I can hardly believe where I’m sitting. They told me to sit down at a table and they brought a plate of food. I’m hungry, but none of this is appetizing. I pick through my meal and then sit and survey the room.
There is a lot of commotion. Another patient, I’ll call him Jay, is yelling profanities at the nurses because the rooms are locked. They tell him that the rooms are open after 8pm, after everyone has had their meds. He calls them quacks and a few words that would make Donald Trump blush. Another patient tries to intervene. Jay yells at her too.
I ask the nurse if I have a room. I do, but it won’t be open until 8. And Jay is my roommate. I look at the clock. It is six. Am I supposed to sit in this chair for 2 hours?
This is by far the most surreal day I have ever had. I have spent most of my life trying to hide the fact that I have some serious struggles with depression. It comes at me in waves sometimes and lately, the waves are larger, and more common.
That’s what happened. The day started normal, but sometime in the afternoon a wave of despair hit me and left me in a fog. I couldn’t think straight. I wondered if there was any possible way to die that wouldn’t look like a suicide. I started an argument with my wife and then I started melting down.
As I lay on the bed sobbing that I needed help and that I didn’t trust myself to be left alone, my wife reached out to her sister, who happens to be a professional counselor. Her advice, “get him to the ER.”
We drive to the hospital. Part of me is hopeful that this is the path to help, part of me is embarrassed that I’m going to have to finally admit my struggles. Most of me is just in a foggy stupor.
My wife goes in first and finds out that the ER handles psychiatric cases, so she brings me in. Now I have to start telling strangers about my plans I made a month ago do drive my car into a ravine. My wife and I are placed in an room that is empty except for a small mat on the floor. I’m told to undress, put on a hospital gown, give my valuables to my wife and bag up my clothes. They take my clothes from me, there is no getting out of this. Tests are done. Blood is drawn, I pee in a cup. At least three people ask me the same questions, then one asks, “What do you want?”
“I need help,” I say. This may be the smartest thing I have ever said.
They explain that they are going to admit me. A few minutes later a nurse comes with a wheel chair and an armed guard. It’s time to go to the unit. They explain to my wife that she can call the unit for visitation rules. They explain that I might be able to take a phone call later. They tell her that this is where she has to say good-bye.
The nurse wheels me to the elevator and then through a set of locked doors. The armed guard goes with us. The nurse now calls in to a nursing station and the next set of locked doors opens. They have me sit in a room while a nurse begins getting all of my information. My blood pressure is dangerously high. They ask if I’m nervous. They ask if I have ever been in a locked down facility like this or jail. I haven’t. I have no idea what to expect.
Next, a male psych tech is brought in. He finds me some underwear, scrubs, and no-slip socks. Then I’m strip searched. By now the hospital knows that I have not tried to harm myself recently, I am carrying nothing, and I am not on any drugs. They escort me out to the “day room” where I sit for my tray of food.
As I sit an ponder the fact that I have two hours before I can go to my room or make a phone call I wonder what I’m allowed to do. Most of the patients are watching Lonesome Dove on the TV but they are arguing over how many parts in the series there are. I see a shelf of games and puzzles, but I’m not sure I can go look at them. I see a book shelf, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle myself in a room like this.
Eventually, I get up the courage to go to the bookshelf. There are some Grisham, ironically one that features a suicide in the first chapter. There are also a bunch of Gideon Bibles, and as a former pastor, I’m pleased to see that they are in my favorite translation. I try to read, but the words are literally a blur.
I return to my chair by the dinner table. I ask a nurse where I can use the restroom and she points me toward one just to the side of the dayroom. “Sorry,” she says, “the door has to stay open.”
What am I doing here? I’m in scrubs sitting along side people that are having heated arguments about a miniseries. One patient is having a heated argument with himself. I have no privacy. At 8pm, phones are brought out. I suddenly realize that I have never memorized my wife’s phone number. A nurse is kind enough to look it up and write it on a post it. That post it becomes the only thing I actually own throughout my stay.
My wife calls me, but I can’t speak. I am overwhelmed and I just cry. She assures me that things are going to get better. She’s crying too.
She is right. Over the next few days I learn from the nurses, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, and the general practitioner all sorts of ways that I can be healthy in all aspects of my life. When it is time for me to leave, I have a medication plan and a counseling plan and I cannot help but notice that the sun is shining brightly as I walk out of the hospital.
My experiences with depression are fueling "The Baggage Claim Project." Check it out and please consider supporting me on this journey!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower