I went in for a week of voluntary hospitalization shortly after my son was born. It was a difficult decision to make, and I was pretty scared, but I was also extremely sick-severe depression mixed with some of the less pleasant manic symptoms, such as problems filtering stimuli, incessant chattering in my head, insomnia and irritation.
I approached my hospitalization in kind of a detached, clinical way, since my Master’s degree is in psychology. I looked at the hospitalization as a kind of observational experiment. I am sure that I tried to maintain this perspective to make the experience seem less scary and more controlled. And I did learn a lot, and got enough of a peek into a psychiatric hospital to know that this was one place I didn’t want to spend much of my future.
So here’s what happens when you check into a psychiatric hospital on a 9 to 5 basis:
1. Entrance interview: Some guy asked me a bunch of questions, mostly designed to gauge how much of a suicide risk I was. I was not a suicide risk, and all my cynical mind could think during this interview was, “They are sure covering their lawsuit-vulnerable behinds!”
2. Group sessions: Most of my time that week was spent in group therapy. For bipolar patients, a group of us typically includes people with a wide range of symptoms (some are manic, some psychotic, some depressed, some mixed) and many different levels of functioning (some folks in the group seemed very normal / high functioning, and other seemed-well-pretty crazy). I did not find the topics discussed in group to be all that helpful. It was very helpful, though, to see that I wasn’t really doing all that bad compared to some of the other patients.
3. Specialized group sessions: Based on the answers that you give in the entrance interview, the hospital may put you in special group sessions, outside of your diagnostic category. Since I admitted to drinking more than I consider healthy, they scheduled me in an addiction group in the resident part of the hospital. One word…scary! The group was interesting, and full of all kinds. I didn’t participate very much, because, at the time, I didn’t feel that I belonged in a group of patients this severe. The most memorable group member was a young woman who seemed very aggressive in her attitude and whose skin was entirely green. Green! No kidding! Yellow in the whites of the eyes indicates jaundice; liver problems. What the heck makes you turn green?
4. Seeing a psychiatrist: It took, I think, a day or two for this to happen, but I did finally see an actual shrink. The bipolar problems that I had at the time were due to a combination of being post-partum and on the wrong medication, because I went to a quack psychiatrist as my first post-pregnancy psychiatric evaluation. The doc at the psychiatric hospital put me on the right medication, which was what really brought me out of this episode, much more effectively than any of the other aspects of day hospitalization.
Moral of the story: Get and stay on the right medications for your bipolar. If you are pregnant, work very closely with your OB and psychiatrist to avoid a manic or depressed episode during and after your pregnancy.