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Damaged Soul….reflections from a psych unit

Reflections from a psych unit
Reflections from a psych unit
Shelley Stutchman

I had to think long and hard about writing this article. It is a very personal and frighteningly painful journey. It requires every bit of courage I have to share with you my candid reflections of this very uncomfortable topic. You may be scratching your head and asking, “Why does she want to write it, if it is personal and painful?”

If what I am about to divulge to you helps one person, then the humiliation I may feel, by making this public will be worth it. My desire, by sharing my experience, is that it may be the bridge to healing damaged souls, spirits most abused, and humans most vulnerable.

My soul was damaged, and depression came in like a black and heavy cloud. I have been depressed before, but only for a day, and at the most maybe two. However this depression was different. After two weeks, it still did not lift, it got worse. I could not focus. I cried all the time. My heart ached. I wanted to die to end the pain!

My friends and family all insisted that I go see my doctor. On Monday, March 3rd, I did. But I had a plan on how I was going to get my doctor to do what I needed him to. I sent him an email and requested him to call a specific person. I needed an answer from this person to heal. I also solicited him to give this person a message from me. My communication had been severed with this person, who was very close to me. In the email I also told, not asked, my doctor to give me some medication to help me get over this agony.

He looked me in the eye and said, “Shelley; I have known you for a long time. The email you sent me shows me you are not thinking right. Don’t make any decisions on your own. Listen to other people and trust.”

Then he asked me the following questions:

1. Have you lost weight? (I dropped 10 pounds in the two weeks building up to this)

2. How are you sleeping? (I could only sleep two hours a night)

3. Can you focus on your work? (No)

4. Do you have thoughts of suicide? (Yes)

5. Do you have a plan? (Yes)

He gently placed his hand on mine and in a soft voice stated, “You have severe depression. I want you to go to the Elk City Hospital, and check into the psych unit. There is a very good psychiatrist there named Dr. Dennis. They will evaluate what kind of medicine you need to help relieve the depression. You will also talk to Dr. Dennis about what is triggering your sorrow.”

At first, I felt relief. Maybe they could make this horrible pain and black thoughts go away. Then I had another brilliant idea. I could email the person I needed the answer from to get well. I would tell him I was going to a Psych unit, and if only he would help me understand things; I would not have to go. I sent the email, but no answers came. I started to panic. Me, a psych unit…never… I didn’t belong there! I thought a drink at the local hangout would be all the therapy I needed. But for some reason, I agreed, and went to the hospital. It was late in the evening, I was terrified, nervous, and wondering, “Why did I ever agree to this?” I wanted to go home, but I was confused; where was home? Then I remembered my doctor saying my thinking was distorted. He went on to explain that things that made perfect sense to me, like the emails I sent, were not rational.

When the double doors clicked open, I told myself, I could leave at any time because I came voluntary. When the doors clicked and locked behind me, I felt like a scared animal, wanting to run.

A very sweet nurse sat with me at a table to sign papers. I read everything carefully; I wanted to know what I was signing. I added two addendums. The first one was I would give only four hours’ notice if I wanted to leave before I was released. They granted it. I initialed it and made the nurse initial it. The second one, I would know what each medication was they were going to try on me and I would refuse any I felt uncomfortable with. They granted it.

Then the doctor on staff came and talked to me asking the same questions my own doctor had asked. Next thing I knew, they were drawing blood from me, taking x-rays, listening to my chest, and requesting a urine sample.

They had taken my bags and placed them in my room while all the testing was going on. I walked into my room. It was private, very nice bathroom, and pleasant. I pulled my robe out of my suitcase. The belt to it was missing, in fact, all my belts were missing. Where was my blow drier? Where was my straightener? Where was my makeup? I called for the nurse. She explained I was on high watch, and those things had been put in a locker for now. I felt like I must be crazy, but that pain was still in my heart, and I wanted it to go away. I knew I was there because I needed help, this was bigger than me. The nurse came in to give me some medicine. I do not like the idea of taking medicine, unless I need it. I asked what the two pills were. One was a sleeping pill and the other a blood pressure pill. I refused the blood pressure pill, because I wanted to test them to make sure I would not have to take anything I did not want to. They did not make me take the pill. I wanted the sleeping pill. It had been two weeks, and I had not slept. I cried for about ten minutes alone in that bed, worried and fearful. The pill did its trick, and I fell sound asleep. The next morning I felt better. I started crying about thirty minutes after I got up, but it felt good to have had an entire night’s sleep.

A nurse brought me my shampoo, blow dryer, and makeup. I had to keep the door slightly open since I was on high watch. I did not know how to dress for a psych ward and what I had thrown in my suitcase was all I had. I put on my leggings, my black blouse, and my stilettos. I could not find my bra. I asked the nurse, she explained, “Your bras are in the locker too, because you could hang yourself with one.” I could see the headlines, “Death by 38C, black lace bra.”

I went to breakfast, but did not want to talk to the other people there. I needed to be left alone. I scrutinized the food before me, it looked repulsive to me. I took two bites, drank my coffee, and called it finished.

“Now what do I do?” I asked the nurse.

She said I could watch TV or join in on their group activities. I have never been a TV fan, and I did not want to socialize or color pictures. I was embarrassed I was there. I went back to my room and crawled in my bed. I spent the next thirty minutes crying so many tears they soaked my pillow case. I heard a knock on my door, and a lady came in explaining they were going to give me a test. “No math please,” I said. She asked the following questions:

1. What state are you in? (Oklahoma)

2. What city are you in? (Elk City)

3. What county are you in? (I don’t know)

4. What is today’s date? ( I said Feb. 28th…it was March 4th)

I felt very stupid; how could I not know what day it was? Soon the doctor was there for our first session. I have always been more interested in hearing other people’s stories than in telling my own. I started asking him questions about his life. He answered a few. He had suffered his share of sorrows. Then he smiled and said, “We need to talk about you. We need to find a way to lift this depression you are in.”

I told him my story, but in the telling of it, I worried my problems were small, compared to what a lot of people have dealt with. He told me my problems were not small. I had been dealt a huge blow, and it broke me.

We talked about my program of medication. I asked about the side effects of the sleeping pill. He said it caused a weight gain. I told him I would no longer take it. Then he prescribed an anti-depressant to help me lift the depression. I would begin it that evening and see how it worked.

Lunch came; I could not stand to even look at the food. I refused all the meals they were bringing me. When you lose your spirit and your will to live, not much of anything interests you, including food.

Again, I asked the nurse “What am I supposed to do now?” She said doing nothing and having no responsibility was healing. When you are in a locked unit, with nothing to do, all you can do is be in the present or alone with your thoughts.

I wandered around and found a computer to use. It was slow, but I had nothing else to do. I reached out on Facebook to my friends. The computer was so sluggish I would type one letter and wait for it to catch up. Facebook gave me a connection to the world I knew, the world outside of the locked doors that held me. I messaged some friends and asked them to call me. I was not allowed my cell phone, so I gave them the hospital number, and they had to have a password to talk to me. I told them the pass word was writer. When I look back, the people I reached out to on Facebook, were some of the people I didn’t even know that well. I must have sent some pitiful messages, because the phone started ringing. I talked and talked to the people that called. One of the calls was from a person I had never met, but we had become Facebook friends. We had chatted now and then and shared some musical interests. Even though he lived many states away, we had a friend in common in my town, and he was a fan of my Examiner articles. I had never spoken to him before. He reached out and called to this damaged soul, giving me support, and putting me in his prayers. I wrapped myself in the love of each friend’s words of encouragement. There was not much left of me. I was broken, but I needed to find me again, and I knew they would help me do that.

I went to bed around ten that night. This time I did not have the sleeping pill, I did have the anti-depressant though. I tossed and turned in that bed for over an hour. The tears streamed out of my control. I could not fall asleep. Suddenly, I felt my neck jerk. I thought it was weird but didn’t give it much more thought. Then my legs started twitching; my hands shook, and my shoulders and neck jerked again. I feared I was going to walk out of the psych ward a freak…what had I done to myself? I got up and told the nurses something was wrong, I knew my body and something was going haywire. The nurse said that maybe I was just cold and shivering. I went back to bed, and she put two heated blankets on me. I hoped the warmth from the blankets would stop my body from twitching. It did not work, I started to jerk more and sometimes violently. I got up and asked them to call the doctor. When I stood up, the twitches were much less. The nurses checked the side effects of the drug, but said twitching and muscle spasms were not listed. I went to the computer and looked it up myself. I discovered a site that stated twitches were very rare, but a few cases had been documented with that drug. It was now one in the morning. I insisted they call the doctor. He had them discontinue the medicine and to keep an eye on me. I sat in the lazy boy by their desk. I had a muscle spasm so strong I said, “Sweet Jesus, take me now.” I was disappointed Jesus had other ideas for me. Two hours later the twitching and muscle spasms finally stopped.

My first day in the unit consisted of me not eating, having a reaction to the medicine, and no sleep. My thought was that I would just check myself out and handle the depression on my own. I had been strong and confident before I went in, surely I could muster up some of my old strength.

Day 2; I waited for the doctor. When it was my time to see him, I told him I was ready to check out. He explained I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and we needed to find another drug that would help me. He asked me if I still was so blue that I didn’t care if I lived or died. I had to answer, “Yes.” I decided to stay. I wanted this cloud to be gone. I sought to feel normal again. He added that in his opinion the next six months were going to be a challenge to me and he was worried. He wanted me to have the tools to handle the challenges ahead of me. He wanted me to realize the answer I so badly needed, by the only person that held the answer, may never come. He wanted me to be angry. He said to be angry would be a normal reaction. All I could feel was love and forgiveness. I told him anger is not an emotion I have. He explained I could not express anger because I stuff problems down and go into denial. He wanted me to learn to confront and release. I tried to be mad, but every time I did, only thoughts of the wonderful qualities of this person, that held the answer, would fill my head. He looked at me kindly and explained I had to be able to eat and sleep before I could heal.

The nurses helped with my appetite by bringing me food from outside sources. I could now eat half a sandwich.’ Good I thought; I was improving.’ Sleep was not so easy though. I was lucky to get more than two hours.

The new medication worked without side effects. I learned from the therapy. I could eat a little. I only had fleeting thoughts of killing myself. I was ready to go. As I was preparing to be released an odd feeling swept over me, I felt nervous. It was safe in the hospital. The nurses were wonderful. I didn’t have to make any decisions.

The night after I was discharged, I had another breakdown. I was supposed to be on a beach, had been dreaming of it for a long time, but that was no longer in my plans. As I lay in bed, eyes wide open, knowing sleep was going to elude me again, I decided, to take that bottle of sleeping pills. My heart was hurting so bad, I felt so fragmented. I could not find myself anymore, and I needed the pain to end. I looked at my phone, and a voice in my head told me to text a lady I had only met once. I didn’t know if I was hearing voices now, too, or if it was God. I saw a vision of that sweet and beautiful lady in my head. I remembered she and her husband had a light that shined all around them. They seemed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was late at night. I sent the text. This angel answered me back immediately. We texted for many hours, both of us were sharing our hearts. Her husband got in on the conversation and added words of encouragement. I asked them to take this shadow of depression away from me, that I was desperate. The lady also shed some light on my unanswered questions that were tormenting me. All of a sudden, I felt some of the depression leave. The texting, praying, and caring spirit of that sweet couple, saved my life.

I have been home for a few days now. I am still fighting the depression, but I am strong enough not to give into the black thoughts. I still have a tormented need for the answer I so desperately desire. I have friends and family that have stepped forward and are surrounding me with love and help.

One of my friends spent countless hours researching information to help me understand why I may never have the answer. She researched why the situation has caused me such trauma. She researched counselors for me to contact on my journey to become whole. She calls often to extend her love, she lets me text the good and bad thoughts. She has offered to go with me to my follow up checkups. She has become my rock.

Then, there are the two Methodist preachers. The lady preacher is my dear friend. She checks on me and offers me love. She plans future outings for me to look forward to. The male preacher I connected with on Facebook a year ago was my minister in the 1970s. He is well versed on the subject of depression. Several times a day he sends me messages reminding me of my strengths, and he encourages me call anytime, day or night, when I need to talk.

My Facebook friend whom I have yet to meet, sends me messages of wisdom, works on helping me find a way to be angry, and has sent me scripture to encourage my healing.

The lovely young couple that saved my life continues to pray for me. They also send me scripture to help when I feel alone and weak. This couple has been very gracious and kind to my cries for help. Yet, they have every reason to not to be involved because it reminds them of past pains they have dealt with time and time again. In helping me, they experience their own hurt, yet they put the work the Lord has led them to do above all else. They have shown me dedication.

My family has embraced me. One showed unconditional love that I didn’t deserve. Offers of homemade lemon pie, my favorite when made by my sister, have my mouth watering. The most astounding thing that happed was a family member I have known for 51 years, for the first time in my life, said, “I love you.” Then, for the first time in my life, I said to him, “I love you.”

Now, you may once again have another question such as, “How will this article help anyone?” My answer is; I have shown what going into a mental hospital is about. That way others won’t have the fears of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” if a situation happens in their lives, which they need professional help to heal. I wanted to share that depression; and being overwhelmed by a life event does not have to be hidden, nor do you need to be ashamed that you are a damaged soul. To understand, if you break, you are not alone, there is help for you.

I am a damaged soul because I gave my soul away and believed it would be protected. I now know the only one who should own my soul while I am on this earth is me.

Our strength comes from our vulnerabilities and our hope comes from even our most feeble trust we can find.

The Beatles had it right: We get by with a little help from our friends.

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