July 10, 2014

8 Lessons I Learned in the Psychiatric Hospital. ~ Ariel Allen-Trosky

Aunt Letter

I recently spent some time in the hospital.

It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here’s what I learned:

1. Not everyone has a mental health problem.

It’s commonly said that when someone says they have something like bipolar, OCD, or borderline personality disorder, “No worries, every one has OCD now a days.” It is simply not true. Yes, there may be misdiagnoses— there’s no blood test for OCD or problems like it—but telling a person who needs medication to calm their impulses that someone who keeps their desk orderly and clean is in the same category is insulting.

2. If you are on medication, that does not make you an addict.

I am guilty of this thought. Every time I started to feel better, I decided, this medication isn’t needed!  I can’t be dependent on a drug to make me happy! And that’s what ultimately landed me in the hospital. I’ll share a secret with you. If it weren’t for those pills, I wouldn’t be here. I take a pill for my kidneys every day, and I look at my other meds the same way. Don’t beat yourself up about being on medication. It just helps you be you.

3. I am not my thoughts. I am not my diagnosis.

This concept was a little hard to understand for me, but here’s how it finally clicked: I’m not the thoughts I’m having, I’m the entity that is aware of those thoughts. There is a sacred space between where one thought ends and another starts, and that is who I am. Soul, spirit, call it what you will, but that is me, in that moment. Right there. Free yourself of your thoughts every once in a while, and live in the moment of time that you’re in.

4. There’s no way to “Shake off” an illness.

“Shake it off! Don’t think so much!” This is something I’ve heard a few dozen times. Let me explain with a little analogy for depression. Say you’re in a ditch. A ditch 20 feet in the ground. All you want to do is get out of this ditch. People are trying to help you. “Jump!” They say, but you know you can’t jump that high, no one can. “I need a ladder!” You shout. They laugh. “You don’t need a ladder, I jumped out of a pothole the other day with no ladder and I’m fine!” You answer “But that pothole was three inches deep. I’m 20 feet under ground.” “Yes, but it’s the same thing. If you just jump, you’ll be fine!”

Shaking off a sad day is not easy, but attainable. Leaping out of depression can be nearly impossible. That’s not to say we should scold those trying to help someone with depression, but maybe try to encourage listening a little bit more.

5.  There will always be people who are worse off, and better off than me.

If you suffer with mental health issues, it can feel almost like you’re completely alone. I thought I was damaged, like no one would understand me. Once I met the amazing people in our unit, I realized how lucky I truly was. I can speak clearly, I can communicate with other people, I can leave my bedroom without a terrible panic attack. Those are all things some people can’t do. I’m not saying I feel guilty about my blessings, I’m just more aware of them.

6. People care.

Visiting hours were the most exciting part of the day. We met family members, boyfriends and girlfriends, best friends, siblings, and so on. All of them embracing their loved ones, happy to just be near them. Sure, some may judge a patient on the psych floor, but those who really care and matter, those are the ones that don’t even question it, they just appreciate your presence. If you are struggling, and are scared what people will think if you go to the hospital, take it from me, the girl who was terrified to tell her parents that she was having problems. Your circle of people, they love you. They want you to be happy. Be brave. You can do it.

7. Be your own advocate.

If you are truly suffering, you must stand up for yourself. Doctors, nurses and friends aren’t mind readers. Getting better is a series of steps, the first starting with us. We are a victims of an illness, yes. But that can’t stop us from getting help. Don’t be discouraged when people don’t understand, because some of them won’t. It’s a battle that we are meant to face. It’s okay to be a little selfish with our doctor’s time, and if he or she doesn’t understand, find a new doctor. Don’t stop looking for help. It’s the only way you’ll get better.

8. You can be an inspiration.

That letter in the title picture is from my aunt. She died from mental illness March of 2013. She knew all of my pain and struggles, but she believed in me. You can fight this battle. You can win. And maybe, someone will aspire to be like you.

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Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Author’s Own

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Ariel Allen-Trosky