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A Trip to the Psych Ward Reminded Me How Much My Family Valued Me

Reading time | 4 mins

I hit rock bottom in the back of an ambulance on a chilly winter morning in 2013. From the ambulance windows, I watched the mountains of Pennsylvania roll by.

I had just checked myself into the hospital emergency room (ER). I was buckled in and making small talk with the emergency medical technician (EMT) as I was transported to a mental health facility 2 hours upstate.

“Well, this is a new low for you,” I thought cynically. “But at least the conversation isn’t boring.”

Between occasional pleasantries with the EMT, I was repeatedly questioning myself. How did I let the depression get this bad? Why wasn’t I more careful? How would I ever be able to look myself in the face again? What would my family think?

I knew when I decided to seek help that night that I’d have to do something I dreaded even more: I’d have to come clean to my family about how bad things had become.

I was unprepared for what happened when I did.

Pretending everything was OK

It’s unusual in my community to be open about depression like I am. But even though I talked about it, I always tried to put a positive spin on it. Like cheerful people in commercials.

Yes, I was depressed. A light, sunshiny, cheerful version of depressed. I always slapped a smile on things.

It felt like life had handed me a terrible report card, and I needed to explain my poor performance.

Back then, I didn’t treat my mental health any more seriously than anyone treats a knee that occasionally causes pain. Take some medication and keep moving. Hope that the next day will be better.

Recognizing that I needed help

As time passed, the thought of getting better seemed to move further into the distance. The weight of my life and its endless chores, housework, responsibilities, and family obligations kept weighing heavier and heavier on me.

I felt buried under piles of to-do lists. Each detailed all of the ways I was failing. Every day I woke up and resented it.

The night I drove myself to the ER wasn’t so different than every other night. Except that I knew that the thoughts of self-harm in my head had progressed from a wistful wish to a very real possibility.

Have you ever known when something was about to turn really bad? That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, the hypervigilance, and the fear of something, even though you didn’t know what?

For the first time ever, I was depressed enough to scare myself. I didn’t feel so sure that I wouldn’t do something awful out of desperation if I didn’t get help.

Checking into the psych ward

I announced to my then-husband that I was going to check myself into the hospital with about the same passion that one uses to announce a trip to the grocery store or a walk with the dogs.

The process of checking into the ER itself was easy enough. You tell people you’re there because you’re actively suicidal with a plan and the means to complete it. They tend to take you seriously. The only thing I had to do was wait for a room.

The only room available was unfortunately 2 hours away, in a facility up in the woods, which brings us back to the ambulance ride.

I cautiously asked the EMT if he knew what I should expect when I got there and if it was going to be OK. He said he hoped it would. We both watched the mountains disappearing in the distance.

Realizing my family was always there

I didn’t know what lay ahead of me when I checked into the psych ward. The one thing I didn’t expect was the one thing I got: visitors.

According to the nurse, people wanted to see me. I expected it to be my spouse with a suitcase and a few words.

Instead, I found my entire family. My mom, my dad, and my other mother were all there. Even my spouse, who was reluctant to be there.

I expected judgment and shaming. Instead, they embraced me. They told me they were proud of me. That they knew I’d get well.

They brought me clean clothes and toiletries. They sat and smiled and talked with me until they hit their visit limit and had to go home.

I thought about that feeling that night as I laid in my bed, showered and finally in fresh clothes. Maybe I should have been running to the exact people who I’d tried so hard to shield from the awful truth of my life. These were the people who showed up for me. Dragging my (soon-to-be former) spouse in tow.

I was at my lowest of low. But the people who loved me best met me there and brought my favorite comfy pants. I was finally able to see what I needed to see: How very much my family valued me. Even when I couldn’t see it for myself.

Recognizing when you need help

Depression is the number one condition linked to suicide. Get help immediately if you or someone you know ever has any of the following suicide warning signs:

  • talking about, thinking about, or looking for ways to kill yourself
  • feeling hopeless or like you have no reason to live
  • feeling trapped or like you’re a burden to others
  • experiencing unbearable pain
  • increased alcohol and drug use
  • withdrawing from people or activities
  • sleeping too much
  • sudden mood swings, including anger, agitation, irritability, shame, or aggression

Help is available for free 24/7. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line.

Getting help changed my life. I didn’t know how much I was loved or who’d show up for me if I just let them. Give the people in your life a chance to show up for you, too.

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

NPS-US-NP-00585 FEB 2020