Sunday night, I tried to end my life.
I was overwhelmed with past decisions and felt my life was spiraling out of control. I tried to drown my sorrows and pain with a handful of pills and some tears. I then went out to the car with my favorite teddy bear and cried.
A bit later, I realized that I didn’t want to die. I called Colby, crying, sobbing, repeating over and over, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.”
He rushed home and took me to the emergency room, where I spent 28 hours feeling like a freak show. When a person overdoses, they can either pump the stomach or give the patient activated charcoal to absorb whatever medication they took if they are unsure if it has been digested.
The ER staff went with option B for me.
After several unsuccessful attempts at drinking it (and spewing it all over the walls), a feeding tube was inserted into my nose. Three times. I fought them the first time, there was no numbing and a good deal of pain. They switched to my other nostril after realizing my nose had been cauterized at a young age. The second time, they numbed the back of my throat and nose and slid it in, only to discover they had slid it into my lungs. It finally made it into my stomach, where the activated charcoal was pumped in and left to sit.
I was then left to wait until the hospital’s counselor/shrink/etc. was available to talk with me. Four hours later, the decision was made to admit me involuntary to a mental health facility, as required by North Carolina law.
I arrived at the hospital at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night and did not arrive at the facility until 2 a.m. Tuesday. I spent nearly 27 hours under watch, wearing only a paper gown.
The three days I spent at the facility was life-changing, to say the least. The nurses and staff treated me like a human being, albeit a human being under constant supervision. The other patients were there for a variety of reasons – schizophrenia, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, etc. Some handled it well, participating in therapy, etc., while others fought and demanded immediate release.
I will never forget that feeling of helplessness. Every movement monitored, recorded, observed. Staying in a small room for 12 hours a day, with four hours for therapy/group activities and eight for sleeping. Having to check out toiletries between 6 and 7 a.m., sleeping with my door open and bed checks every 15 minutes. Spending hours upon hours staring at the wall or coloring, because there was nothing to do.
It was strange going home; though I only spent three days there (four total, including the hospital), it felt like a lifetime. I was overwhelmed when I got home, being able to open doors whenever I wanted. Privacy when showering. Choosing my own food.
I will say this now: I will never attempt it again. Not just for the experience of attending a mental health facility, but how I was treated by others on the outside, including medical professionals.
I realize that working in the emergency room can be difficult, even more so if you work the third shift. I realize that you see people from all walks of life, all ages, all needing some sort of care. But what these people need most is compassion, especially those that try to end their lives. We are lost, lonely, confused. We think we are worthless and unloved. Burdens to society and to those we care about.
We come to you because we need help, whether we realize it or not.
To treat us with apathy and disdain only makes us hate ourselves more; we feel like burdens, drains, leeches. To tell us a procedure “isn’t that bad” if you have never experienced it only makes us distrust you even more.*
To sit there and laugh about a mentally disturbed patient who was lying in bed drugged and handcuffed because he was a danger to himself and others is abominable. You have been entrusted with our lives, our mental well-being. How can we trust you if you mock us behind our backs?
*The young doctor who treated me Sunday night had received a feeding tube through his nose, it was standard practice at the medical school he attended. If you do not know what your patients are going through, how can you empathize?
I am aware that they deal with suffering, pain and death on a regular basis, that it drains the heart and soul. I am aware that the only thing you can do during those times is laugh, but if you must laugh about your patients, do so behind closed doors.
Additionally, if you are a nursing student visiting a mental health facility and choose to interact with the patients, please show some tact and decorum when talking with them. Do not call them “nutty” to their face, or tell them you do not want to “worsen” their condition by winning a game.
You do not know the circumstances around their arrival, or what their illness is. You do not know if they are bipolar, schizophrenic, manic or going through withdrawal. You do not know what insults they have put up with by those who do not understand their condition.
So do not insult them to their faces.
According to the CDC, an estimated 25% of adults in the U.S. reported having a mental illness in 2003 (source). As of 2010, there were 308 million people in America, 231 million adults, so nearly60 million Americans suffer from mental illness. While some of the numbers are skewed to the elderly (you are more likely to be depressed in a nursing home), reported lifetime diagnosis of depression were 15.7% (source).
The NCHS states:
Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005-2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18-44 years. From 1988-1994 through 2005-2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%.
Open up Facebook. Look at all your friends. Out of the 100 people you know, 15 to 25 suffer from mental illness, either depression, bipolar disorder, etc., and you might not even know it.
They didn’t ask for this, they didn’t ask for their mind to betray them, to lead them down dark and twisted roads, feeling more and more isolated. They didn’t ask for society to look down upon them because they see things that no one else sees, or their emotions are taking a twirl on the Ferris wheel. All they want is to be understood and loved.
Don’t blame them when they want to end it all, don’t walk away because you don’t know how to handle it. Yes, it’s hard dealing with the constant drama and emotion. It’s even harder on us, because you only see a fraction of what goes on inside our heads.
Just hold us, comfort us, tell us that we are loved, that we are special and deserving of life. Talk about the happy times. Ask what you can do to help.
And above all: treat us with respect.