The best shower I’ve ever used is in a psych ward.
That’s definitely a sentence I never expected to be able to say, but it’s true. It didn’t get too hot but it wasn’t colder than I wanted, it wasn’t a communal shower like the ones in my college dorm, the water pressure didn’t attack me like the school showers but it wasn’t completely non-existent like the one at home, and best of all it DIDN’T HAVE ANTS (showering at home is a complete nightmare for me right now).
But wait, you’re probably thinking. Jack, you were in a psych ward? Yeah. And now I’m gonna talk about it.
Before I continue, I want to clarify a few things.
1. I prefer to call it a mental health institution or mental institution because I want to pull the term away from the negative stigma that’s associated with it. Sometimes I’ll use psych ward because it’s faster or I feel that it fits better with the sentence, but it’s not my preference.
2. I’m not going to explain why I was there. I’m sure some people may be able to guess, but I want to tell people the details on my own terms, one on one.
3. If you’re someone close to me and you’re upset to have found out this way, remind yourself that this is what’s most comfortable for me. How I tell you is my choice, not yours.
On March 31st, 2016, I was admitted as an inpatient to one of the adult units in a mental health institution about 20 minutes away from my house. I was there for a week and now I am an outpatient in a partial hospitilization program (or PHP, as is the lingo for those who partake in it – the lingo is pretty important, you come to learn).
It was scary at first. At 19, I was one of the youngest when I first arrived. There were two 18 year olds, but the majority was 25 or older. Many, many, many were in their 40s and 50s. As my stay lasted, people came and went in waves, and with it the ages changed. By the day I left, the majority of us were between the ages of 18 and 25. Time feels different in there. It feels longer than it is.
I’ll admit, I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be back at school with my friends and away from such a drastic change. Honestly, I still do.
But after a few days of my medication stablizing and allowing myself to adjust to the situation, I was happy. One day, one of guys who had been on the unit for a while told the group that he liked it there because he felt safe, he felt stable, he was comfortable, and he was getting help. I agree.
I don’t know how best to describe the experience other than to say that it was life-changing. I met a wide variety of people and I’m going to carry my time as an inpatient with me for a long time. I got to learn about struggles that I have never experienced up close, watching others improve alongside me. I met alcoholics and heroin addicts, and I met people who were there for things other than addictions. I met people who just needed better medications to get back on their feet, and I met people undergoing ECT. Most importantly, I met people. It was eye-opening.
I didn’t write this to share all the dirty details of the hospital I was in. I wrote this because I want to be honest about my experience. I don’t want to hide it out of shame. Because why should I be ashamed of getting help? There’s this stigma that people in a mental health institution are too unstable to be around, that we should be hidden away or not talked about. But that’s not the case. We’re just people. People who now have really comfy hospital socks and some new coping skills, but other than that, just regular people.