Socializing in the ‘Mental’ Hospital
After being admitted to an inpatient hospital setting, settling down on the unit as best as possible, and changing into hospital garb, there is little to do than to sit and wait for your treatment team meetings, medication administration, meals, and pace up and down the hallways. Another option for passing the time is socializing with other peers on the unit. Of course, socializing has its advantages and disadvantages and risks too.
Peers on the unit carry with them insight (or lack of) and stories that can pass the time on days when you need to escape, if only mentally, the confines of 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 history. Their ‘stories of how they discovered themselves within an inpatient setting and their 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 team will be friendly or healthy enough to engage in meaningful communication. Depending on the level of care, state hospitalization versus community-based hospital, there will be a difference between the capacity of most peers on the unit to communicate.
In some cases, there are differences in approachability between patients. Either due to possible aggression or confusion and agitation, the ability of a peer to make a connection with another peer is a precarious venture in the hospital.
Stories from peers can and probably will be highly vivid, sometimes dark, and usually bizarre. At the same time, most people talk about their potential and future discharge.
You may be lucky enough to catch someone in their low-level manic reflective mood talking about their feelings on how they ultimately needed the hospital.
In doing so, the story will also, no doubt, be a litany of extremely unfortunate and lousy luck culminating in this ‘eye’ opening hospitalization.
I have heard stories of all kinds, painted in both broad and sophisticated strokes depending on the mood, verbal acuity, or level of self-disclosure opted by the patient telling his story.
I had many peer relationships in the hospital. 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 in speaking and trying to connect with her.
One day, however, I noticed it seemed as if a switch had flipped, and all of a 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 the team approach me and asked 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. Patients are sent to when they begin de-compensating further upon the 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 met people so reserved and seemingly together, I wondered why they were in the hospital. One memory I had is a man who took an interest in my books, and we would talk about philosophy whenever we had the opportunity to speak with one another. I couldn’t figure out why this man seemingly so composed was in the same unit as me. All the suspicions and questions became answered when the buzzer went off, and I heard screaming.
Before I knew it, staff called code.
Before I came to my senses, he was restrained in a crash cart. He had attempted to harm himself. Months passed, and he never returned to regular clothing. 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 admitted to the unit.
In my university yearbook, which my family surprised me within the hospital since I 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 our peers’ messages, stories, and suggestions during difficult times give us pause, solace, and inspiration to keep living the best life we can achieve despite the challenges and ghosts from our troubled past.
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’s problems.