My time in the hospital was emotionally and physically exhausting. Although we only did light exercise—walking a lap around the ward—the toll of being hospitalized left my body feeling tired. I colored and watched TV frequently, but I yearned for sleep, my mind and body aching for what my turbulent thoughts wouldn’t allow me.
I tell you this so that you may get a glimpse of what the behavioral health unit of a hospital feels like. Empty, sterile, and full of apathy and deep dread. It is a void carrying within it dozens of hurting people.
It is easy for me to remember the painful parts of my stay. The parts of loneliness and isolation. The parts where I was forced to wear scrubs because I was considered too high-risk to wear my own clothes. The parts where someone watched me sleep to ensure I didn’t hurt myself in the night.
How did I get through this?
How did I get through the embarrassment, humiliation, and pure pain of being hospitalized for a mental health crisis?
Community. My parents, boyfriend, and pastors called me daily. My friend wrote a letter reminding me I “wasn’t crazy.” Communication with the outside world was sparse. These calls reminded me daily that people cared. At 7 every morning, my mom would call and sing, “Good morning!” While I hesitate to describe any morning in the hospital as good, these calls were good. They kept me afloat in a place where my environment and state of mind left me feeling like I was drowning.
I got to know my fellow patients in the ward. We became a team, a mismatched family of sorts. Tied together by our grief and desire to leave. Together, we grieved the lives we had known on the outside, the jobs sitting vacant possibly waiting for our return. We grieved our loss of freedom, and our inability to go to the bathroom without asking for permission in the night.
Most of all, we grieved and longed for hope, all of us certain there was no coming back from the black hole we had entered, yet at the same time, we were desperate to believe there was meaning to our pain.
All of us in the unit longed for community and connection beyond the walls of the ward. But not all of us had it. I was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone received phone calls. Not everyone had someone advocating for them on the outside. Not everyone’s family supported them.
We say mental illness is invisible, but in that hospital, I saw tangible evidence of it. I saw the broken communities, homes, and people that desperately needed support but got none. I saw the ways in which mental illness left these fellow humans isolated and helpless. It impacted their physical health, their communal health, and their societal health. It rendered them aching and defenseless. It made them face the world alone.
This serves to remind me of how much we need each other. How, without connection, our souls whither. We long to be known. Had I allowed myself to be known sooner, perhaps my story would be different. Regardless of how my story began, though, it was my community that changed how it continued. It kept me alive. Relationships matter. Communities matter. These things have the ability to carry us through the most challenging and bleak times.
While the hospital is likely still cold and sterile, my heart is not. My heart has been cultivated by the love of my community: the people who called while I was in the hospital, wrote letters, and supported me after I got out; the therapists who showed me compassion instead of viewing me as a diagnosis. Genuine relationships carried me through the darkest part of my life. Those who cared enough to show up when I was too tired to show up for myself. This has shown me what it means to love.
People need other people. You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].