Content Note: frank discussion of suicidal thoughts
It was a gorgeous day. I carefully packed my bag for group therapy. Water, notebook, phone, sparkly pen, tissues. I didn’t usually bring Chapstick but was reasonably sure I was going to get admitted to the hospital. It went into the bag as well. I should have gone to group the day before but I’d been crying for most of the night and was too exhausted when my alarm went off. Today I was determined to go.
The therapy class was more of a holding class until space was available in the main group. Most of my classmates had already moved up (I was due to move on Monday) and only three of us were left. Everyone else was new. And quiet. My group spilled out everything in the introduction. This group shared first names and ages, nothing else. The instructor tried to start up a group conversation only to have it fizzle. Then she tried again.
“Yes?” she asked. Why was she staring at me? And when had I raised my hand? What should I say?
“I’m thinking about suicide,” I replied.
“Thinking or planning?”
“Not every suicidal thought is serious,” she pointed out. “Sometimes people think about suicide but have no intentions of following through. Is this something you intend to do?”
Jeremy had brought in my fairy garden the night before so I didn’t need to go onto my balcony. Several nights earlier I’d messaged a friend in tears and sat chatting with her on Facebook until Jeremy came home, terrified I’d jump. And I couldn’t stop thinking that it would be like flying… and then nothing. I couldn’t keep living like that and, while I wanted to die, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. Someone was going to be hurt finding me and it was going to happen sometime soon.
“Yes,” I said quietly. Every single person in the room was staring at me.
“I can’t hear you,” she said.
Seriously? Like this wasn’t hard enough already.
“Yes,” I said a bit louder and nodded for emphasis. She informed me I needed to see her at the end of class.
Class ended, she arranged for someone to cover her next appointment, then set off with me through the back halls of the hospital… right back to where Karen and I started a month and a half earlier. Thankfully this time the waiting room speaker had been disabled. Once again we went through triage and to the nurse’s station.
“She needs to be put on a form one,” the instructor said urgently.
Form one? Oh, she’d discussed this in class. That was a seventy two hour involuntary admission. As long as there was a bed somewhere relatively quiet I didn’t care. I’d only been up for three hours at that point but I was already exhausted.
I saw a doctor next. All I remember is him handing me paperwork explaining my involuntary admission and that the number 42 was on top.
42 ~ the meaning of life. There wasn’t anyone to share that bit of information with. Security was on the other side of the room, carefully keeping an eye on me. A volunteer saw me hugging myself and gave me a sheet. A security guard told me I could have another one if I was still cold and warned me I’d lose my phone soon and to copy down any numbers I needed. I knew Jeremy’s number, and my parents still have the same number from my childhood, but I didn’t know Karen’s number.
The psychiatrist called me into a room. It was bright and had plexiglass windows in the middle and a door. She sat down and gestured to the seat in front of her. Had anything happened recently?
A madman shot up a bar.
But that was half a continent away in a different country and would bring up too many questions.
“My boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of May,” I said hesitantly. Hesitant because I’d answered these questions multiple times before and pretty much knew what to expect.
“Who instigated the break up?”
“It was mutual,” I replied quickly. It hadn’t been but I didn’t particularly want to get into blaming. “It wasn’t a good time for a relationship, there was lots going on.”
“Like what?” she asked, leaning forward.
“We’re both struggling with mental health issues and [boyfriend] has some physical health issues too.”
“And what else? You said lots.”
“[Boyfriend]’s just starting his transition,” I replied. Maybe she would know what transition meant.
“What does that mean?”
And maybe not.
“Gender transition,” I replied.
“Oh… he’s going from male to female?”
“Umm no. He’s…” [Boyfriend] wouldn’t want to be described as female in any way but I couldn’t think of a way to explain.
“So he was born female. Did you know this ahead of time?”
I nodded and was relieved when she didn’t appear shocked like the last professional. Although leaning back in her seat wasn’t much of an improvement.
If I fall in love with a woman, would that be seen as wrong?
The questions went back to suicide and the final question, “If we released you, would you feel safe?”
It would be like flying… and then nothing. I remembered curling up in my chair, hugging my stuffed animal, scared to even go near my balcony and shook my head.
“Okay, follow me,” she left the room and gestured to a security guard, the same one who’d offered me a second sheet earlier.
This time he gave me pants, complete with a hole in the front, and a three armed shirt. I knew what the hole was for though I’d never worn pants with one before. The shirt left me baffled.
“Here,” he said as he took back the shirt and mimed putting it on. It wrapped around so that one arm went through two holes. Then he took all my belongings and gave me a pair of blue throwaway slippers with a seam across the soles.
I spent most of my time in emergency sleeping, which I’m sure relieved the guards. Actually, I know it did because one commented on it as he relieved the other.
“Whew,” the second guard said. “It sounds like an easy shift.”
One guard gave me a heated blanket when I started shaking and talked with me about books. He told me about a new movie too but my thoughts were too scattered and I couldn’t remember the title. It sounded interesting through.
I stayed in the emergency room hallway until 8pm, missing both lunch and dinner, before being wheeled to the psychiatric ward. It’s a small ward with a P shaped hallway, a TV room with plastic chairs, and a cafeteria that doubles as an entertainment room. The blinds are tucked away behind a window pane so no one can hang themselves. The mirrors are silvered metal. And there’s no bag in the garbage can. Meals are served at 8am, noon, and 5pm with a plastic fork and spoon. Have you ever buttered cold toast with a spoon before? It’s, umm, interesting. And chewy. The toast, not the spoon.
I’d been terrified of going into the ward. I knew I needed the help but had no idea what to expect other than, well my mind drew a blank. Honestly, while I hated being locked in… unable to leave, the ward itself wasn’t bad. The nurses were uniformly kind and the patients were friendly and understood “sorry, I’m getting overwhelmed… I’m going to have to go lie down”. I made three friends immediately and we hung out together, playing cards, colouring in those intricate adult colouring books, and singing. I’d been told that people don’t like to remember being in the psychiatric hospital but the other patients showed no sign of that. Multiple times I heard people conversing and reminiscing about previous visits. Remember so and so from two visits ago? He’s here now. Oh hi doctor! I was your patient during my last admission.
One thing that I love about this hospital is that the ward is mixed gender. During my stay there was one very effeminate gay young man who was much happier and comfortable hanging around the women and one young person struggling with gender dysphoria who had no idea what their gender was. Considering they commented on hacking off their long hair to buzz cut length because they’d have died if they didn’t, I think being forced into a women’s only section and female garb would have been very detrimental. And, yes, I did assure them it’s normal to be unsure of your gender and that it can take years to sort out.
People say that you learn who your real friends are when you hit your lowest point and that is so true. One of my friends, who I trusted completely and was positive would always be there, walked away from me completely during this time. It was a heartbreak and one I’ve sobbed about more than once. However that friend’s abrupt departure was more than offset by the number of people who walked in. The friends sharing messages of hope and love. My fellow patients who repeatedly commented on my kindness and showed me kindness of their own. And the anonymous person who left a spray of daisies on my bed the day I left the hospital.
I have no idea about the future. Right now I’m considered emotionally fragile by the psychiatric team, too fragile for the group I was to attend. But I’m feeling better now than I have in years and am ready to take each day one step at a time.