"I'm Fine": This Is What It's Like Being Hospitalized for Depression
For Mental Health Awareness Month, an editor reflects on dealing — and not dealing — with mental health.
It’s two days after the new year. Nothing about it feels happy. There was something lingering in the air, but the residue from the fireworks that lit up the sky just nights before was gone by now. This felt the opposite— dark. Heavy.
I’ve been lying in bed for days but I can’t remember the last time I slept, or moved even. The darkness kept me up every single night, and during the day the heaviness laid on top of me like a blanket. It held me down, kept me there in bed with what felt like a force so strong I didn’t even try to push back. It was easier to just be still and surrender.
“I don’t even know how to help you anymore.” My mom had been doing the best she could, but she didn’t understand what was happening to me. I chalked it up to our cultural differences, as if just like how English isn’t her first language, the way I felt must have been that foreign to her too. But truthfully I didn’t really understand it myself.
I go to see a therapist for the first time because I needed someone to help me understand. I spent the day before endlessly going through profiles online when I found her. The knitted vest she wore on top of her turtleneck in her picture made her look unassuming, and she was wearing a similar one when I met her. Her silver-rimmed bifocals were the same, too, and I wondered if when she squinted through them, she could see the heaviness that had now draped itself around my shoulders.
I’m uncomfortable, but I try to talk anyway. I try to tell her how badly I want to be better. I just need her to listen and tell me how to be better. I can tell that everything I’m saying to her was now making her uncomfortable too. In between my own sobs I see her worriedly adjust the glasses on her face. She tells me that at this point, she doesn’t think she can help me and I need to commit myself to the hospital instead. She tells me that if i don’t go right this moment, she will get the police to take me.
The darkness kept me up every single night, and during the day the heaviness laid on top of me like a blanket.
My face is already red from the crying, but now there’s a burning inside of me. I feel betrayed. I just wanted her to help me be better.
Even she didn’t know to help me.
I decide to go to the hospital on my own — although it’s not like I actually have much of a choice. This way I get to sit in the passenger seat of my mom’s car instead of the backseat of a cop’s, but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like I’m being driven to serve time.
We sit in the waiting room before intake. A nurse talks to us, not about hospital things, just about regular things. I wonder if he’s only being this nice because he feels bad for me.
My mom calls my dad to tell him I’m being admitted. My dad and I don’t speak for a month after that. That’s what you do in the black community: You don’t talk about it. Mental illness is not a thing, and if it’s not a thing, there’s nothing to talk about. Instead you’re just supposed to be strong. But this time the heaviness was stronger than me.
There’s a chill that lives there, the bare white walls are frigid, and although there are people in every single one of these rooms, it still feels overwhelmingly empty. I go through the motions and try to be as “normal” as a person who’s been committed to the hospital can be:
Wake up, go to breakfast (I have french toast everyday), go to group (I only listen, never talk), go to lunch (I have the sandwich, but I only eat the bag of chips it comes with), sit for hours in the rec room shading in a coloring book and watching whatever it is on TV (I never get control over the remote) with all the other people who seem as normal as a person who’s been committed to the hospital can be.
I only ever talk to two of them. One is an older woman who tells me I remind her of her daughter, and the other is a guy around my age wearing a cast on his arm. I can tell by the way I sometimes catch him staring at it that it’s part of the reason why he was here. The three of us never talk about that though — why we’re all here.
I’d been wrapped underneath heaviness for so long I started losing track of time maybe weeks ago.
I say “Hi” to another person from time to time, the only person who didn’t seem as “normal” as us except for during his lucid moments that were few and far between his schizophrenic outbursts. He’s soft-spoken and gentle, but something — or someone, it seems — else takes over him and nurses rush him away before I can ever get beyond, “Hi.”
I talk to the doctors, too, but only because I have to. I still play normal, answer all of their questions matter-of-factly hoping that with good behavior, my sentence would be shortened. “Have you ever felt depressed before?” No. “How is the medication making you feel?” Better. “Do you still want to hurt yourself?” No.
On the fourth day they decide I can go home. Four days feels like an eternity, and I’d been wrapped underneath heaviness for so long I started losing track of time maybe weeks ago. My mom comes to take me home after I’m discharged. She has her arm around me as we make our way out of the hospital’s maze. It’s a Sunday, and there’s no one in the hallway to help direct us, or wonder why I’m here.
I open the doors to the outside and feel the sun for the first time in what seems like months. We get in the car and I eat fast food for my first meal out (I order a burger, but I only eat the fries it comes with). I turn the radio up and my phone back on. I look over my unread messages, and there’s one from a friend who’s starting to grow concerned because her texts have gone unanswered for a couple of days.
I get in the shower and wash the prior week off my skin and hope what’s left of the heaviness rinses off too.
I tell her I was in the hospital because I was sick. I tell her not to worry. She asks if there’s anything she can do to help.
I tell her I’m fine.
At home I turn on the TV (I finally have control over the remote). I cry for a moment — but only for a quick one. I’m strong, so I don’t wallow. I get in the shower and wash the prior week off my skin and hope what’s left of the heaviness rinses off too. I set an alarm and watch TV until I fall asleep.
When the alarm goes off, it’s Monday, and even though nothing about it feels happy, at least it doesn’t feel as sad. I am a little lighter, but the air is still foggy.
I get ready for school. It’s the first day of the new semester, and when I get on campus, I’m surrounded by familiar faces.
I go to class, and whenever these faces get a chance to, they ask the same questions. “How are you? How was your holiday break?”
“Fine,” I say back.
I wonder whether the smile I give them is convincing enough. I haven’t smiled in so long I’m afraid I forgot how. I wonder if they could sense how desperately I wanted to tell the truth — that I was not fine. But then I wonder if that would make them uncomfortable.
I wonder how long they’ve been smiling, if they’d truthfully tell me they were faking it too. And I’d wish that they had.
Maybe that way we could have somehow helped each other.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, you can seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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