10 Insights from Inside an Acute Psych Ward (& recovery afterwards).

Via on Aug 16, 2012
Hard to smile when you’ve just been released from a psych ward

In September of 2004 I spent nine days committed to Lion’s Gate Acute Psych Ward.

That meant I wasn’t allowed to leave. I had to wait until the authorities-on-high deemed me sane enough to walk the streets.

They had good reason to do so. Not a month early, I’d been admitted to the same acute psych ward by my fiance after I freaked out post-LSD, getting weirder and weirder after we’d spent a long weekend at Shamballah Music Festival. The final straw—I started speaking in some language that wasn’t English. Clearly, I’d lost the plot.

Spiritual burglary, the doctor I saw that time called it. My use of drugs had opened doors of perception I had no right to enter.

Now, a month later, this time after my fiance broke up with me, I’d freaked out again. The cops picked me up running half-naked down the back roads of Pemberton, playing Fear Factor games with logging trucks.

I’d have locked me up too.

Waking up in the psych ward, round two, was devastating. I couldn’t blame it on the drugs this time. Plus I was totally alone. No more fiance, no family close by, and no friends dropping by to see me. Psych wards are like that. People aren’t lining up at the door to visit.

Those nine days were excruitiating. My sole motivation for all actions and words was to prove that I was sane so I could get the hell out of the ward and begin the long process of putting my psyche back together.

Hang on a minute.

Surely an Acute Psych Ward would be the ideal place for a recently crazy person to hang out? The ideal place to be supported through a healing process? The ideal place to be cared for and looked after?

No.

And that was insight #1. Institutions are designed to hold people and keep society safe, they’re not designed to heal people.

No surprise there I guess. It’s difficult to remember all the details now—I remember seeing a doctor once or twice. I don’t recall what we talked about. I remember the nurses taking us through some kind of group therapy sessions each afternoon. My interactions with the staff didn’t make much of an impression.

What I do remember was the abysmal food, over-cooked, over-starched, over-dead. Nothing nutritious, healing or life-enhancing about the food. I remember the sterile environment, the lack of plants, the white walls, the anti-septic nature of the environment. Nothing healing about that either. In my enhanced-senses state, the food I was feeding my body, and the energy of my environment was paramount for my state of mind and ability to heal.

I knew that if I wanted to put myself back together, this was not the place to do it.

#2. Mental health services are difficult to deliver, and not all health professionals are up to the task.

A week after I was released from Lion’s Gate Hospital, I was on a plane back to New Zealand. Newly diagnosed bi-polar, and on a prescription of Epilim and something else I don’t recall, I was advised to check in with my local GP and local mental health service when I got home.

So I did. My GP was fine. The nurse I encountered at Mental Health Services was not—she was condescending. The last thing I needed in my fragile, “I’m such a loser state.” So I walked.

That was my last encounter with Mental Health Services. If the health professional who’s meant to support me through this process has an idea that I am less than her… well how the hell is that meant to work?

#3. Drugs have their place.

After my first psychotic episode, I was put on two drugs. Epilim, and something else. The name escapes me. One was an anti-psychotic, and one a mood stabliser. Two weeks later, I stopped taking the medication because, I was fine you know? Nothing wrong with me.

Until the emotional distress of being dumped by my fiance triggered another episode. Would the drugs have prevented that second episode? Hard to say. But after episode number two, I wised up. I continued taking the drugs while I stablized my life, then decreased the dosage in increments with the full knowledge of my family and flatmates. Within six months, I was drug-free. They’d done their job.

Eight years later, I’ve never had any other experiences of psychosis.

#4. Nobody knows what to say to someone who’s been crazy.

I’d had the freakiest experience of my life, and even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, all I craved was someone to talk with about the experience. More than one someone actually. I wanted people to ask me about it, and talk to me about it, because that would make it normal and okay. Like getting a broken leg.

“So how’d you break your leg?”

“Fell off a cliff.”

“So how’d you go crazy?”

“Oh, had this childhood behaviour pattern of suppressing all emotion, leaving my body and disappearing into my mind.”

Didn’t happen. People didn’t ask me questions. They pretended it hadn’t happened, they glossed over it, they looked the other way. Craziness freaks people out.

#5. Breaking a leg is just life. Breaking a mind is personal.

No one feels bad about themselves when they break a leg. It doesn’t strike to the core of who they are. It’s just their body, and it will heal.

Different story when you break your mind. We identify with our minds, so mental illness means there’s something drastically wrong with us. With who we truly are. Only this is false too. We are not our minds at all. There is no core failing in a person whose mind doesn’t work as well as it might. A broken mind can also be healed, just like a broken leg can. Maybe even better.

This extends to any kind of mental illness —you are not your illness. You are not depressed, you are not anxious, you are not mad. You are having an experience of depression, an experience of anxiety, an experience of madness. Experiences come and go. You remain.

#6. Any breakdown can be transmuted into a break-through.

My mind/body/emotions interface wasn’t working. So it broke.

Once it broke, it was easier to see why it wasn’t working—mostly because I couldn’t just ignore it anymore.

So I figured out what was wrong and I put it back together again. Better than ever.

That initial fault that caused the mind/body/emotion interface breakdown? Healed. Why? Because I got real curious about why I’d gone crazy. That curiousity led to answers. Answers led to solutions. Solutions led to healing. And now here I am, rocking it.

Sounds easy right? Maybe—but this process took eight years. The first year was hell. The second and third year was only Hell-ish. By the fourth year I was starting to feel some semblance of almost normal. It wasn’t until year six when I was starting to feel good again on a regular basis. But I was bloody-minded and bloody-determined to claw my way back from the pits of Hell and turn this experience into something amazing. Which I did.

It doesn’t matter what’s happened to you, it only matters what you do with it.

#7. Craziness is an aspect of the continuum of our human experience.

Here’s what I noticed when I was crazy.

Being crazy is believing the stories that your mind is telling you, even when the actual evidence from the here and now is presenting something else completely different.

Many of us, at all times, hold grains of craziness inside our belief systems, and in the filters through which we see reality. It’s just that most of us are able to continue functioning in step with the dominant reality to avoid detection. Fifty shades of crazy people, fifty shades of crazy.

We’re all crazy, one time or another.

#8. Persistence, faith and love will carry you through. Always.

It’s been eight years this September and I have never been crazy again. Oh I’ve made bad choices, and ignored my inner-knowing, but it’s all just been a part of the learning.

In the last eight years, something inside me has loved me enough to always seek understanding, to always inquire into my experience, to always burn with a desire to be real.

That something has been a daily persistence, fueled by a faith that I had a power inside me that could lead me to healing. I don’t know where this comes from. I only know that it is there, because I observe other people in their difficult life circumstances and I see that not all of them have that fire to blaze on through. I have the fire. For that I am grateful.

Find that fire inside you. If I have it, you have it. It just needs lighting.

#9. Truth, honesty, and expression of Self are the key to healing.

A huge part of my journey has been fronting up, just as I am. I started writing my first blog in 2006 (5?), and just being able to talk about what had happened to me was healing. Every time I shared the truth of my experience as I knew it in that moment of time, another layer of Not-Me dropped away, and another understanding floated to the surface. There was something so strong, so empowering, so liberating, in being able to own my experience, and own mySelf. This happened to me. And I’m okay with that. It’s just a happening.

Having the courage to talk about your experience, whatever it is, will change your life.

#10. People sit up and take notice when you casually drop into a conversation, “This one time, in the psych ward…”

I see now that I’m a Warrior, a warrior of the psyche. I ventured deep into the forbidden lands where ordinary mortals are terrified to go, because few men or women ever return intact. I ventured. I returned. And I’m intact.

This journey, deep into the psyche, has taught me how the psyche works. I understand it intimately, and now I can work with it, on a daily basis. This is an extraordinary gift.

Those nine days I spent committed to a psych ward forever changed my life. And I’m so grateful.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is the author of Forty Days of Yoga - Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice, and the publisher of New Zealand’s own awsome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. Now back at home, and playing solo mum to her young son, she loves to stop, drop and practice - breathing, moving and dancing.

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76 Responses to “10 Insights from Inside an Acute Psych Ward (& recovery afterwards).”

  1. Erin says:

    Continued: This can actually be quite traumatizing for people who are already in a vulnerable place in their lives. This is why hospital social workers set up outpatient services upon discharge. Healing happens in a long-term treatment center/rehab or on the outside with a therapist and (if indicated) a psychiatrist. Also, a hospital is "sterile" for a reason. It is for the patients' safety. Everything is a weapon in a psych ward. This lady used the example of plants. Potted plants can be/would be thrown at people/used to break windows/broken and used to stab others or harm self. Even the colors on the walls (usually white) are strategic: bright colors can be overstimulating to someone who is already internally stimulated (i.e. psychotic). Lastly, while I agree that some in the mental health field are not meant to be in this field (some because they are true sociopaths looking for control), many people in the field are lovely, kind, patient people who truly love what they do and care about their patients.

  2. Scott says:

    As others have already posted, very thoughtful and insightful!

  3. Jeannie says:

    I could really relate to this experience that you had. I, too, lost my mental faculties for a while; a couple of times. I was able to experience three different psych wards and not all are the same. One actually caused my mental capacities to diminish even more. The third time, I was finally able to come back to normalcy somewhat. Although from time to time I have flashes of self doubt and hope that my brain never does that to me again. There was a vicious cycle going on in my life that had to do with a really important family death. A fear of death and the unknown afterward. An escape into unreality via World of Warcraft for a while. A flare up of a chronic auto-immune disease and a husband who wanted to be part of a harem. Thank goodness for the third psych ward who at least helped me to see some sort of light after so much darkness. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is helpful to know that it happens to others as well.

  4. Amber says:

    I appreciate your frankness, and OH GOD, YES! How amazing it would be if people asked about the mind-break as casually as any other thing. That was always the hardest bit for me too. I am grateful to have friends with different shades of crazy that I can talk to when that storyline resurfaces and I feel the desire to commiserate! You are so not alone in this. We are ON IT! Thanks for sharing!

  5. mal says:

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Todd says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your insights with us.

  7. Erin says:

    Continued: This is why hospital social workers set up outpatient services upon discharge. Healing happens in a long-term treatment center/rehab or on the outside with a therapist and (if indicated) a psychiatrist. Also, a hospital is "sterile" for a reason. It is for the patients' safety. Everything is a weapon in a psych ward. This lady used the example of plants. Potted plants can be/would be thrown at people/used to break windows/broken and used to stab others or harm self. Even the colors on the walls (usually white) are strategic: bright colors can be overstimulating to someone who is already internally stimulated (i.e. psychotic). Lastly, while I agree that some in the mental health field are not meant to be in this field (some because they are true sociopaths looking for control), many people in the field are lovely, kind, patient people who truly love what they do and care about their patients.

  8. will says:

    "I see now that I’m a Warrior, a warrior of the psyche. I ventured deep into the forbidden lands where ordinary mortals are terrified to go, because few men or women ever return intact."

    I lol'd at this. Hits me right at home. I also had a drug induced psychotic episode. Fun shit. (no longer do drugs)

  9. lar says:

    Oh, please consider writing a book and telling the world what you have expressed in this blog. I KNOW it would be life saving. My son did not get the chance to hear someone's story like yours, that you can overcome this kind of life-altering state. He was quite the Warrior, twice, but in the end too much trauma occurred to him. And the paradigm of MH care is anything but healing, as you so eloquently expressed. And to the person who blogged that MH psych hospitals are "acute" only environments, please consider the acute environment of a hospital ER triages a person when they enter. But to just label, dx, warehouse, and massively drug a person who is in some state of severe emotional crisis, is wrong. Where are the people to help a person thru the crisis? Surely, drugging them into a drugged stupor is not effective for their healing process- no it just renders them incapable of processing what happened to them to and most importantly, help each person realize it matters what each person does to heal from it. The message "you are not your illness" no matter what kind of severe MH crisis arises would be so powerful!!!!!! "Experiences come and go, you remain" is soooo true!!!!!! And whoever wrote these horrific experiences especially the lack of caring inside a locked unit, while being drugged into a stupor and being told of a lifelong biological illness (how can that be when some people have no MI in their families), which leads people to feel hopeless and helpless. Yes, soul-killing- is the absolute truth.

  10. Megan says:

    I enjoyed reading your article! I can relate to most of the things you said because I’ve had psychosis on and off for about 4 years, never was admitted to a psyched ward/hospital but close. I felt I was rather lucky because in my mind the episodes were pretty terrible. I’m starting to search for answers and actually find them. I agree with you when you say you come out a stronger person. Sometimes it happens that way, and sometimes you come out stronger than most people who have never had an illness like this. Thank you thank you!

  11. bex0r says:

    Kara! You are amazing :) Thanks for relating your experience in a way that so many can identify with – those of us who have had traumatic episodes of mental illness ourselves and those who've witnessed family members go through them. Even someone who has had no direct experience or proximity can now better understand what strangers go through, and that even though they may be acting strange, they are still PEOPLE. mental illness does not define us. we can be healed and we can be whole again :) much love <3

  12. Karen says:

    I tried phych meds again for about two weeks of hell where I only got worse, then I wen to acupuncture twice and a meditation group once and I stopped the meds and now I feel the best I've felt in 30 years. Western medicine doesn't work.

  13. Well written :). Craziness is a delicate thing, and must be handled with care.

    Love, depression anxiety girl :)

  14. Alexander Le says:

    Congratulation Kara-Leah, you sure have some very good insights so far. Wishing you the very best on further discovering and seeing into the nature of "psychological constipation, psychological masturbation, and psychological cancer of the mind".

  15. Danielle Harrison says:

    Thank you for your post and your personal insights and experiences in an inpatient psychiatric ward. I myself have been admitted to IP several times throughout my life. I completely agree with the sterility, white walls, lack of therapy or any real support. Their primary purpose is to keep you safe from yourself and others under constant supervision while working on stabilizing your meds and keeping you fed and rested. They are not healing centers by any means – that is what they are supposed to refer you to for follow up care after your stay. Psychiatric services are so desperately needed and so hard to obtain adequate care. While I felt as though everyone caring for me did the best they could and I was always given basic necessities and treated with kindness and care, it was no vacation.

    I'm glad to hear you got through this and have this experience to share so that you can help others who have experienced similar situations and need someone to relate to.

    I was in a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) training to become a Peer-to-Peer Mentor and I remember loving every minute of being in the presence of these beautiful and great persons with mental illnesses. We could talk at length and cordially about taboo subjects such as suicide as though we were talking about the weather. At the end of the training I told them all that I was grateful for them and that they were my kind of people: helpers. Healers that want to utilize the negative in the world and turn it into positive and make this world a better place. You are also definitely my kind of person.

  16. Julia says:

    Wow…..thank you so much. Your courage and fire…..breathtaking. I am still working every day to own my 'crazy', but I feel more comfortable with it as I get older and see it for What It Is….
    Thank you xo

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