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Notes from Underwater: Surviving a Psychiatric Stay

I’ve spent most of this summer in and out of the psychiatric hospital parking lot. My husband spent most of it behind the metal detector where they make you strip out your pockets and take the laces out of your shoes. It has not been Barbie’s Dream Summer™. Knowing how the craziness (both medically and vernacularly) can be overwhelming, I wanted to write a quick help list to keeping your head above water for any of you who also find yourself in this situation.

All storylines will be different but there are elements of my particular situation, a spouse with Major Depressive Disorder and multiple suicide attempts, which would and could also apply to other mental health inpatient situations. This is focused on caretakers. Your loved one will be under the care of professionals in the hospital setting. You did your job getting them to help and now you need to survive the storm. Here are some things that kept me afloat.

1. For the staff, this is just a Tuesday. They will seem horrible and cruel and surprisingly unbothered by what is most likely the second most terrible day of your life. Checking into a mental hospital is a bizarre combination of going through airport security, checking into a motel, and entering a nightmare world where people calmly respond to the most important person in your life explaining that they planned to buy a gun. Without any irony, one doctor (via webcam because the process took so long that it was three hours past normal office hours when we got to the “see a doctor” step) mimed placing a pistol in his mouth and the resulting explosion with hand gestures.

Another doctor referred to a patient who committed suicide as “breaking his winning streak”. There are stupid procedures and passwords and rules and regulations about everything. This is not their fault. Their job is to provide a dampening effect on the raging emotions of patients and caregivers by casually indicating via body language, tone, and word choice that everything is acceptable and that there is a calm and rational solution. You are still allowed to hate them for it.

(I really wish this was a joke, or exaggeration, or poorly executed satire but it was the literal reaction of the secretary at the hospital.)

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