***Some content in this post may be very triggering***
Before I start this post series, please note that I do not remember all of my 10 psychiatric hospitalizations. Many are mostly lost from my memory, so I will use hospital records to assist me in writing about them. This first installment is actually a part of this story series that I do remember in some detail. My bipolar disorder was not at its very worst at this point. My episodes worsened over the four years that followed. In this post I was 33 & 34 years old.
This series is being written in preparation for a chapter in my working memoir.
I remember sitting in Dr. Rosen’s waiting room nervously leafing through the little pamphlets on a side table. I found one for bipolar disorder. I had come to know that that was another name for manic depression. I probably read that same pamphlet when I left his office almost one year before, after he diagnosed me with it. At that time he wanted to put me on a mood stabilizer, but I told him I was just fine and no thank you. I left, and didn’t come back until this precise day.
My legs were bobbing up and down and I felt an extreme feeling of desperate agitation. Though my mind was racing I did have some hope shining through that the doctor would have a solution, and put an end to what seemed a peaking misery. I was willing to try that mood stabilizer now. I learned what bipolar disorder is. Believe it or not, I had no clue what manic depression or bipolar disorder was one year earlier, even though I probably had it since I was 14 years old.
Dr. Rosen invited me into his office and it took all of about a few seconds before I burst out in hysterics and gave a disjointed account of what was going on. I remember almost screaming that I was drinking too much and that I had turned into a monster, verbally abusing people at work, punching my keyboard and workstation without a care for who heard. I had recurring fantasies of driving my car into trees. I had even taken to roughly slapping my own face, as if doing so would snap me out of my state. I told him that the day before Human Resources called me into their office with a stand-in boss (my actual boss was the CEO). There they threatened to fire me. They said a total of six people in the office waged formal complaints against me. An army of people? It was a final warning. I couldn’t believe that they would do that to me. My mother had suddenly died only a few months before of cancer. How could they be so cruel? I was furious, frustrated, beside myself.
I told Dr. Rosen that after the Human Resource warning I went straight to my desk and wrote a letter of resignation in fury. They can’t threaten to fire me after over eight years? I’ll quit instead! So I left the letter on the stand-in boss’s desk and went home, and had a drink. Or who knows how many. I called my husband and basically horrified him. It was my husband that had me call Dr. Rosen. I was desperate and I counted on him to provide some kind of solution. In a really big way I didn’t want to resign, and I dreaded begging them to give me another try.
At the end of the session, a session where his nurse surely heard my screaming cries, Dr. Rosen told me he’d like to put me in the hospital. He said that I needed to stop the drinking completely and finally start receiving proper medication treatment for the bipolar disorder. Hospital? Yes! That is what I needed. Some kind of safe haven. An escape. I thought that that would give me a break and help me figure out how to get back what I lost and feel better again.
When I got home and told my husband the news, he seemed to agree with the plans. I was to enter the hospital’s dual diagnosis program the next day when a bed opened up. Strangely, Dr. Rosen told me to try not to drink too much, but at the same time not stop entirely. I didn’t really realize it then, but I was going to detox from alcohol. I was totally clueless about that.
The next day hubby took me to the local psychiatric hospital for the intake. I was voluntarily checked in. Hubby and I had prepared correctly for the intake, packing the appropriate clothes (no belts, no shoe laces, things like that) and I left any toiletries home that contained alcohol. Within a short while I was escorted into a locked ward and stared at a diverse group of patients. They checked my bag, told me to pee in a cup, I took a breathalyzer test, vital signs and blood were taken, and almost immediately after ended up in my first of what would be many AA meetings in the near future. I was in a state of shock almost, feeling mazed. Am I an alcoholic? People were going around the room saying “I am so-and-so, I am an alcoholic.” Then another person said “I am Jane. I am a drug addict.” They eventually got to me, and I was like “I am Cindy. I am…an alcoholic?”
Soon after the AA meeting I was sitting by myself with the world on my shoulders and thoughts shooting through my mind looking down in distress, and up walked a man. A very very tall imposing middle-aged man. I was sort of stunned by his presence. Something about him struck me like a giant angel in a mild fog. He introduced himself as Dr. Ripley. He asked me to come with him and I followed obediently in continued strange awe. He led me to what was probably the smallest windowless office I had ever seen. The contrast between his size and the office made it seem like it was a closet. After I sat down he asked me to describe my situation.
My explanation came out at what seemed like 100 mph in a completely disjointed manner, scattered with loud cries and frustrated grunts. But he was patient and listened and I looked at his eyes at times and they seemed so reassuring. At the end I remember him pulling out a piece of paper and a pen and drawing a graph. He drew two points on the graph. One in a section called depression, and another in a section called mania. Both seemed to be somewhere three quarters up or below the two sections. He said that I was in a “mixed episode” of depression and mania. That totally perplexed me and I just stared for a few moments. But he seemed to have figured out exactly what my situation was. He told me I was being put on Lithium and he described this medication briefly. It seemed like the answer to my problem was found. He told me to gather any questions I have for the next time I see him. That excited me, partly because I knew I’d have dozens to ask, and I knew I wanted to see him again soon.
My time on the ward gradually became more and more painful. I paced around the whole time with thoughts racing. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate in the group therapy or the AA meetings. I felt more distraught. Though the nurses were nice, the therapists seemed like army sergeants. I felt myself starting to shake more and more violently. They gave me a medication for the alcohol withdrawals, but it wasn’t completely effective. At one point I was shaking so much that the nurse came to me and put her arm around my shoulders. I remember screaming “What is happening to me!?!?” I don’t remember what she said, but she was sweet. I think her name was Consuela.
Dr. Ripley had given me another medication to help me sleep. It was a small dose of Seroquel. I did manage to sleep a little on that medication, but started having drunk dreams. I was quite surprised. I had never had such a dream before. I felt guilty for having it. I was so confused about this “alcoholic” thing. I told both Dr. Rosen and Dr. Ripley that I drank too much, but didn’t think I was addicted. I rather thought it was more self-medication. It would take over four years of AA meetings, trials of drinking again, and finally getting stable before I would find the real answer to that question.
The hospitalization was about 14 days long, I think, then they sent me to a Partial hospital program basically down the road. I would stay in that Partial hospital program, and then Intensive Outpatient Program for a total of six months. There I again attended the dual diagnosis program. I liked the therapist (Mary Jane), but hated the process groups. All any of the patients ever talked about was addiction, addiction, addiction. I didn’t think that was my main problem, but it was as if they were trying to brainwash me into thinking it was. They basically forced me to attend AA every single day, too. I wished that I could address my mental health issues more, and maybe get some help dealing with the recent death of my mother. It wasn’t to be even over that six month period. Then, believe it or not, I decided to go back to my job. My husband had called my CEO boss on the first day of my hospitalization, and told him I was sick. He also asked that they ignore my resignation.
This story is continued in Part 2 of this series.