T/W: Sensitive topics about mental health medicine and mental illness—also mentions of mental hospitals and dark themes.
Hello readers! Another Friday, another 5pm EST, and another post about my mental instability. So grab your favorite coping mechanism/comfort object and let’s jump right in!
Note: This post is going to be LONG, so seriously, if you intend to read this, get comfy!
It’s an understatement (especially at this point) to say that 2020 was a horrible year. Covid-19 is and was no joke, and it effectively changed everything for everyone! Through the whole pandemic, being a healthcare worker, I obviously had to continue to work. This is something that I understood would happen from the start, and I accepted it—not only because I needed the money and the job, not even just because I care wholeheartedly for my residents and will put myself through just about anything to help them (though that is true)—it was also because, for me, this was the tiny shred of normalcy that I would get to cling to. And really, my life didn’t change all that much—until it did—but not for the reason you’d think.
Despite being an avid mental health advocate and supporter, as well as someone who suffers from several mental illnesses, it never occurred to me in the beginning of covid how things might change for people dealing with a mental health crisis. All that consumed my thoughts in the beginning was the physical well-being of my residents and my family and friends and that I wanted to keep everybody safe and alive. It never dawned on me that mental health was still a part of that equation—until something big happened.
As I am writing this, and throughout the pandemic thus far, I have somehow, fortunately, not contracted the Covid-19 virus *knock on wood*. However, my 2020, specifically the end of it, was still quite distressing. This was from numerous things but the main one was my mental health. I know this might seem weird because I’m always so vocal about my mental illness, but up until the end of last year, I had never had a mental health crisis to the point of needing hospitalization—unless you count my eating disorders, which I do, but I mean in regards to my other illnesses (depression, anxiety, PTSD).
So, what exactly went wrong?
In truth, I’m still trying to fully understand what happened because the whole thing is like a blur to me. I believe there were many factors that contributed to the ultimate breakdown. However, I think the true start of it was being put on a medication that was wrong for me.
It’s important to note that on a journey to bettering oneself mentally, sometimes that includes medication and that’s ok! It’s also necessary to acknowledge that sometimes there are complications and meds need to be regulated or traded out, which is also ok. The thing is, the minute something starts feeling wrong and you reach out to a professional, they’re supposed to do something…well, that’s not what happened with me.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I have to take you back to the beginning. I believe it was late September/early October. I had just moved with my best friend, my sister and her fiancé into a new apartment—a fresh start, and a necessary change. However, I noticed that the move caused a spike in my anxiety. I started feeling very restless and had what felt like some trouble breathing here and there. It wasn’t necessarily out of the blue, given the stress of the move, work, covid, my parents (a story for another time), etc. it makes a lot of sense why I would feel the way I did, but I still sought treatment because I was worried about the shortness of breath (thinking it could be covid related).
I went to my usual Dr.’s office at the time, looking for some clarity and hopefully a definitive answer about why I felt sick. I went in for complaints of chest pain and breathing issues, and left with two doctors suggesting to me that it was all anxiety based—which I imagine was not incorrect—and being desperate and having no psych professional other than a therapist at the time, I accepted medicine from these doctor’s. The main one that I saw that day in particular had talked me into taking Buspar (anxiety medication) because I had taken it in the past to treat anxiety so at least it was something I knew and I agreed to that.
Here’s the thing, the last time I took Buspar had been about four years prior and I was told that I didn’t have to take it consistently—just when I needed it (which I believe essentially had a placebo effect because it’s not necessarily a medication that works on an as needed basis). This time however, I was told to take it everyday. I was a little nervous but I trusted this doctor. She was nice enough and seemed to really care about how I was feeling. Still, I felt uneasy…probably because when I went to my pharmacy to pick up the medicine I saw that she had also prescribed me the antidepressant Effexor, which I had never had before and had not agreed to. This was a red flag to me, but I ignored it and simply decided that I would not take a medication that I was uncertain about.
Fast forward to the end of October, I started feeling a little “off”…like more off than I had previously felt. For whatever reason, I was getting panic attacks around the same time every night and I had no clue why this was happening to me. I also felt super low and out of it—disconnected from reality and I was terrified.
The minute that things started getting super intense—as in I basically couldn’t sleep or eat (not intentional for once), was having convulsions or tremors, was missing work, withdrew from my part time courses in college, and was frantic and paranoid over just about everything—I reached out to the doctor who put me on this medication—or I tried to.
My sister noticed that I was probably having adverse effects to the Buspar upon looking up the side effects. She even tried to help me contact that doctor but we could not reach her. My sister told the lady who answered the phone that it was urgent and about the state of mind I was in, plus the physical effects I was having and she said she would pass this information along…but nothing came of it.
I sought treatment from that office multiple times in the span of a few weeks, because my paranoia started convincing me it was a whole different illness and I was sure I was dying! Every time I went I was never able to get back in with that doctor so I had to explain my situation over and over again each time and nothing anybody did ever helped. The last doctor I saw even mentioned that my original doctor had explained to her that I reached out about the medication but told her to tell me to give it a little bit longer (I was supposed to have a follow up appointment to go over medications with the psych professionals there).
At this point, everything had gotten to the level where my friend had called the ambulance for me multiple times for severe panic attacks (which I was sure weren’t panic attacks because again, rationality was gone at this point and I was sure I was dying).
So the first hospital I went to did nothing for me other than scan my head and give me a saline drip because I failed to mention the new medication I was on—only mentioning a headache and that I felt dizzy and super out of it. Mind you, covid was at an all time high at this point, and they looked bothered that I even came there for something they didn’t even end up finding…and I felt like an idiot.
Regardless, I went to a different hospital a few days later and was almost sent home that night—similar to what happened at the other place, with the nurse looking at me as if I had three heads, judgment evident in her eyes and almost disgusted that I had bothered coming in…until I started losing feeling in the lower half of my body and finally mentioned that a medication I was taking could be playing a role, and suddenly, it became serious enough.
I was freaking out to say the least. I felt totally out of control of my body and though I understood that it could be a med issue somewhere in my rational thinking mind, I still also thought I was dying. It got to the point where a different nurse—a much kinder one—gave me some Ativan to knock me out for a bit and I could see the pity on her face as my body finally started relaxing. The next thing I heard was that they were moving me out of the ER and up to a room to keep me for a few days because after consulting toxicology, there was a possibly I had “serotonin syndrome”.
For those of you who have no idea what that is—because I sure as hell didn’t—it basically means that the chemicals of a medication you are taking are causing too much serotonin to enter the body and has some pretty severe side effects including: •agitation/restlessness •confusion •rapid heart rate/high blood pressure •dilated pupils •loss of muscle coordination/twitching muscles •muscle rigidity •heavy sweating •diarrhea •headache •shivering •goosebumps. With severe symptoms including, fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness… source: “Serotonin Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical and Educational Research. 1998-2021. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/serotonin-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354758. March 12, 2021.
Needless to say, especially that day, I appeared to be a dead ringer for this syndrome. This got me admitted to the hospital for three whole days as they flushed my system of the pills and kept an eye on me to make sure I was in my right mind. The thing is though, I wasn’t.
Sure, I did feel better but I was still having some symptoms that I could not explain and I was worried that going home would start the whole process all over again. The doctor at the hospital kept mentioning seeing one of the hospital’s psychologists. However, I still was not in my right mind and I also just wanted to leave after being cooped up for three days in what was probably a covid-overrun hospital. Needless to say, I was discharged—feeling hopeful that this was finally over with.
The moment I got home I tried to take a nap because I was exhausted and I noticed my body started having the same reactions it had before but just to a lesser extent. I was hysterical at this point, quite literally not knowing what to do.
I won’t lie, in the headspace I was in, thinking I would never go back to “normal”, thinking I would have to leave school (I did) and that I would lose my job (I, thankfully, did not)—I considered for a brief moment that I might be better off dead. I didn’t actually intend to carry out a plan, but my suicidal ideation was strong and the thoughts were growing—something had to be done.
Finally, my sister insisted that I go back to the hospital and try to get put in the mental ward. At this point, I agreed that it would probably be best—I had nothing to lose from it and I just wanted this to end. She also had the idea that I would get in faster if we called for an ambulance, and so we did. We stressed the fact that I wasn’t intending to harm myself or others and yet, sure enough, police were also sent out.
So on top of feeling like complete trash, I now felt like a criminal, like every move I made was under watch and I was terrified until the ambulance showed up. This particular time, the EMTs who were on duty were not the most pleasant either, so overall, that experience was super uncomfortable for me.
Fortunately, once I got to the hospital, the doctors and nurses I saw were extremely nice about everything. They validated me, and told me that I was making a good choice considering the massive toll this had taken on my life. Eventually, I saw people from the psych team and they agreed that sending me to a mental hospital would be the best option for me at that time.
This is where things get even more interesting…I told my mom to cancel that appointment (I couldn’t call because I was in the hospital) with the doctor because I obviously wouldn’t make the follow up appointment about the medication—they ended up telling her that the appointment didn’t even exist even though I had an appointment card as evidence—so not only did that office not help me with a med adjustment when I was having severe symptoms, they either cancelled or lost track of my follow up appointment…needless to say, I switched my doctor’s office after that.
Back to the hospital, it took about a day to find placement for me in a mental ward. I had to be transferred to a different hospital about 30 minutes away, as the ward in the hospital I was at was full. That’s when it hit me—mental crisis cases are probably at an all time high too because covid took a toll on everyone physically AND mentally…and the mentally ill don’t just stop being mentally ill because of a pandemic.
When I was being transferred I was told that all the ambulances were busy (dead serious, and that is absolutely terrifying) so a constable had to take me over instead and I was petrified again. The people who took me didn’t end up being rude but they certainly didn’t make the experience anymore comfortable and so I was placed in the back of an unmarked police car and taken to my destination…at 11pm (not a huge deal because I’m a night shift worker anyway but I know how mental hospitals work and that I’d have to get up in the mornings there, so I was uneasy).
By the time I arrived and got registered it was going for 1am. Obviously, I had to go directly to my room and attempt to sleep—something that had me even more shaken up than the ride over, as I had not been able to sleep well for weeks. Regardless, I eventually forced my eyes shut and willed everything in my body to make the twitching end (though that didn’t happen, but I did fall asleep).
My first day at the hospital I spent in and out of consciousness, my body trying to adjust to the schedule and the shock of being there. I was aware though that if I slept through the day and didn’t show any motivation that I’d probably be kept there longer than I wanted to be. So, I did eventually make an effort to get up and join group, after eating breakfast in my room.
I won’t go into every single detail about my week long stay there because, believe it or not, so much went down in a week. So, I’ll just highlight some of my “favorite” parts.
For starters, there were apparently gang-affiliated people in there, that I, of course happened to be talking to. The thing is, I don’t judge, but damn, that still scared me. Other than that, many of the other people were there for drug issues, suicidal thoughts, blackouts, the works.
You must be thinking, if you’ve never been to a mental hospital before, that having all of those people with all of those issues in one space must be difficult. To that I would say, YEAH, it was! And actually, difficult is an understatement. Tempers flared in there on a minute to minute basis. Seriously, one minute I’m just hanging out, playing connect four, and the next I’m getting help from staff because someone is threatening to beat the shit out of someone else…needless to say, they were kicked out.
Ultimately, the experience was very similar to high school. Except there wasn’t really a hierarchy. Meaning, nobody really had the upper hand there. We all knew we were “crazy” and that if you were in there, you were no better than anyone else. Except for maybe the one or two who though they didn’t need to be there—but nobody paid them any mind generally. We were all just trying to get out. Some did so by serving their mandatory 72hr sentence and then signing themselves out…others who were forced there did not have that luxury. Then you have the people who believed they should be there and saw it through (like me). Everyone’s journey is different, so I don’t judge any of those cases, but I know if I had left without help, I’m not sure I’d be alive right now. So for me, this was necessary.
I had maybe one meltdown in that whole week (a weird flex, I know) but it was really because I just felt so numb from the medication wearing off. That said, I actually finally ended up seeing a psychiatrist while I was there who informed me that my issue was most likely not Serotonin Syndrome. He agreed that the medication was probably wrong for me but that what I was experiencing were panic attacks and that they have very similar symptoms but logically panic attacks made more sense and the medication probably exacerbated my symptoms.
I was then put on Klonopin (a benzodiazepine meant for short term use for a more instant relief for depression and anxiety) and Lexapro (SSRI that is meant for long term use to treat depression and anxiety—takes a few weeks to kick in) and so far that’s helped things 110%.
Naturally, I did not feel instantly better, so I was scared to leave the hospital. However, I was definitely better than when I got there and I had made massive improvements. With my meds adjusted, and them keeping a watchful eye on me for a few days, it was time for me to go and free up that bed for another person in crisis—no matter how terrified I was, I knew it was the right time.
Things did not immediately go back to “normal” and in truth, I’m still a bit different than I used to be. The thing is, I don’t really consider that to be a bad thing. The downside was managing my new intense compulsive and paranoid thoughts (especially with medications) because I felt like everything was going to kill me—probably a trauma side effect from being on the wrong medication because I felt betrayed by it, so it was hard for me to trust anything at first.
There truly are good things about this though, as bizarre as it seems. For one thing, it helped basically heal my separation anxiety because I was forced to be away from people I’m close to for a week (which is a huge deal for me). I also became a bit more fearless in other areas that I previously had issues with—driving, making phone calls, advocating for myself etc. Ultimately, I also found medicine that had truly improved my mental state and I came closer to really finding myself.
I let go of a lot of control that I used to hold on to…I no longer needed everything to be picture perfect and have this idealistic image of my life! I could breathe, I could relax, I could decide what I really wanted out of life and be me. It’s a process, as I always say, and I am still working on it—I’m not sure if I’ll ever be done working on it and that’s ok! Despite everything I had to go through to get here, and the hard times I still go through, I am the happiest I’ve been in so long! While I don’t always see it, I’ve accomplished so much and I really am proud of myself.
All of this to say, if you need help, please find some way to get it. You might be scared, especially during a pandemic, and I am aware that it is harder for some people than others to seek treatment…but this truly is necessary. Mental health is just as important as physical health. I’m honestly not sure if I’d be here right now if I didn’t get treatment, because I know I couldn’t go on living with what I was dealing with. Imaging that now is hard—I wouldn’t be able to assist my residents, wouldn’t be able to be a total goofball with my friends, to annoy my sister (love you!), to laugh, sing, paint—nothing. I wouldn’t be here.
This isn’t new. People go through this all of the time, and this is why we often lose people to suicide because these things go untreated.
So please, if you or someone you know is experiencing any kind of issue like this, seek help—there are so many resources out there. As a matter of fact, I will list some here!
National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-8255 (they also offer online services).
If immediate emergency: call 911 or whatever your emergency number is where you are from—even go directly to (or bring someone to) the hospital.
Help is out there, you are not alone. Also, on my contact page of this site, I have my email listed. While I am not a professional, if anyone ever needs to talk, I welcome messages! Stay safe, you are loved.