My Last Visit to the Psych Ward

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 5 weeks after my fourth and most recent hospitalization: May 21, 2010
 

I shuffled into the day room, sticky soles of my grippy hospital socks licking the cold linoleum floor. Everyone mingled in this spacious room, the brightest spot in the house that we were living in for the time being. Sanity had begun to return to my foggy brain. Finally. There was such relief with being able to recognize a thought, rather than being led by a force hidden, so far beyond my control. For two days I had been aimlessly wandering the long, dank halls of the psych ward. Incoherent and lost. The perfect pharmaceutical cocktail was starting to even me out. And I was counting the hours until I’d be released to the care of my husband. I was desperate to see my son.

I noticed that the flowering plant on the counter of the open nurse’s station had withstood my incessant plucking, as it still had about a dozen blooms, by some miracle.

“She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me.” I debated, pulling at the tender petals of a flower I had stolen late into the night on my evening of admittance. “I know it’s going to be a girl. But what will she name it?” I mused to myself out loud, lost in the psychosis which my pregnancy had spun me into.

Later that night, or maybe it was the following morning, one of the nurses tried to get me to eat. “You need to eat something, sweetheart. For the baby. Here, try this,” she urged, shaking the small box of Apple Jacks she had brought from the kitchen down the hall. We were in my sterile little patient room, a desk between us. She sat in a chair across from me, attempting to coax me into taking a few bites, as I sat in another chair, shaking, sweaty and weak from exhaustion. A small container of milk was ripped open on one side to form a drinking spout, but hadn’t been touched. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland, staring at the items in front of me labeled “Eat Me” and “Drink Me.”

I may have taken a few bites, a sip of milk, but my mind told me she was trying to poison me. I made sure not to eat or drink too much, for fear of never waking up.

Eventually I did decide to lie down and rest on the stiff single bed with the scratchy white sheets in the far corner of the room. No one slept in the other bed in the room. I had my own private room. Good thing, too. I needed to just sleep, to dream off the mania. It had taken two days of the nurses pumping me with antipsychotics until I finally relaxed enough to sleep.

I emerged a day later, after a long, hard sleep, to “meet” the other crazies in the day room. I might have met them a day or two earlier, but my memory was a slice a Swiss cheese when I was manic, so I didn’t remember. Two did stand out, though.

Tony was a big, burly Italian guy who chain-smoked and had the cough to show for it. He was warm and engaging, and I liked him immediately. He made me smile with his obscene jokes, a welcome escape from the situation we had all found ourselves in. Tony was constantly searching for a number in the phone book. When he wasn’t in the smoker’s lounge, he was on the phone pleading with the person on the other end to come pick him up.

Mary had left the day before. She was young like me, and claimed she was also very early pregnant, although I didn’t believe her. Hell, I didn’t even believe I was five weeks along. We had promised to keep in touch, but I knew there was no way I’d live up to my end of that deal. I didn’t like to take hospital memories home. Art therapy projects were an exception. Nothing like a glimpse into a mad mind for old time’s sake. So instead of giving her my number when she wrote down hers for me, I hugged her goodbye, telling her it would be too painful. She understood.

The exercise lady arrived in the afternoons, swooping in to lead the patients in yoga or dance sessions in the day room. She’d turn on 80’s pop music and we’d bop around, forgetting about the frustrations attached to having lost touch with reality. During those moments, everything seemed to disappear and for three minutes I was okay. Hips swayed, eyes closed softly so I could really feel the music. But as quickly as her sessions began, they were over, and we were back to waiting for our next activity to pass the time until we’d see the outside world once again.

Held for forty-eight hours of insanity, twenty-four for the meds to really start kicking in, and another forty-eight and I was good to go. A final meeting with the staff psychiatrist and I was given my ticket out of that joint. It had been my fourth stint in a psych ward, and it was a house of medicine I was hoping not to have to visit again for a very long time, maybe even never.

Ready to get back to my own home, to my family where I’d be nursed back to complete health so I could get back to being the kick-ass mama and wife they loved. This last visit to the psych ward solidified my commitment to staying well. For myself, for my husband and for our son and the unborn baby I was carrying. Not another day would pass without that little salt pill sliding down my throat before bed. My family deserves this promise. And they’ll get it, forever and ever.

last-visit-psych-ward

What I need: meds and sleep

My poor husband. Being married to someone who has Bipolar Disorder has got to be a teeny bit nerve-wracking at times.

Take last week for instance. I contracted Baby Girl’s lovely stomach bug and on Wednesday night (really, the wee hours of Thursday morning) was up puking my guts out from 1am until 4am. It was horrendous. I swore up and down that I don’t think I want to have another baby because throwing up is the most awful thing in the world and I know I’d have morning sickness if we decided to go for #3.

The next morning I tried my hardest to get the kids up for Mom’s Morning Out but I could barely walk ten feet without my head spinning. My husband had a 9am meeting that he HAD to be at, so I decided that I’d just keep the kids home and would let them watch TV all day until he could come home early in the afternoon.

And then I remembered my wonderful Mother-in-law. She’s retired and she loves the kids and they adore her. I called and she said she would of course come over to watch them so that I could catch up on my sleep.

I couldn’t even make the kids breakfast. My husband gave Mister Man a bowl of cereal and Baby Girl a sippy cup of milk and he was out the door. They were distracted with the TV until my Mother-in-law arrived and I crawled back in to bed. I didn’t even come out until almost 2pm.

By then I only had a few hours until my husband would get home. I hadn’t been able to eat anything, but was able to drink apple juice on ice. It tasted like pure heaven but it was bad news for my blood sugar. My husband got home around 4:30pm and I went straight back to bed. He made me a piece of toast and I was able to keep it down, but my body still ached from the heaving the night before and then there were the chills. I couldn’t get warm despite two layers of clothes, socks, and a fuzzy bathrobe. Under covers. Eventually I fell asleep again.

I woke up at 9:30pm and picked up my phone next to me in bed to text my husband so he would check on me. He came up and when I was so delirious in the way I was asking him to get my phone charger, he started to get concerned.

Not about the stomach bug I had. He was concerned that I may be manic. I could hear it in his voice.

He tried to force me to take my Lithium, but I refused. I got angry. I called him names for trying to force me.

I realized I had forgotten to call his mom back about the next day and whether she should come help me again, so he offered to call her. He’d stay home with me and the kids.

When he came back up with another piece of toast for me, I took a bite and apologized for my rant. I was just so afraid of the medication making me throw up again like I had the night before. I promised to take it the following night. I know how much I need it.

Just not when my stomach is rejecting anything that goes into it.

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Sleep is my #1 trigger. I know this after years of managing my illness. As much of a night owl that I am, I cannot pull all-nighters like I did in college anymore. I can’t even take care of multiple newborn feeding shifts (lucky for me). Because of this, I do everything I can to protect my sleep. If I don’t, my health is at risk. Same thing with taking my medication. I may just need a small amount of Lithium every night, but if I go a week without it, I am most-likely going to become manic.

I don’t blame my husband for trying to get me to take my medication and for worrying that I could have been becoming manic. He is just doing his job of looking out for my well-being and our family’s well-being. I am very thankful that he realized that my irrational behavior was due to my frustration in him not being able to find my cell phone charger and also my haywire blood sugar levels from surviving on nothing but apple juice and a piece of toast all day. He is a wonderful, loving partner and father to our kids who has done a tremendous job of helping me to manage my illness.

Within a few days my sleep was back to normal and my stomach is almost back to normal. I was only off my medication for one night do to this nasty stomach bug (which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, btw). This week I am preparing for Daylight savings by going to bed a little earlier each night starting tomorrow. The following weekend (St. Patty’s weekend!) I am heading to a memoir writer’s retreat in Seattle and this will be a bit of a challenge for me, sleep-wise. But I am well-prepared and I have my trusty sleep-aid to use since the time change will definitely disrupt my sleep. When I get home on the 18th I’ll have a good week of work to do on my sleep to get back on schedule, but I know I will be okay.

I am a fighter. I monitor my sleep and take my medication because it is my responsibility to my self, my spouse and my family.

And it’s getting to be past my bedtime, so I need to wrap this post up so that I can log some quality ZZZZ’s.

Switching things around

I’d like to start off this post with a little disclaimer. I am not a doctor, and therefore, what you are about to read is in no way, shape, or form, medical advice. I just feel a need to write about it, and since this is my blog, that is exactly what I am going to do.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an evening med-taker. Back when I used to be on multiple meds, the combination would make me sleepy, so my doctor would always recommend taking the cocktail of pills at bedtime.

But it’s been over a year and a half since I’ve just been taking good ‘ol Lithium {and Ambien as needed, which turns out to be once a month or so, sometimes less}. And lately, I’ve been noticing that by the end of the day – twelve hours straight of just me and the kids – I am so burnt out. My irritability is through the roof, and I’m sometimes snapping at the kids if they do something that gets on my nerves {which, by the end of 12 hours is practically everything, I have to admit}.

I last had my blood levels checked about two weeks ago. You have to get your blood drawn 8-12 hours after your last dose, so for me that meant that I had to get an appointment at the lab before 10am since I usually take my pill around 9-10pm. I made an appointment online and it just happened to work out that I got a 9:30 spot. Two kiddos in tow, I kept them entertained in the waiting room with the ipad {TocaBoca Doctor is great, btw!}.

The waiting room was packed, so by the time the phlebotomist got around to drawing my blood, it was almost 10am. I had taken my Lithium at 10pm the night before, so I was certain my level was going to be really low.

Sure enough, a few days later my psychiatrist called to say that yes, my level was low, but that is okay since it’s working for me.

I thought about how I had been feeling mentally lately, and decided to make a small change in my regimen for my own mental health. I decided that it wasn’t really doing me much good taking my pill before bed, because then the highest concentration of the medication was running through my blood while I was sleeping.

Doesn’t make much sense, right? Why have all that good medicine at its peak in your blood while you’re sleeping, only to be at its lowest levels during the hours of the day you spend awake and busy?

Let me clarify, that I know full well that when you take a daily medication like Lithium, it remains fairly constant in your bloodstream over the course of time. But for me, I just wanted to try out my theory that if I took my pill in the morning, by having the highest daily concentration of the medicine in my body during the daytime hours, maybe that would help keep my mood more steady and even when I am awake. Basically, when I need it most.

I am happy to report that since making this change on Monday, I’ve felt better. Felt like I’ve had more patience. Felt more calm and steady. Felt like a better mom, even. With my little man going through a rough case of picky-eater syndrome and the “Terrible 3’s”, I so needed this change in my mental health.

This is what I needed. And I’m so glad it’s working for me.

A promise

There have been many ups and downs in my life since being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder six years ago. Thankfully, the past few years have included significantly more highs than lows, mainly because I’ve been stable and have made a commitment to myself and my family:

I promise to always take my medication, see my doctor and therapist, and get good sleep.

This promise stemmed from the fact that, at 5 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I spent almost a week in a psych ward to bring me down from the most extreme psychosis of my life. It came about because I was so incredibly happy – over the moon, really – that we were pregnant after trying month after month for almost a year that I didn’t make sure I was getting enough sleep. I remember the nights leading up to the hospitalization where I would just lie in bed wide awake, my mind racing with baby names while my husband was sleeping soundly beside me. You see, when I knew I was ready for another baby, I wanted it like, that second. To have to live my life in two week increments for so long, and to have waited almost a year to see those two pink lines, both of those realities had driven me mad. Quite literally.

I count my lucky stars that I was able to get help. I took the medication I needed with my doctor’s close supervision, in order to make it through the pregnancy. And my wonderful husband took over many a night feeding during the first month or two so that I could get the sleep I needed at night and the naps needed to catch up during the day.

In the waiting room before my trial to be released from the hospital {yes, there was a trial due to the fact I was involuntarily committed}, my husband and my dad sat with me. I was in handcuffs. Don’t ask – we have no idea why they would cuff an almost 6-week pregnant woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly – but we think it was because they had to treat all the patients the same. My hair was a disaster, I had on mismatched sweats and the sticky-bottom hospital socks and I was just dying to get out of there. I can’t remember why I didn’t have shoes on.

This is where the promise occurred. My dad took a picture on his phone of me sitting on the small sofa in that tiny room. With cuffs on.

So I would always make good on my promise to keep taking my medication.

That was two years ago. And I have no intention of ever breaking that promise.

My family means too much to me to ever put them through that again.

Thank you to my dad, for thinking to take that picture. Now, Dad, it may be on your old iphone which has a shattered screen, but maybe you could find a way to email it to me so that I can crop it and Instagram-it so that I could add it to this post?

{Don’t hold your breath since he’s not that great with computers and he’s presently on a golf trip in South Carolina. But I’ll try to add it. For posterity.}

Mama’s Losin’ It