It was my therapist, we’ll call her Emmy, who diagnosed me, who also directed me to my first psychiatrist. We’ll call him Dr. Shoemaker. I continued to see Emmy in conjunction with weekly visits to Dr. Shoemaker who started prescribing me medication. The year was 2002.
Dr. Shoemaker was an interesting man, to say the least. Very tall, and at the time was at least 68 years old and wore large glasses that he would look at you through, with his big eyes. He always had a pen in his hand, would tilt his big balding head and rub his chin, while thinking of what he was about to say. I remember this like it was yesterday. He would speak and sometimes it was crazy shit that came out. Sometimes it was thought provoking. Sometimes it was both, and I would just think, “What the hell?” But all of the time it was truth spoken in love, with respect and compassion.
At my first appointment with Dr. Shoemaker the absolute first thing to come out of his mouth, was literally, “Laura, how many times do you want to be married?” and I thought, “what the frick?” but I was so caught off guard I could hardly be pissed off at this guy’s audacity. The answer was “once” and the answer is still, “once.”
In the beginning he talked a lot about God, which I was not open to at all and I bluntly told him as much. I wasn’t much for tact (I’m barely better at it now–but at least now I try. Mostly). I told him “you can talk about God if you want to, but I’m not going to.” Years later, I found in some notes I have, something he said and in hindsight it really cracked me up. “…But Christ forgot to tell us He was a psychiatrist.” And if you believe Jesus came to heal the broken, it really makes sense. Good word.
Dr. Shoemaker saw me through my first stay in a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatric hospital is nothing like you think. So stop it. No padded walls or straight jackets. More like a scaled back and luxury-free camp for adults. That doesn’t really make it sound appealing, but it’s not like it’s supposed to be a vacation. It’s a place to go, to be protected from the outside world and most importantly to be monitored closely on your medication.
I was smoking two packs a day in the hospital. Marlboro Menthol Lights. It was like a life-line. A gross, disgusting and expensive life-line, but it was something minor in my day that I could make a schedule around; smoke breaks. I look at young women smoking now and find myself saying “she’s too good for that” and my mother always says “that’s what we said about you.” Touche, mom. I smoked for ten years and quit about five years ago. One of the best decisions I ever made was to quit smoking.
Anyhow, actually the facility makes a schedule for you. It consist of group therapy sessions, private sessions with your doctor and/or therapist, family sessions can be arranged, as well as productive activities like crafts, games and sometimes physical activities like throwing a ball around (loose translation=sports).
“A Psychiatric hospital is more like a scaled back and luxury-free camp for adults”
When my parents dropped me off, the facility put me on suicide watch for the first twenty-four hours. I wasn’t permitted to keep my portable CD player (oh yes, it was a Discman) because the headphone wires and the CD itself could potentially be made into something I could use to harm myself. I was more upset about that than the whole situation.
The whole thing was traumatizing for my mother, I found this out several years down the road and I finally had to tell her to let go of that. No more crying about it, because it was one of the best things for me and eventually it would become part of my story and part of who I am–and definitely part of my recovery.
And when I say they “dropped me off” it wasn’t like the left me at the curb. They came in with me and got me somewhat settled in. It was at night so most of the other patients were in their rooms. I was pretty scared to see what was in store the next morning.
Oh the people you’ll meet in a psychiatric hospital. I met men and women of all ages, with a huge range of issues. From pill-users, to attempted suicides with bandaged-up wrist with blood stains on them. It was sad. I met a trans-sexual called Kiki, who was there for severe identity issues. But there were some, like me, young women with bipolar disorder. All of us seeking the same thing; stability. Or maybe, we were seeking just a little less crazy in our lives. I’m not sure we all knew what we were seeking, at the time.
The best advice Emmy gave me was; to absolutely—without exception—have no contact with other patients after a hospital stay. I didn’t understand it at the time, but begrudgingly, I made it a point not to give out my phone number or even email address to others, as different discharge times would approach and we would say good bye to someone. What self-control, I mean, where did that come from? In subsequent visits to the hospital, I hadn’t followed Emmy’s advice and it never turned out to be a healthy friendship, to say the least.
Nothing good comes from a friendship started in the psych ward. I’m just sayin’.
Diagnosis isn’t the cure…and this was only the beginning. It was at least two hospital stays later and a couple of years down that road, until I would really find some stability…
More to come,
Hang in there,