It can be hard to seek inpatient treatment when you feel like you’ve been burned in the past, but it’s worth it!
I am not a patient patient. The second I’m hospitalized, I want out. While most of my many hospitalizations have been the result of a gastrointestinal tumor, a few have been psychiatric as a result of bipolar disorder. Though every stay has been frustrating and traumatizing in its own way, the psychiatric hospitalizations have been by far the worst.
That said, I know that all of my inpatient psychiatric stays were necessary, and I’m grateful for them. They prevented me from hurting myself, and perhaps just as importantly, from getting a face tattoo. Indeed, the whims of mania can last a lifetime!
So, yes, I thank God and everyone responsible for getting me to the hospital before I could do any irreparable damage to myself, my relationships, my career, or my reputation. Still, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed my time in psychiatric facilities or that I approve of all the treatment methods employed therein. I did not, and I do not.
Some of those treatment approaches were downright cruel and counterproductive. The use of isolation, restraints, and humiliating strip searches, for example, was especially disturbing for me. Certainly, some hospitals are better than others, and had I realized that in advance, I’d have done some research. But it’s hard to know how to plan for something you’re not expecting, so I ended up in some less-than-ideal facilities. When I was able to do my own research years after my first hospitalization, I found a facility that offered yoga and gardening in place of isolation and physical restraints, and it helped. Still, though I didn’t realize it at the time, the inpatient treatment I had received years earlier had left me traumatized and led to an irrational mistrust of many mental health professionals.
For years after my first psychiatric hospitalization, for example, I declared myself immune to therapy. I didn’t recognize this newfound belief as a flawed coping strategy borne purely out of past traumas, but that’s exactly what it was. It was my way of dismissing and disrespecting an entire profession that I felt had dismissed and disrespected me. But the only person I was hurting with this vehement stance and faulty reasoning was myself.
Anger and resentment can be like boomerangs. We think we are directing them at the rest of the world, but in the end they wind up coming back around to whack us in the head. The truth is, psychotherapy had helped me in the past, before my hospitalizations, but the suffering I endured as an inpatient led me to foolishly overlook this fact and therefore completely write off therapy. I would have been much better served had I acknowledged the rage and pain I was carrying around for what it was: the direct result of traumas I had endured during some of my inpatient treatment. Ultimately, dealing with those traumas required a completely separate kind of outpatient treatment after my release from the hospital.
It took me a long time to realize this, but once I did, it made all the difference. I have been in weekly therapy for more than two years now, with a thoroughly vetted psychiatrist of my own choosing and who has helped me treat both my bipolar disorder and my unique history of trauma resulting from it.
It’s hard to seek treatment when you have been burned by treatment in the past, but it’s worth it. Even if we don’t recognize them, our past traumas can influence our decisions today in ways that can prevent us from getting the kind of help we need.
Where I was once afraid and resentful when it came to inpatient treatment, I am now informed and equipped. Should I ever again require psychiatric hospitalization, I will go willingly—but I will also be better prepared. Today, I have a psychiatric advance directive and a detailed crisis plan that outlines exactly where, when, and how I would like my psychiatric treatment to be administered. Of course, this doesn’t ensure that my experience will be free from trauma. All hospitalizations are inherently traumatizing to a certain extent. What it does ensure is that I am empowered and able to recognize and responsibly work through whatever traumas I endure in the process.
I may well never be a patient patient, but I can still be a proactive one.
Printed as “Flight of Ideas: When Treatment Is Traumatic,” Fall 2016
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