After being admitted to the hospital, and settling down on the the unit as best as possible, changing into hospital garb, there is little to do than to sit, wait for treatment team meetings, medication time, meals, and pace up and down the hallways. Another option for passing the time is socializing with other peers on the unit. This has its advantages and disadvantages, and risks, too, as this blog entry will discuss as the article unfolds. Peers on the unit carry with them insight, lack their-of, and stories that can pass the time on days when you really need to escape, if only mentally, the confines on the unit. After so many hospitalizations, I have experienced the benefits and drawbacks of socializing with others in the hospital.
Without question, peers on the unit each have their own history, their “story” of how they discovered themselves in-patient, and their own versions of the precipitating events to their hospitalization. As you get to know each consenting new friend on the unit, there is a little bit more to learn each time. I use the word consenting because not everyone on the unit will be friendly, or healthy enough to engage in meaningful communication. Depending on the level-of-care, state hospitalization versus community-based hospital, their will be a difference between the capacity of most peers on the unit to communicate, and in some cases, there are differences in approachability due to possible aggression or confusion and agitation which will complicate the ability of a peer to make a connection with another peer.
But the stories can and probably will be vivid, sometimes dark, and usually bizarre. While most people are usually talking about their potential and future discharge, you may be lucky enough to catch someone in their reflective stance and talking about their feelings on how they ultimately needed the hospital to fix or help whatever was happening in their life from worsening further. I have heard stories of all kinds, painted in both broad and sophisticated strokes. Stories that were sometimes complex, rarely very simple, and always engaging. During my own break, and state hospitalization, I met a girl my own age who suffered from a similar diagnosis and circumstance around hospitalization. After talking with this girl at length, and learning so much insight into my disorder from our conversations, I decided to keep in contact with her after discharge.
This Saturday would have been the birthday of my dear friend Giovanna Nuesslein. We met in GBHC Binghamton State Hospital in the admissions unit in 2008. She was discharged only a week apart and we kept in contact upon return home after our six month hospitalization. Soon after returning home I knew something was wrong with my friend. Giovanna sounded more and more confused and talked increasingly about not taking her medication. After being in regular contact, a few weeks passed without hearing from her. One day I got a call from her friend at home that she had completed suicide jumping from her balcony to her death. While I wasn’t completely shocked, I was deeply saddened, and her death definitely set the tone for the first phase of my recovery when the prospect of healing seemed bleak and unreachable.
I had other relationships in the hospital too. There was one patient I got along with enough to talk with regularly. In her case, it seemed as if she was recovering. So, I invested my energy speaking and trying to connect with her. One day, however, I noticed it seemed as if a switch had flipped, and all the sudden, she was talking to herself again and responding to internal stimuli. One day I noticed she was talking with hospital staff and pointing towards me. I was sitting on the couch in the day room at the time. I observed staff approach me, and ask me what I was doing at the moment. They told me there was a complaint from my friend that I was threatening her. I told the staff they must be mistaken because we didn’t even speak to one another during the past few hours. A week passed and my friend was transferred to long term care, and extended ongoing treatment unit in which patients are sent to when they begin de-compensating further upon initial trial of symptom stabilization on the admissions unit.
I have met people so disordered that they cannot maintain a conversation without spinning out in tangents, and non-sequiturs without end. I have also meet people so reserved and seemingly together I wondered why they were in the hospital. One memory I had is a man who took interest in my books and we would talk about philosophy whenever we had the opportunity to speak with one another. I just couldn’t figure out why this man seemingly so composed was in the same unit as me. All the suspicions, and questions were answered one day when I the buzzer went off and I heard screaming. Before I knew it code was called and he was being restrained on a crash cart after attempting to harm himself. Months passed and he never returned to normal clothing, there in his room, mostly isolated for the tenure of my hospitalization, he remained in hospital clothing, very depressed looking, and not at all appearing or behaving like the same person I had met when I was first admitted to the unit.
In my college yearbook, which my family surprised me with in the hospital, since I just graduated a few weeks prior, I have several comments, and signatures from other peers on the unit. In the pages are inscribed well wishes, and hope for a better future. There is no question that the messages, stories, and suggestions from our peers during difficult times give us pause, solace, and inspiration to keep living the best life we can possibly achieve despite the challenges and ghosts from our troubled past. I would like this entry to honor all of those that have shared a memory, given a dollop of inspiration, and blessed me with their history. Together, I hope our collective narrative will live on for another day somewhere far beyond the confines of the unit and help you take on a life far above the upper limits of yesterday.