Yesterday, I spent the day on the psych ward of a local hospital. Voluntarily, for close observation. FOR THE PATIENTS.
I went to be a fly on the wall, and a to give my pathetic attempt at a mental health exam as a part of my psych rotation. Not as a patient. This time, anyway!
That’s the best word I have to describe it.
I went in terrified. I absolutely dreaded it. The only perceptions I had of what a psych ward might look like, I’m ashamed to say, came from Hollywood. Little bits and pieces of movies about mental hospitals, and state institutions over the years.
I hoped that my perceptions were wrong, and that Hollywood had inaccurately portrayed that population that I knew so little about, but, I had little else to go on.
It turns out…Hollywood pretty much nailed it. It seemed as if they had crafted the characters with mental illnesses after some of the very patients I visited yesterday. That part…was eerie.
I have to admit, and I’m not proud to say, that while I was on the floor, I was anxious. No. Scared. Our professors had shared with us the “worst case scenarios” and how to keep ourselves safe, and what to do in an emergency, or should an incident occur…which only heightened my fears, once my perceptions were confirmed.
My head was on a swivel the entire time I was there. I was flipping through the pages of the “therapeutic communication” that I’ve learned so far in this program, for the appropriate things to say. And the things to definitely NOT say.
I was on high alert for seven hours…and left there wondering how the nursing staff works in that same state for twelve. So much so…that while I was pumping gas, after I left my clinical, I found myself looking over my shoulder, and watching the man at the pump next to me, for signs of escalation and agitation.
But, one part of the experience, I was not prepared for, came throughout the hours after leaving the hospital.
I was given a glimpse of a world that I didn’t really know existed. I realized how much I take my own mental health (however much or little I have, depending on the day) for granted…because it’s a helluva lot more than these people were afforded. And I’m fortunate for that.
I can’t imagine being trapped inside my own head. I can’t imagine my thoughts moving so fast that I can’t control, contain, or coexist with them. I can’t imagine my mental instability burning the bridges to every last relationship I’d ever had. I can’t imagine feeling completely cut off from the world…from reality.
Those things? That I can’t even begin to imagine for myself? For the patients I visited yesterday, those things are their daily suffocating reality.
The feelings that surmounted in me, the more I thought about my day, surprised me most of all.