Keeping things simple is something I learned to do my first full day in a psychiatric ward.
Each morning we would have breakfast at 8am, our first “group session” at 9:30am, occupation therapy at 10:45am…
But, this first morning in a psychiatric ward, was the hardest morning, especially the time between my first breakfast and my first opening group, when I didn’t know yet what I could do to distract myself between these pre-planned sessions.
Confined to the common area for my safety, I didn’t know yet how to go about coloring, or if I could work on the puzzle that had been started, or when it was okay to play one of the games.
So, the imposter in my mind—the reason I was here in the first place—got busy.
The imposter, the part of my brain trying to end my life, spent this first full, uninterrupted hour, just scanning the doors encircling the common area, pausing my eyes upon each upper hinge from which I could hang myself.
And, when I wasn’t scanning the doors, I thought about the sharpened colored pencils I could use to stab and stab and stab.
I couldn’t think about anything else this first morning. So, I started to weep. Quietly.
And, just as I did, all the patients around me got quiet as well, as if they were giving me space to let out my grief, as if they were feeling this grief with me.
Finally, at 9:30am, a nurse’s aid called out, “I’m doing opening group!” And I followed the rest of the patients silently down to a part of the ward I had not yet been.
It felt good to go beyond where I was allowed to go. But, I could’t stop crying. And, the imposter wouldn’t stop making me look at all the upper hinges along the way.
The group activities room was the sunniest space in the ward with huge northeast facing windows. On one end was a large open space with every art and craft one could think of, paints and weaving and faux stained glass and beads and yarn….
On the other end, was a huge conference table made up of smaller tables and eighteen chairs. I chose a still-empty chair where my back would be toward the window.
The tech brought a big white board to the meeting and she read through its contents, the times for the day’s groups.
In addition to this opening group and occupational therapy, there was activities, group therapy, substance abuse group, and finally closing group.
Next, the tech went over some of the rules from a psychiatric ward’s handbook: when you could take a shower, when you could do your laundry, when you could have visitors…
Then she added some “ins” about the food menu, like, “if you don’t check what bread you want, you’ll only receive what’s inside the bread”…
Finally, “if you want to color, go up to the nurses’ station and we’ll give you some coloring books to choose from.”
All these things were simple.
And her voice was a salve.
Finally, “Let’s go around the table and say a goal for the day, keep it simple if you can”:
“I’m going to do my laundry today.”
“I’m gonna try to stay positive.”
“My brother is visiting. We get along so it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“I’m going to call my kids and my lawyer.”
Me, still crying: “I’m going to get through the next 10 minutes.”
She wrote the goals down as we stated them (during closing group the night tech would ask each us if we happened to complete what we had wanted to accomplish for the day).
As part of my first simple plan, I set out to start coloring. Perhaps I could distract the imposter and make it 10 minutes more.
Following the group back to he nurses’ station, the imposter kept pausing my eyes upon each upper hinge.
But, when I reached the station, I asked for the coloring books, giving my eyes something new to see.
Things are simple at home too.
The knives must stay hidden.
Wherever Bill goes, I go (I can’t be left alone with the imposter until we get my meds right, until I feel safe).
If Bill goes somewhere I can’t go, we get an Amy-sitter.
Bill taught me how to mow the lawn.
And, before I try a third “new-for-me” antipsychotic drug (because the one I’m on isn’t working) I’m talking to my team about trying some herbal supplements. Because if all it takes is balancing my hormones, that would be great.
Lastly, on my walks, I notice and think about simple things, like moss growing on the the side of the road, and what to hang our little hook.
That’s all for now.
Have to keep it simple.
If you have interest in making a donation: https://www.gofundme.com/living-and-medical-expenses-for-amy (there are also several drawings available as well as new “Perpetual Yard Sale” items).