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perkreations

Honesty about creativity, art, mental illness, grief, feminism, human rights and chronic pain with a healthy dose of sarcasm

Month

July 2017

Part 2: Welcome to the Psych Ward

I feel as though I’m on my way to loving myself a little more each day and trying to manage my pain levels, depression, and anxiety a little bit better. But there is a story I have to tell about what I saw and learned and felt during my time in the psych ward because telling is cathartic for me and hopefully helpful to others.

You might be wondering what brought me to the point where I decided I would be better off checked into the Psych Ward than at home. The answer both simple and complicated. I’m going to give you the simple answer and leave out the complicated because I’d like to keep this writing sharp and uncluttered.

The Moms birthday in late November. This seems to be a tipping point for me, where if I’ve been teetering on the edge of deep depression I feel compelled to dive on in.

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Part 2: Welcome to the Psych Ward

Bare footprints disappearing in the snow, heading further and further from home. Finding a well hidden snowbank she lays down, blue silk nighty billowing then settling around her, staring up into the silent, swirling snow as the handfull of sleeping pills begins to take effect. Soon she stops shivering, closes her eyes, lets the hypothermic warmth take over and eventually she is no longer.

This was the suicidal plan that played out over and over in my mind last winter. I saw my demise as a favour to my friends and family. Finally they’d be able to move on from my constantly bringing them down and holding them back with my depression and pain and anxiety and defectivness.

I often researched suicide methods and statistics online, wanting to make sure my first try would be permanent. I began punishing myself, for failing to get on with my plan, by burning my flesh with the hot metal of a lighter, carving up my arms and legs with scissors.

I had eaten only cheerios for the better part of a year, bringing myself to a point of malnourishment where I grew lightheaded frequently and occasionally passed out.

In a last ditch effort to save my own life I wrote out all of the above in point form and shakily handed it to my psychologist one day. I was finally telling him what I’d managed to keep secret from him and my loved ones for so long. I remained silent as he read, folding in on myself, dry eyed and staring into space.

My psychologist called an ambulance and this was how I ended up in the psych ward. It was discovered that my hemoglobin levels had dropped to 75 and later down to 45 (normal is 120 – 160 for females). This extreme anemia came from my self-induced malnourishment and led to intravenous iron infusions and, eventually, the discovery of a stomach ulcer and acid reflux, which had likely occurred from taking my meds on a frequently empty stomach.

There are parts of my first few days on the ward I’ve no memory of. I was so ill I could scarcely make it out of bed, let alone out my door and into the common areas.

When I grew stronger and would slowly make my way to a common tv, clinging tightly to the wall railing lest the lightheadedness get the better of me. I’d lay on the couch either staring blankly at the tv or falling asleep as the other patients chattered around me and controlled the remote.

As my physical symptoms began to heal I was able to spend more time focusing on the reasons for my suicidal urges. This led to a focus on self esteem and expression of anger.

A particularly memorable breakthrough came when I told the loud-mouthed, bully of the ward to, “fuck off!”

I told my nurse about my vulgar admonishment of the man, expecting to be scolded. I was surprised and elated when I was told, while this wouldn’t be the best way to handle all conflict, I should be proud for having stood up for myself.

Slowly but surely I found myself again, a strong, robust woman who’d become trapped inside a girl who’d lost sight of self love. I gradually met goal after goal, in spite of numerous setbacks. My recovery has never been a straight, upward line, but upward has been the overall direction lately.

At the end of January I left the hospital scared to be back in the real world but I felt hope beginning to stir within my soul. As I’m writing this now I can finally see how far I’ve come and I can’t help but smile and be proud. Tears also sting my eyes with conflicting emotion, how did I ever get so very low and am I destined to take a dive again if I’m not ever vigilant?

I know I’ve a long way to go but I am finding more and more hope in my heart and more motivation to keep working to get better.

I am so thankful to my incredibly kind, sensitive, unconditionally loving husband who did so much to help me pull through and convince me he would not be better off without me. My father and father-in-law and mother-in-law visited me often and showed so much unconditional love it was overwhelming.

The rest of my family and friends from near and far away also expressed their deep concern and love when I thought all was lost. I still feel unworthy of this amount of love but I’m beginning to accept it and I’m trying to love everyone back as hard as I can.

This is where the second and most severe mental health crisis in my life has led. I’m still fighting maddening chronic pain but I feel like the fight within my mind is less and optimism is beginning to win a little more each day.

K

Love πŸ’– Recovery?

No matter how much I plan and pace and predict how attending an event will work, coping with the consequences never fails to surprise me with its intensity. I do my best to mitigate pain difficulties during an event and leave time for recovery but I’m not psychic so I cannot account for everything that might happen and how it will make me feel.

Myself (far right) with my girlfriends last night taking timeout in the beer garden to enjoy some sangriaπŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Folk Fest with a couple of girlfriends. They were kind enough to pick me up and take me in the early evening, thus decreasing the total time I’d be there but still allowing plenty of time for us to have some fun and see the entertainers I most wanted to see.

Lately I’ve been saying, “fuck it, I’m going,” then figuring out ways of doing some of the things I most enjoy rather than being permanently sidelined. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have friends and family willing to take my special needs into account and help me to make the most of what I am able to do.

I think my new fuck it attitude has enabled me to enjoy life a little more but it has also had a direct effect on the time I spend out of commission during the time following. No matter how much care I take during an event I always know there will be time spent in recovery mode for several days after.

What does recovery look like for me? It’s not particularly pleasant;

  • Pain levels highly elevated
  • Decreased mobility
  • Extra time spent sleeping and feeling overly tired
  • Inability to do much beyond resting for several days. Recovery time needed depends a myriad of factors and I often find it difficult to predict
  • Feeling overly emotional, tearful, depressed, and angry
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Difficulties completing simple household tasks
  • Increased need for pain medication
  • Headaches

In spite of my desire to try to take part in things I enjoy more I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth the inevitable painful recovery time. In spite of this trepidation I plan to continue to say, “fuck it, I’m going,” whenever I can reasonably do so. The joy returning to my life is, I think, worth it and will hopefully make me stronger in the long run.

If you suffer from a chronic condition do you have a, “fuck it, I’m going,” policy or something similar and if so what do you do to mitigate recovery time and still enjoy taking the chance to do what you love on occasion? I would love to hear your ideas and stories.

K

Humourous Psych Ward Tales

The psych ward can be a little scary at times and is often fraught with emotions running high. In order to keep some semblance of normalcy one must keep a sense of humour. Here are a couple of amusing incidents I recall from my time spent as an inpatient.

In order to protect the identities of those involved I’ll be using gender neutral pronouns such as them and they. I will not provide any names nor physical descriptions.

Please understand these stories aren’t meant to make a mockery of psychiatric patients. I am simply trying to highlight the fact there is light and levity to be found even during the darkest of times.

One day I was invited by another patient to join in a lesson they’d be offering on tantric kissing. The patient pointed to the ring on my left hand and said this lesson would be especially important for me to attend as a married woman. I politely declined the offer but couldn’t help chuckling as I walked away wondering what teaching techniques were planned.

In another situation an apple was left on the coffee table in the common area. A patient asked if it belonged to anyone. I said it was without an owner and they were welcome to it.

The patient recoiled at my suggestion and said, “no way! It could belong to a woman and you know how Eve tricked Adam into eating an apple in Eden. I’m not going to let that happen to me.”

“Yeah, the women are always trying to lead men into temptation!” another patient chimed in.

In another situation it was brought to my attention the best way to dispose of a body would be to throw it out concealed within a Christmas tree.

My absolute favourite moment happened one day when I finally was feeling well enough to draw a little bit. Another patient, who was very withdrawn with constant delusions, approached me and peaked over at the sketch I’d just started. For the first time in the week I’d been there I saw a sense of lucid clarity as my gaze was met.

“That’s a really ugly drawing!” the patient declared then nodded at me and withdrew again, striding away speaking to unseen partners in conversation.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I’d been hoping the patient would start to have more moments of clarity. I just didn’t expect my unfinished art would be the thing to draw out the lucidity!

K

Psych Ward Humour

The psych ward can be a little scary at times and is often fraught with emotions running high. In order to keep some semblance of normalcy one must keep a sense of humour. Here are a couple of amusing incidents I recall from my time spent as an inpatient.

In order to protect the identities of those involved I’ll be using gender neutral pronouns such as them and they. I will not provide any names nor physical descriptions.

Please understand these stories aren’t meant to make a mockery of psychiatric patients. I am simply trying to highlight the fact there is light and levity to be found even during the darkest of times.

One day I was invited by another patient to join in a lesson they’d be offering on tantric kissing. The patient pointed to the ring on my left hand and said this lesson would be especially important for me to attend as a married woman. I politely declined the offer but couldn’t help chuckling as I walked away wondering what teaching techniques were planned.

In another situation an apple was left on the coffee table in the common area. A patient asked if it belonged to anyone. I said it was without an owner and they were welcome to it.

The patient recoiled at my suggestion and said, “no way! It could belong to a woman and you know how Eve tricked Adam into eating an apple in Eden. I’m not going to let that happen to me.”

“Yeah, the women are always trying to lead men into temptation!” another patient chimed in.

In another situation it was brought to my attention the best way to dispose of a body would be to throw it out concealed within a Christmas tree.

My absolute favourite moment happened one day when I finally was feeling well enough to draw a little bit. Another patient, who was very withdrawn with constant delusions, approached me and peaked over at the sketch I’d just started. For the first time in the week I’d been there I saw a sense of lucid clarity as my gaze was met.

“That’s a really ugly drawing!” the patient declared then nodded at me and withdrew again, striding away speaking to unseen partners in conversation.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I’d been hoping the patient would start to have more moments of clarity. I just didn’t expect my unfinished art would be the thing to draw out the lucidity!

K

Welcome to the Psych Ward

I’ve often alluded to my time spent in the psych ward for anxiety and severe depression but I’ve put off writing about it directly as it was an extremely difficult time. I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about this but I’ll try.

This is me waiting in the secure emergency ward room. Note the word “useless” scrawled across my inner arm. This is a stark reminder of the other self-flagellating words I’d written in other places and the still bloody and red scars I had from harming myself with blades and flames. It is blatantly obvious to me now that I desperately needed to be where I was.

I’m going to break this story up into several smaller pieces to make it easier on myself and to make for easier reading. To begin with I’ll begin at the beginning. Admission.

I voluntarily asked to be admitted so I can only speak from my experience. I know others are admitted involuntarily for a myriad of reasons. Regardless, we must all wait our turn to be triaged through emergency.

In most psychiatric cases, including mine, not just any bed will do. A bed must open up in the secure area of the emergency ward, guarded by peace officers, void of creature comforts, and constantly surveiled via cameras.

This area is reserved for those on suicide and self harm watch (like me), others experiencing psychosis or other unpredictable psychiatric conditions, prison inmates or those under arrest needing medical attention, and any other patients who might cause harm to themselves or others. Bright side – you get a small private room.

There is one common washroom in the secure area I was in, no lock on the door, the words, “I died here,” etched into the wall along with a swastika which I attempted to turn into a peace sign. I left the words alone as they made sense to me.

I waited in this area for 2 nights the first time I was admitted and 1 night the second time. I consider myself very lucky as I met others who waited up to a week for a psych bed to open up.

Once a bed came available my belongings were hastily packed up and I was bundled into a wheelchair to make the trip to the ward that would be home for an indefinte period.

I cried and hid my face as I was wheeled along. I was sure I was being judged for taking up space and services I wasn’t entitled to. I felt there were others more deserving of admission and I was a lost cause anyway.

Upon arrival in the ward I was greeted by friendly nurses. They went through my belongings carefully, placing anything of value or that might cause harm, my purse, headphones, pencil sharpener, aresol hair spray, and nail scissors into a locker I could only access through a staff member.

I had to surrender my phone as nothing with a camera is allowed for privacy purposes and the environment is meant to be as low stimuli as possible. I would be able to use the communal landline on the ward or, once granted timed off-unit privileges, given my phone back temporarily.

I recall being completely overwhelmed by the co-ed ward at first. I could see into the high observation area behind the desk, a wall of windows penning acutely psychotic, violent, or destructively delusional patients into a locked ward within the locked ward. Many of these patients prowled back and forth, ranted and yelled, or pressed their faces to the glass, staring with glassy eyes and unkempt locks at anything and anyone.

I was told to wait in the common area until my nurse had time to give me an orientation and tour. I observed the other patients I’d be living with and grew nervous. I didn’t want to judge anyone, I wanted to be as empathetic as possible but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed.

The ward was not just for the anxious and depressed like me. There were individuals pacing round and round talking and gesticulating wildly to themselves. Others sat and stared into space catatonically. I soon became familiar with the manic laughter of someone who cannot control their emotions despite trying desperately. It’s not a pleasant laugh… it’s hollow and pain filled and a little scary.

Some patients approached me and introduced themselves. One lady told me her entire life story within moments of meeting me. But she was kind and welcoming and I soon found that those I’d been unsure of because of their erratic behaviour were also wonderful people who’d just lost their way and needed time to rest and regroup…like me.

To be continued

K

Love Trolling

It seems to me the anonymity of modern technology has led to a culture often focused on mean. I too have occasionally capitulated to the urge to call others out for trolling which I see as nothing more than a bully’s wet dream and a filthy one at that. But trolling trolls is truly futile and has never once brought me a feeling of joy or peace or productivity. So I’ve decided to change tack and try something different and I have dubbed it, Love Trolling. On my Instagram account @perkreations I post pictures of my sketches, finished drawings, paintings, and photos. I began following a lot of other artists to begin with and offering words of praise and encouragement wherever I could… but that’s not Love Trolling, that’s just wanting to be a positive force.

Love Trolling came to be after falling down a number of Instagram rabbit holes regarding mental helth and I kept coming across individuals suffering from many all too familiar mental maladies such as self harm, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self hatred, shame, and general mental anguish.

I couldn’t help but notice the number of blatant cries for help, screams for love and a little understanding. I couldn’t believe the number of nasty, trolling responses these people were frequently subjected to rather than simple empathy or saying nothing at all.

I decided then and there to counter this anonymous hatred with anonymous love. I am not a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or medical professional of any kind but I can reach out and offer more than a shred of kindness.

My first:

“I know I’m not in your shoes, living your life but I have been suicidal and I have self harmed. For me it took spending time in a psychiatric ward and coping with the effects of malnutrition because I’d been eating so poorly. I also went to group therapy and continue individual therapy along with medication. Things have begun to look a little better now in spite of some challenges I still have.

Try to be strong even though things suck right now. You ARE worth taking care of. You are. I promise.”

Moments later I received personal notes of thanks, even though they weren’t needed, from that particular individual as well as a couple of their friends. We’ve gone on to keep in touch and encourage each others art and lives.

I’ve reached out to others too. I’m by no means saying I’ve come close to fixing anything but by showing love whenever I can I truly hope it has had some small positive effect in the world. I can tell you this for sure, Love Trolling has brought me a sense of purpose, peace, and reflected self love.

I dare you to give it a try…

K

Never Say Die

Language has always been incredibly important to me. When my Mom died this didn’t change. I became fixated on one particular word. Died.

I found myself inwardly cringing every time someone uttered, “passed away,” or “lost” instead of just spitting out what had actually happened… My Mom DIED.
I don’t know why I became obsessed with not using silly-seeming platitudes rather than just spitting out the obvious. I suppose I thought, “why use 2 or 3 words when one will suffice?”

I recall my husband suggesting I soften my language rather than using the word, “die,” so as not to offend anyone. I couldn’t bring myself to call what had happened to my mother anything other than what it was. It sucks that she died but saying something like, “passed away,” doesn’t make it suck any less.

Sometimes I think my insistence on using short, sharp language isn’t fair to others. Why, exactly, is this language surrounding death so important to me? What am I really so upset about when someone utters something like, “we lost great aunt Molly last year?”

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your insights and stories.

K

Fun?

Conversation with myself:

“When was the last time you had fun?”

“I’m not supposed to have fun.”

“Really? And why do you feel this way?

“It should be obvious. I don’t work, I’m on long-term disability benifits, I suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. I can’t even keep my house clean. I don’t deserve to have fun.”

“Wow! That’s a really harsh perspective. If you met someone in the same condition as you and that person told you they felt as though they weren’t entitled to have fun would you agree and list off all the reasons why not as you’ve just listed them off?

“Of course not, but I have different standards for myself than I do for others.”

“Huh, so you’re a suffering snob? Sounds to me like you think your suffering runs deeper than other’s… is that it?”

“Of course not. I just feel like I’ve caused too many inconveniences for those closest to me for far too long. Actually I would wish for my friends and family to have fun without having to worry about me and if I’m comfortable or if I might need to leave early because I’m in too much pain.”

“Sounds like your friends and family want you to have fun. Especially since they go out of their way to make you comfortable. Do you agree they think you’re entitled to fun despite your disability?

“I guess I do. But what is it I should do for fun? How much fun am I allowed to have?”

***

Cut to me in early April when I see an advertisement that one of my favourite bands will be playing in Edmonton in mid-july along with another band I enjoy. I gleefully book tickets and subsequently panic.

I panic because it’s the first time in years I’ve planned to do something so frivolous, fun, and selfish. How could I have possibly have bought tickets to something far away, expensive, and taxing on my body.

Before I can give up and sell the tickets online. I decide to come up with a plan to make it work.

#1 I ask my husband if we can spend two nights in Edmonton so I have lots of time to rest.

#2 I ask that we take at least two short breaks on the road so I can walk a little bit and stretch out.

#3 Even though I have a number of relatives and friends I would love to see while in Edmonton I decide visiting will add too much bodily stress. I also promise myself not feel too guilty about this. There will be time for visiting trips in the future.

#4 I promise myself a week of guilt free recovery as I know the trip will be incredibly exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting. So I keep plans and appointments to a bare minimum and set my recovery time as a priority.

Our trip to Edmonton was great. We saw Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 and it was brilliant and totally worth the planning. I’m so glad I gave myself permission to do something fun after years of insisting on punishing myself. I’m also greatful for the planned recovery time😊

K

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