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You Don't Belong Here

I specifically remember the date that I hit rock bottom. October 5, 2019. I couldn’t catch my breath, streaming tears, hysterically overwhelmed, on the floor, sobbing. At that point, my life was a self-made mess that I refused to acknowledge. I was a plate-spinning clown trying to keep everything up in the air. On this pole twirled my ex-boyfriend that I was still secretly seeing. On that pole whirled my ex-husband with whom I had purchased a house, despite living in different states. On another pole spun my parents and family, who I now imagine were seeing the self-destruction much more clearly than I was able to at the time. No one fully knew all the pieces of deceit that I was precariously balancing, and when the plates finally came crashing down, I was left standing alone in my bathroom on a Saturday morning, shaking, weeping, and feeling insane. I was on brink and teetering perilously on the edge of my sanity.

That was exactly two years ago to the day. It started as a calm, normal Saturday morning. Blake and I had watched Transformers the night before and he fell asleep on the couch during the movie. When he was younger, he would occasionally have night terrors, crying hysterically between sleep and wakefulness, remembering nothing the next morning. As I scooped him up to move him to my bed, this hysteria took hold and I laid him in bed, patted his back until he finally quieted and we both fell asleep for the night.

My parents showed up unexpectedly at 8:00am the following morning, and needless to say, I was caught off guard. Perplexed even more so to find out my live-in housekeeper had called them and, for all intents and purposes, accused me of mistreating my child after hearing the bedtime frenzy the night before. This utterly false allegation and the fact that my parents found enough validity in it threw me for such a loop that I was barely able to process what was happening. Before I truly understood, my parents took my child and left with him. Such shock overtook me that I could not even protest, despite the fact that just a few moments prior, Blake and I were peacefully watching cartoons while I sipped coffee. Our charming Saturday morning was suddenly and ferociously unhinged.

In hindsight, I know their actions stemmed from a deep distrust of my priorities due to concerns related to prior decisions and behaviors. In that moment, the stark realization that my pretenses were crumbling required acknowledging that I was devastating all the people closest to me with my actions and deceit. I was juggling so many secrets and stresses that it literally brought me to my knees in a cold, empty bathroom. I didn’t know what to do. I dialed my best friend and then my counselor with no answers. I googled “emergency psych services” because I frantically needed someone, anyone, right that minute and I had no one.

A psychiatric urgent care was at the top of the results list on Google and I got in the car. Through blurry eyes, I navigated downtown and parked, still tearful as I went to the desk and asked to speak to someone. I was not their typical case and they were somewhat bewildered by my presence.


“Are you suicidal?”


“No.”


“Are you drunk?”


“No, I had some wine last night, but not now.”


“Are you on drugs?”


“No, I don’t do drugs.”


“So, why do you need to talk to someone?”


“My parents took my son and I just feel like I’m going crazy and I just want to talk to someone!”


They took me back to an intake room where I answered the same questions while they took my vital signs. Once I was triaged, I sat in the waiting room, not knowing what to expect. A gentleman named Paul, a patient advocate of sorts, came out to speak with me and I started sobbing all over again, weeping my woes into his shoulder. As he handed me a tissue, he reassuringly confided, “I work here because I was in a similar place and they helped me. I’ll stay with you and make sure everything goes okay during check in.”

After confusedly asking a couple clarifying questions, I finally realized that I had not come to a psychiatric urgent care. I had come to an Urgent Psychiatric Care facility. There is a big difference. I was seeking a quick fix for my despondent situation. I had not expected, even in my desperation, to be checking myself in to an inpatient unit, so it took my brain a minute to comprehend the reality of the situation. But I was already registered. As I pondered the stigma of adding “inpatient psych patient” to my list of life-defining adjectives, I honestly just felt a sense of relief commingle with my exhaustion.

My ex-boyfriend arrived, distraught and distressed, as I had called him on the drive to let him know what was going on and where I was headed. Paul took his leave and let us sit together in the waiting room. Apprehensive. Quiet. Tearful. When the automatic double doors opened and Paul came to collect me, I turned and said, “I’m staying.” His momentary protests were followed by my feeble, uncertain reassurances. We hugged goodbye, tears rolling down our cheeks as I followed Paul through the doors.

I already felt emotionally exposed and then I was literally stripped. My jewelry, clothes, shoes, and phone were sealed in a plastic bag as I changed into papery blue scrubs and slipper socks. More questions from the staff. One phone call allowed. With a whole-hearted heaviness, I dialed my dad’s number and told him where I was and that I was staying. He said he thought it was a good idea.

I quickly realized that I was grossly naïve regarding what was to come. I envisioned a colorless but sunny room, a twin-sized bed donned with white linens, maybe a roommate of similar age and situation, hot meals on trays, group therapy, and possibly playing card games or watching TV shows with other slightly unstable subjects. The blue paper scrubs issued to me prior should have been the indictor of the actual situation. I was assigned a plastic recliner in the first of 10 rows, with a fitted sheet and one blanket. I became one of about 120 strangers in a communal fish bowl. Staff monitored the population from behind plexiglass and a coded door. The lone TV, I soon discovered, repeatedly alternated between The Meg and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The cold sandwiches were served in red plaid concession trays and the miniature toothbrushes were disposable.

My anxiety morphed into inquisitiveness, eyes wide, taking in this institutional setting and my fellow bunk mates. Shortly after I settled in, the rounding nurse practitioner stopped to speak with me. There was no office session or privacy. He squatted by my chair and reviewed my intake information on a clipboard, delving a bit deeper for details. I blubbered away about my tribulations and after some conversation, he said he wanted to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help me rest. When I questioned what I would be taking, “Xanax? Ativan?” he gave me an amused glance and asked, “What do you do?”

When I told him I’m a nurse, he stifled a chuckle and said, “I don’t think you were really aware of where you were coming, were you?” I confirmed this and we agreed to follow up the next day to see what my plan would be from that point. I was escorted to a window and handed a small paper medicine cup and a plastic water cup through the small opening. I swallowed Xanax and Tegretol, anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medication, in the event I had any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, despite my lack of alcohol consumption in well over 14 hours. Typical procedure, it seemed, given the clientele.

Then I slept. Ate, watched The Meg, slept more. Ate again. Intentionally slept through Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Slyly observed those around me in awe and sadness, feeling a wave of relief that I had not been hauled in through the back door by police or begging to stay because there was nowhere else to go. I brushed my teeth with gritty toothpaste and slept on and off through the night, shifting from side to side, adjusting the fitted sheet when it slipped off the corners of my recliner, glancing at the clock through exhausted eyes.

There was no indication of morning except for the florescent lights going up, followed by disgruntled groans, murmurs, and the squeaky wheels of the breakfast cart as it rolled past. I ate. Napped. This was not the therapeutic environment I was expecting, however, it was a period of rest and realization I couldn’t have gotten in any other situation.

The nurse practitioner came by again and after a brief conversation, frankly stated, “You don’t belong here. I’m going to discharge you today, but I do want you to come see me at my clinic. We need your chair anyway, so I’ll have the techs start processing you out.” I agreed to schedule a follow up appointment and I shortly received my bag of belongings. I shimmied back into my jean shorts and t-shirt in a bathroom, feeling extremely out of place as I tiptoed past the rows of blue scrub clad faces still in plastic recliners. I settled on a bench in front of the giant plexiglass window and chatted with the behavioral techs while my paperwork was prepared.

As I sat on the outskirts of that large, abrupt, bustling room full of hurting people, I couldn’t help but count my blessings. Despite feeling so low, I was sitting witness to how much lower the blows could actually go and in turn, how good I actually had it. I had a home, food, clothing, people who cared about me despite being hurt so deeply by my behavior. I had drug myself down into the depths of despair with selfishness, a lack of boundaries, and people-pleasing behaviors, only to realize my despair was a matter of perception. To see others struggling with hunger, homelessness, addiction, mental illness and a lack of community within arm’s reach was heartbreaking and eye-opening.

“You don’t belong here.” I know the nurse practitioner meant physically there, in that kind of environment. But honestly, I’m so glad I ended up there, because it made me realize that I didn’t belong in the behaviors that I was practicing anymore either. The shadows and shifting, the outright lies, omitting, secrets, catering, indulging and coddling. I was trying to keep everyone else in my life safe and satisfied while I sabotaged my own joy. I had been spinning everyone around on their own plates and when they all came crashing down, it gave me the opportunity to break as well. And with that brokenness came the potential to rebuild.

I exited that psych facility into a sunny afternoon through the same double doors that had closed behind me the prior day and into the arms of my ex-boyfriend, who had stayed in the parking lot the whole night, waiting and worried. These days, his arms are still the ones that close around me and hold me tight. My relationship with my parents has mended with time and patience. My ex-husband and I co-parent beautifully. All those relationships and my own self-relationship have taken time and energy, effort and boundaries, forgiveness and faith to get back on track. I continued in counseling with that nurse practitioner for quite a while after my in-patient stay and without a doubt, there have been ups and downs since that time. Thankfully though, that depth of despair is behind me as I continue to put the pieces back together to recreate a life of beauty, peace, and joy. I am still figuring out where I belong and that changes all the time as I grow. But at least when I look back on that time of despair, I’m grateful to know that I no longer belong there.






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