10 Lessons From the Psych Hospital

I recently spent a week in the hospital. Two of those days, I was in the regular ol' hospital because my blood pressure was out of whack. Five days were spent in the psych hospital.

I don't know if you have any preconceived notions about a psych hospital, but consider you might be wrong. If you think things are all "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," - not so much. There are (for the most part) no straightjackets, no Nurse Cratchets.

In fact, if you're open to it, the psych hospital might just be a place of growth, learning and yes, grace.

1.  Nurses are the best humans ever. They will hang out with you at 3 a.m. when you're in pain. They'll do everything in their power to  help you get better: an ice pack filled, a drinkable brand of tea found, a laugh over the same crazy stuff that might be happening. Nurses are the best.

2. People will help, if you ask. A lot of times, we sit comfortably miserable in our own...stuff. It can be quite isolating, and a huge burden. But most of the people around us - our friends, families, coworkers - will help us. They just aren't sure what to do. Tell them. Tell them what you need. 99% of the time, they are happy to help.

3.  You're not crazy. When we are feeling so isolated, we think NO ONE IN THE WORLD can understand. But being in a healing space, surrounded by others in the same head space, you are in the midst of people who can honestly say, "I know just what you mean." And that's your lifeline.

4.  God is here.  It seems unlikely, for folks who think the psych hospital is still all screaming inmates and thuggish techs. But it's not. It's a place of grace. Grace when the teen who prepares your plate of food says, "Enjoy your meal." Grace when that one guy who was making you a bit uncomfortable says, "I love reading psalms," and suddenly you have something in common. Grace when the psychiatrist really listens to you.

5.  Even at your lowest point, you can help someone else. You may think you're nothing, but you're not. You may think you have nothing good left, but you do. That one little thing you say, a smile, a conversation, and suddenly, you see that the other person has been boosted just a bit. And that is good.

6.  Music is salve for the soul. I'm pretty sure the balm in Gilead is music. And the nurses remind you that you can have a radio in your room, or an iPod to borrow.  Just ask.

7.  Being depressed is scary.  One of my fellow patients had recently been in prison. He told us that being depressed and suicidal was scarier than waking up in a cell day after day. If you're a survivor of depression, YOU ARE ONE TOUGH COOKIE! Bravery is necessary for getting out of this darkness.

8. You may not like eating like a grown up, but you should. Yeah, eating fruit for dessert may seem a bit like torture (really, that's how some people react!) but eating well makes you feel better. Drink water, eat salmon and enjoy the apple crisp.

9.  You can't afford to be unhealthy by choice.  Sure, you can skip the gym (again!), drink your body weight in diet cola all day, and feast on potato chips but you'll feel like crap. And those of us who battle depression and anxiety and PTSD cannot afford to slip. It's too important.

10.  Suicide is simply not an option.  Those of us on the other side of a suicide attempt or have fought through a bout of crippling depression know that suicide is no solution to what ails us. And it creates a tidal wave effect in our families. I don't want the young people in my life to ever think that suicide is an option. By being here, by beating back the darkness every day, I take the choice of suicide off the table.

No one wants to be on the psych ward. But it's a good place, a place of lessons (albeit hard ones!), a place of healing, a place of grace. I'm glad to be home, but I'm thankful for my time in the psych hospital.

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