when i checked myself into a psychiatric hospital i remember having the feeling that i didn’t belong there. while i knew i needed professional help and voluntarily admitted myself, i also felt that i wasn’t the type of person who should be on the psych ward.
at that time in my life i had never received inpatient treatment and i wasn’t so sure that depression was a real sickness. i avoided any mention of mental illness and felt that that term absolutely did not apply to me. i viewed myself as a normal person who just needed a little help. i didn’t want to be “mentally ill.”
so when i suddenly found myself in a hospital full of people in the midst of severe mental health crises, i withdrew. i felt scared and angry. to be honest, talking to the other patients really freaked me out at first, because hearing about their symptoms made me wonder if i too was susceptible to psychosis, mania and suicide attempts. am i like them? i wondered to myself. do i even belong here? i couldn’t see that i was right where i needed to be, and that i was surrounded by people who were no different than me.
i just wanted to find the right medicine to make my problems stop and didn’t want to hear that i had a major illness. i felt that i had an issue i needed to solve, not an illness i needed to treat. i had so much to learn about acceptance and recovery.
last weekend i went back to the hospital, nearly two years after my first visit. not as a patient, but as a volunteer to tell my story to the adults on the same psych ward where i stayed. it was a proud moment for me – walking in those doors feeling strong and hopeful. one of those rare moments where i could see how far i have come.
it wasn’t easy to go back but i wanted to do it. my time in the hospital was dark, very dark. it was painful to walk past the admission office, to go by the room i stayed in, to smell the same hospital smell. i remembered the terror and sadness i felt when i first arrived there and it made me want to break down and cry.
but what struck me is that i felt like i belonged there. not that i belonged back on the unit, but that i no longer felt out of place. when i looked into the eyes of the patients i saw myself, and it didn’t scare me. i am like you – we both want the same things. health, stability, joy, meaning, success. seeing that reflection and hearing their stories made me feel connected, not uncomfortable like i felt before.
because since my time in the hospital i have learned that anyone could be on the psych ward – you, me, any friend, any relative, any coworker. nobody is immune to mental illness and there is no one type of person who fits the profile of having depression, bipolar, schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia. we’re all just normal people who need a little help. i have also learned that many, many people recover from their hospitalization(s) and go on to live meaningful, healthier lives. i have let go of some of the shame and fear that i carried around and in their place have developed more openness and acceptance.
so when i told my story at the hospital i owned mental illness. i wasn’t afraid to say it out loud and talk about how it affected – and still affects – my life. standing tall in the same room where i had slumped and hid in the corner just two years ago was powerful. part of my journey has come full circle, from fighting my diagnosis to accepting who i am. i fought back tears when i said it was not that long ago that i sat in the same chair where you are, feeling hopeless and so close to giving up.
somewhere along the way i found hope. i found acceptance. i found my strength. i have found where i belong.