Many people have written about hospitalizations—usually the nightmarish kind—but not everyone has had such experiences. Most of mine have been helpful–at least more helpful than less.
The first time I entered “the- last-stop hotel” or “asylum” (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) was in1970. I was 22 years old and severely depressed after my “forever” boyfriend dumped me without any warning. The psych ward was in Jacobi Hospital, a large complex in New York City’s borough of The Bronx. I stayed for a week until transferred to Bronx State Hospital, when I didn’t improve and jumping off a roof seemed the best alternative.
Fortunately, I had a stroke of luck by being admitted to what was called The Training Unit. Silly me, at first I thought it meant training for patients, but I soon learned that it was staff being educated in progressive treatment for their charges. All the money in the world wouldn’t have provided better care and—surprise, surprise, it was totally free!
Besides regular one-on-one counseling twice a week, our days were filled with music, dance, art, and group therapy. Outings were common and we were allowed to roam by ourselves within the hospital’s extensive grounds, and later off-ground, when the staff felt we were no longer a threat to anyone or ourselves. The diagnoses ran the gamut from schizophrenia, to bipolar disorder, to depression, and to everything else inside the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
While it may sound like summer camp, I assure you every last one of us was wallowing in our own personal misery, but, at least, we had the support not only of staff but of each other due to the extensive depth and length of treatment.
On a more personal and bizarre note, I met my husband during this period–he too was a patient. It was love at first sight for him, and he pursued me from Jacobi’s psych ward to the state hospital. He was supposed to be transferred somewhere else, but convinced the staff to allow him to follow my scent. By coincidence we wound up on the same ward. So that, in effect, is how I met the person I’ve spent the past 40 years with. Strange, but true. After we were discharged on the same day 10 weeks later, he never had another episode of mental illness. I, on the other hand, have been chronically ill—although on and off–and have been hospitalized numerous times.
Over the years, treatment has changed—some for the good, some for the bad. I doubt if such “palaces” exist, anymore, as I described above, unless they are private and cost a fortune. Presently, many of our mentally ill brethren wind up in jail or prison, but I’ll get to the complicated aftermath (personal and general) of budget cuts and hospital closures in a later post. Today I’ll just snuggle up with my cat and pray for a day’s worth of serenity, which is all we can hope for.