing with my phone, or pacing.

Another thing that I noticed was that even though I wasn’t well, there were people there who were much sicker than I was. There were also people who weren’t as sick as me, too. I found some of the patients’ behaviour upsetting. For example, there were a couple of people who really didn’t want to be there and would yell a lot about being stuck in the hospital. The nurses were good about helping them out, though. Some patients would be there for only a couple of days, while others were there before I got there and after I left three months later.

There were some people on the ward whom I considered to be friends. I would hang out and play crib with one fellow. Another fellow and I would go off the ward together and sit on a couch in the atrium or stand outside and enjoy the fresh air. A lot of patients seemed to have their own little group of two or three people they were most comfortable with.

I’ve seen patients freak out and have to be locked in the safe room (a room that locks from the outside that has a mattress on the floor) and then heard them banging on the door. I got put in there once when I was having a severe panic attack. Believe it or not, the silence in there helped calm me down. I’ve seen a patient being held by security staff while they got medication. Fortunately, I never needed to go that route. I’ve seen people bolt for the door and try to escape when someone was entering or exiting the ward. There were people throwing food, people yelling at people who weren’t there, and people questioning whether they actually existed or not. None of it was like how the movies portray psych wards, and in every case the staff handled the situation expertly and with compassion.

I sure didn’t enjoy my stays at the hospital but I will say that everyone who works there genuinely wants every patient to get better and be safe. I will never forget some of the staff who helped me out – their help and patience with me will stay with me for as long as I live.

Stay safe.

Tales From The Ward, Part V

Day 18

Nurse J is my nurse today 🙂

Lots of work nightmares again last night.

Breakfast was French toast, sausages, and oatmeal. Not too bad.

New guy came in last night, he’s in the room next to me.

Nurse J just stopped by and we had a very good chat about today’s pass. She says she finds it rewarding to work with me. She is a very good nurse!

Lunch was pulled pork on a bun with green and yellow beans, coleslaw, and fruit mix.

Went on a pass at 3PM. Hung out with Jennifer and my mother-in-law and had some very good fried chicken. The pass was great but around 6PM I could feel the anxiety building. Left for the hospital a little early but that’s okay.

Had a meltdown after re-reading the card that Mom gave me. Everything is so hard – getting up, going to groups, going out… I don’t think I can do it.

Nurse T is my nurse this evening, she supported me again while I cried. She is a good person.

 

Stay safe.

Tales From The Ward, Part IV

Day 26

Fell asleep at 2300, woke up at 0600. Woke up only twice from nightmares.

Was very dizzy for a little while today. Not sure why.

Feeling very groggy this morning.

Breakfast was Special K, a bagel, and fruit sauce.

Looks like one of the patients is being discharged when they don’t really want to. I hope things turn out well for them.

Group this morning was healthy living.

Dr C should be here today.

Lunch was a chicken salad plate, bagel, and diced pears.

Did a 45 minute easy walk today. Felt good to be active.

Someone’s been wailing in the bathroom for over ten minutes now. I really hope they’re okay.

My session with Dr C went very well. She asked me a bunch of questions and – fortunately – once again saw how everything fit together and that I’m not psychotic or otherwise crazy. I will continue to follow her instructions to the best of my ability. I am very lucky to have her as my psychologist.

Supper was fish sticks, potato wedges, carrots, and mango for dessert. I believe I’ll be dipping into the candy shortly…

Dr W has filled out the disability paperwork and given it back to me.

 

Stay safe!

Pass Went Very Well

J just dropped me off at the hospital about 20 minutes ago, concluding my pass. A few anxious times aside, the pass went very well. I’m okay being by myself while J’s at work, I’m okay keeping myself busy, and my sleep is now back to 8-10 hours per day instead of 18-20. That thick cloud of depression is now just a tiny dot on the horizon and I’m feeling pretty darn good.

With luck, I’ll be discharged tomorrow afternoon. It will be very good to be home. With a little more luck, it’ll be more than a month until my next visit. Who knows, maybe this will be my last time in the psych ward.

I spoke with my nurse after I got back and she said that if I have to come back it’s okay and in its own way a good sign. I used to be very reluctant to ask anyone for assistance but now I’m a lot more comfortable saying when I’m in trouble and asking for help. I think it’s very important to be able to do that; after all, people won’t know to help me unless I say something.

I’ve said it before and said it again that I’m so grateful to J, Dr C, Dr W, and the staff at the hospital for picking up the pieces and putting me back together again. It’s not much of a stretch to say that I’d probably be dead if it weren’t for all of them. Saying thanks and sending a letter or card is all I can do but it never seems like enough. I hope everyone knows how grateful I am.

Stay safe!

Company Was Great!

Song: “Sweet Home Chicago” by the Blues Brothers.

Mood: Eight. Getting pretty tired.

This is going to be a pretty short post because I’m pooped.

So this afternoon we had some friends over for pizza and a game night. It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen them so instead of playing any games we just talked. It was really good. Lots of laughter, lots of good stories, and it just felt good to hang out with them again. I started to get a little anxious about two hours in but I took a lorazepam and that helped quite a bit.

Since our guests were bringing the pizza, J and I decided to make monster cookies for dessert. I got a good recipe for them in one of the cooking groups at the hospital. I did my best but I’m not a professional baker so some of the cookies came out looking pretty un-cookie-ish, but they tasted pretty good and went over well after we’d finished the pizza.

It’s so wonderful to have good friends to hang out with. J and I are very lucky.

Tomorrow evening my pass ends so J is going to take me back to the hospital after supper. With luck I’ll be discharged on Monday!

Stay safe!

Pass Still Going Well

Song: “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop.

Mood: Eight. Doing pretty well.

Today started out pretty well. I got up at about 9AM (J had already gone to work) and had breakfast. I was feeling a little bit anxious but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. The good thing is I was easily able to distract myself from it by keeping busy. I did my worry hour and some mindfulness exercises and then plucked away at my bass guitar for a little while.

After that, I headed out to the garage to tidy it up and get it ready for me to do some welding. I spent about two hours out there and made a lot of headway (although there is still a bit to do) so I should be able to put up my welding blankets and screens and start welding next week! I’ve been thinking about a lot of welding projects to do, some of which are pretty easy and some of which I’ll probably never be able to successfully do. It’ll be fun to try, though.

After I got tired of cleaning the garage, I came inside and wrote the hobby post from earlier today and then did some more writing until it was time for supper. J is hanging out with a friend this evening so I was by myself for supper. I listened to a lot of music while I cooked and ate and really enjoyed it.

After supper I did some more writing, some homework that Dr C gave me, and played some more SoaSE. I’m going to get back to Mass Effect shortly but I just don’t want it to go by too fast. I know I can play it over again (and I’m sure I will) but I’m really enjoying it and don’t want to burn through it too quickly.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do this evening. I may do some more writing or maybe I’ll listen to some records. Maybe I’ll put on a movie. Oh, and that reminds me – Navajo Joe was pretty bad. I enjoyed watching it with J, though!

Tomorrow we’re having some guests over for a pizza and game evening. I’m looking forward to it and really hope that everything goes well!

Stay safe!

And Another Good Day!

Song: “Elenor” by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Mood: Eight. A bit of anxiety earlier, but doing well.

J had to work today so it was my first day home alone. She was rushing out of the house so there wasn’t time to have breakfast together so I went back to sleep. I woke up about two hours later, got out of bed, and started to think about what I was going to do with my day.

I did my worry hour and some mindfulness exercises and found that I was feeling pretty good. I put the new dashcam in the truck and drove for a little while before heading to my Dr C appointment. The appointment went very well; she has been chipping away at my inability to figure out what I need to do to be a good person and we found some examples from the ward where I did something nice for someone or helped someone out. I have a hard time balancing out the things I do with the things that others do for me. That person who touched me on the shoulder and spoke to me the other day caused me to have a significantly positive emotional response. I just don’t think that the things that I do for others make them feel as well. I hope they do, but I doubt it. Still, just being there for someone is something, I suppose.

After I got home I had some lunch and then decided I was going to finally do it and go for a motorcycle ride. Unfortunately, I appear to now be too husky for my riding jacket. A little bummed out about that, I put on some music and got out my colouring stuff. I coloured for a while until I realized that I was dancing in my chair along with the music. Since nobody was home and the blinds were closed, I got out of my chair and danced around for a little while. Yeah, that’s quite the image – the fat 40+ guy hopping clumsily around – but you know what? I really enjoyed myself. After dancing for a short while I headed downstairs to the record player and put on some music and started dancing around to that. It felt great, nobody to see me, and I could just flail around and have a great time. When I was done, I was in a great mood.

Once J got home, we made supper – a really tasty beef noodle dish – and then headed off to the hospital to check in and get my medications for the second part of my pass. When you sign in there, your nurse usually wants to chat with you to make sure everything’s okay. It was really great to be able to tell her that I was doing well and having a good time on the pass. I got my medications, signed back out, and we headed home.

Tonight we’re going to watch the second movie in that spaghetti western DVD set. I think it’s Navajo Joe, starring Burt Reynolds. It can’t possibly be worse than Pancho Villa… or can it?

Stay safe!

Pass Is Going Well

Song: “King of the Road” by Roger Miller.

Today has been a pretty good day. I think I’d rate my mood at around an eight.

Our air conditioner was gasping its final breaths so while I was in the hospital, J called one of the heating & air conditioning places and ordered a new air conditioner. The installers came by today at around 8AM. J had the day off so she stayed out in the dining room to answer any of their questions while I chickened out and kind of hid in my office. Everything worked out well though, and the installers were done and gone by 11AM. While they were working I did some writing and played some Sins of a Solar Empire, which is a pretty decent game that requires concentration and planning.

After the A/C crew left, J and I spent some time talking about food and setting up schedules so we’re not standing in the kitchen, staring at each other and saying, “I dunno, what do YOU want for supper?” or just giving up and ordering out. While I was in the hospital, J and her mom worked on a lot of that stuff and it looks like we’ll be able to plan a month of home cooked meals that are pretty easy to make and not chicken fingers every second night. Don’t get me wrong – chicken fingers are right up there as one of my favourite foods, but even I don’t want them every day.

After that, J took me to the hardware store to pick up a cheap little dashcam that I had a rain check for and then dropped me off at home on her way to an appointment. I unboxed the camera, put it together, and spent some time playing with it. It is… well, it’s… uhm… about what I expected for a $30 dashcam. It’ll do the trick, though, and I think I’m going to install it in the truck tomorrow and test it on the way to my Dr C appointment.

When J got home we talked for a bit more and then made supper. We used to eat our meals in the basement, sitting on the couch in front of the TV but since I got out of the psych ward the first time we’ve had most of our meals at the dining room table. I really enjoy it – particularly at supper when J and I can relax and talk about how our days were while we eat. I also think I tend to eat less when we eat upstairs.

After supper, I played a little more SoaSE, tinkered around with the dashcam a little more, and did some colouring. After that, J and I decided to crack open the box of spaghetti western DVDs that I found in the cheap bin at Walmart. First up: Telly Savalas in Pancho Villa. I’m glad that J enjoys watching terrible movies with me because this one barely made any sense and the ending came out of nowhere. Nevertheless, it’s another notch in our western movie belts.

You may have noticed up at the top that I mentioned a song. I think I’m going to try to do that each day from now on. I listen to a LOT of music and some days it feels like one particular song jumps out at me more than normal for some reason. Could be my mood, what I’m working on, or just which chemicals are doing what in my brain at which time. Regardless, I’ll give it a try for a bit and see how it goes.

Well, that’s about it for me for today. I’m having trouble focusing my eyes and my typing accuracy has fallen off a cliff. Time for bed.

Stay safe!

Home On A Pass!

Today has been a good day. I was excited about going on a pass so I didn’t get to sleep as early as I’d hoped but the sleep I did get was good. I often sleep on my side and I’m finding that my hips are a little uncomfortable when I wake up. I think it’s the hospital mattress but since I’m sleeping at home tonight, I’ll sleep on my side and see what happens.

There was no group this morning but group this afternoon was a guest speaker who spoke about the local Anxiety Disorders Association, types of anxiety, and the services they offer. It was a very good session – lots of information and good handouts.

My appointment with Dr W went quite well too. Since I’m doing pretty well we didn’t make any medication changes, but sometime soon he’d like to start reducing some of the sedating medications I’m on (quetiapine, haloperidol, zopiclone, and lorazepam), which I have no problem with. I’ve been very lucky with side effects so far but with recent experiences I think my brain doesn’t like it when I take medications away so we’ll have to chip away at it very slowly.

J stopped by the hospital at about 6PM and we went home. It was very good to walk in the door with her and start getting used to being home. I haven’t been away for very long (I think today is day 7) but J has accomplished a lot of things while I was away. The garden is planted, two new trees have been planted, the basement has been tidied up to the point of almost being unrecognizable, and she’s arranged for the air conditioner guys to come over tomorrow to replace our very weary ancient unit.

We talked for a while and then went outside to water the plants. After that, we sat on the deck for a while and enjoyed the evening air. It was very nice, just sitting outside and talking. Unfortunately, a bit of anxiety started to creep in on me but it was time to take my nighttime medications so hopefully they’ll help. It’s not too bad – just a little bit of nerves – but I want this pass to go really well. If it doesn’t, that’s okay – that’s why I’m doing the passes instead of being discharged. They’re a good test.

Stay safe!