The Mental Hospital at Thirteen
I would like to welcome the newest member of our writing team, Anna. In her first post with us, she talks about experiencing mental health issues as a young adolescent, confinement in a psychiatric facility, and a journey to receiving an accurate diagnosis. Thanks for sharing with us, Anna!
Trigger warning: Mention of constrainment and incarceration, suicidal thoughts, misdiagnosis
When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with depression.
My general care practitioner put me on a low dose of Zoloft. She said that it would take a couple of weeks, that I would start to notice feeling a bit better, just slowly notice that I felt good.
I got better.
I went to see her again a week later, and I was bouncing, happy, excited. I expected a much different reaction than the one I got.
Bipolar disorder, she said.
Take some Depakote, she said.
I crashed immediately, because damn it, something else was wrong with me. I wasn’t getting better, I was getting worse.
The weeks on the Depakote were horrible. I crashed and stayed there. I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I stayed in bed all day and fell asleep, I wouldn’t have to wake up at all. I could just go on sleeping forever.
When I pulled a steak knife out of the kitchen drawer and just stared at it, holding it against the skin of my wrist and zoning out, I knew I needed help.
My mother took me to a therapist. Adoree̕ was the best. She was a big, beautiful woman with the sassiest, snarkiest attitude I’ve ever seen in a therapist. No, she said, you don’t fit the symptoms for bipolar. Looking back now, it was probably just something of a placebo effect that made me get better so quickly—excitement over being able to handle the problem, relief that I didn’t have to feel so upset anymore, faith that the medicine would help.
I went back to see Dr. Jane.
And damn if that woman didn’t immediately begin explaining why she thought I had bipolar disorder instead of listening to me explain why no, I really didn’t, according to a mental health professional.
I turned away. I couldn’t listen to her anymore.
I cried so hard.
They took me to the hospital and called Adoree̕, and I stayed there for most of the day while they slowly figured out what to do, called all the mental hospitals they could think of before they finally found one close by.
I think that was only the second time I’ve ever seen my mother cry.
I had cheered up considerably, though. We had a plan. I had a place to go. Everything would be fine.
But you see, New Mexico mental health policy at that time (it changed not long after my experience) was that if you were headed to a mental hospital, you went in the sheriff’s car, whether or not you were violent (which I was not).
You also went in handcuffs and shackles.
I was a five foot three, thirteen year old girl and willing to go, and they put me in handcuffs and shackles.
It took me two years before I was able to think about that without crying.
So going there was bad, but arriving was worse, because then they had to take the handcuffs and shackles off in the middle of the parking lot. There weren’t many people around, but those that were there were staring. New Mexicans are rude like that.
We went in, went through the process of getting me checked in, which I honestly don’t remember. I was mostly zoned out at this point, at least until they started inspecting me for bruises, just to make sure I wasn’t being abused. I had a huge bruise on my leg, though, from where I had fallen bringing Christmas decorations up the stairs.
I had to tell them that I had fallen on the stairs.
I mean, it was the truth.
My mother looked terrified. I cried some more, as is my wont.
But things always look brighter in the morning. I went to see the psychiatrist the next morning, and he immediately took me off the Depakote.
What a relief!
I still wasn’t anywhere close to being healed, of course. I don’t think anybody is ever really healed of depression and anxiety; you just learn how to manage it. It’s been five and half years, and I’m still struggling with that, with feelings of worthlessness, with a terror of being abandoned when I’m at my darkest and lowest points.
But being diagnosed correctly, getting off that medication that drove me to my lowest point and kept me there, was a start.
“You also went in handcuffs and shackles.”
I really feel your pain, the same thing happened to me at 13, they told me I was going home, and I was confused when they shackled me without telling me why. Then I realized I wasn’t going home, but nobody would tell me where I was going.