I had conversations with these three courageous women, while an in-patient on the psychiatric floor of a medical hospital a couple of years ago. Mentioning my blog and my articles, they agreed for an informal interview as long as I didn’t use their real names. I was able to converse with each woman separately where they shared their stories.
Note: I was discharged earlier than any of these women, however, I revisited three weeks later to chat.
Clara – Age (46)
Clara’s eyes well up as she recounts her story of anguish and to her, humiliation. Both wrists are bandaged from a botched suicide attempt, and she stares downward at the floor as she speaks to me. She has been in the hospital for over three weeks.
The dim days of depression have taken their toll and frowns as she recalls her profession as a bank manager, which has now ended. So has her 20-year marriage. Her husband threw up his hands and declared that he had, had ‘enough’. By enough, she explains, he grew weary of the recurring hospitalizations, the continuous unresponsiveness of her life form and now another suicide attempt. “What is next”, he asks? She still has her children’s support though, ages fourteen and sixteen, and proudly shows me pictures of them.
“I am unsure of what the future holds, of course, nor does anybody else, but I wonder if I’ll be vacating the house – or him. It will be lonely one way or another, but I felt alone sometimes even when he was there. I won’t miss the constant criticism. The loneliness and lack of ambition gets me into trouble followed by days then weeks of depression”.
She begins to look into my eyes, her complexion not as gray compared to when we first began our conversation. Verbalizing that depression has followed behind her for fifteen years; she sought help from a family doctor and begged him to help dissipate the gloomy mind-set. Throughout the years she’s experienced minute success, attempted suicide one other time and medications have been ineffective.
“I do have a new psychiatrist, and with only two appointments so far, he didn’t seem especially interested in me or my illness.”
Clara feels both dispirited and powerless. She is also bitter. Her career was her life, as she puts it, “life has been sucked right out of me”. “Why continue”, she asks? “Who would wish to carry on – for that bright light ahead? – I think not”.
Three weeks have passed: She agreed to five ECT (shock treatments), and feels as if they’ve made some difference and realizes this depression won’t cease to exist over night, but does feel a tad more optimistic. Thoughts of her marriage break-up, she feels, are to some extent due to the illness, which even now saddens her. But she is looking onward to the future…and expressed that she may be discharged in two weeks. Also, her strategy is to continue with ECT treatments on an outpatient basis.
Belinda – Age (35)
I meander into the dining room where Belinda is waiting. She has Bipolar Disorder and has been in hospital for four weeks and the path has been bumpy.
Her moods have been “flip-flopping”, in other words, traveling from ‘high’ (mania) and plunging to ‘low’ (depression). Rapid cycling. Today she is feeling a little ‘up’. She much prefers this to the never-ending depressing lows. Depression to her means heading towards death. Who yearns to be living throughout this period? She struggles with the mood swing of depression far more frequently than that of mania. She has by no means attempted suicide, yet her brain travels towards that route often.
She has succeeded in the working world, as assistant manager of a major department chain for six years. Unfortunately, this all crumbled due to too many ‘under-the-weather’ days, doctor’s appointments and hospitalizations causing her to surrender her management position. She glances at me and says “just when everything is going nicely in your life, you have to deal with’ this crap”.
Belinda’s ill health began slowly, experiencing ‘down days’ a great deal of the time and personnel at work questioned the personality change. She questioned it also, and subsequently her family doctor assessed the situation and diagnosed it as depression. Medication was prescribed and it was advised that a psychiatrist be involved, but that in itself was a task; at least in this city where they are in short supply, and typically you are placed on a waiting list.
While in hospital though, she was assigned a psychiatrist who will be her out-patient doctor as well. He is very thorough, doesn’t hurry her visits and seems to really be concerned. Together they are experimenting with medications, but haven’t reached that point where moods are stable. What contented her most was the diagnosis of her illness – ‘bipolar’. Although not pleased with the label “bipolar disorder” as it appears to carry more stigma than depression, she states that “at least I can put a name to all of these mood swings over the years, and know that I’m not crazy”. Unfortunately, at present she is not in good shape as the depressions far outweigh the mania. But, is working very hard to become well again.
She resides with her boyfriend of 10 years, who is remains very sympathetic and supportive to her illness.
BELINDA WAS DISCHARGED AT TIME OF MY REVISIT
Carolyn – Age (20)
Carolyn is a slender girl with lengthy, straight blond hair. To glance at her, one would assume, “looks perfect, like a swimsuit model”.
Looks are deceiving. Carolyn overdosed a few days ago and is barely beginning to get on her feet. We chatted firstly about the overdose.
She intended to OD for weeks. At home she ingested a massive cocktail of prescription and non-prescription medications. Her sister dropped by unannounced, discovered her motionless on the living room floor and called 911. Afterward it was determined that, had another hour passed, she would have been dead. Tested, there appears to be liver damage and further tests are to be completed to rule out heart damage. Still though, she remains regretful that the OD wasn’t successful. “I’m pissed off that it didn’t work”.
This may distress some people, with remarks to the like of “how could she be so selfish” or “she’s so pretty, how could anyone give up anything to look like her”. These are misconceptions of mental illness. Our outer shell judges us. Doesn’t matter what is intensifying within and how we are dealing with it.
Sadly, Carolyn says she prays to breathe her last breath, as the blackness never subsides. “You go to bed at night to blackness and wake up to the same color – black. Do they know what they are doing in this hospital? No medications are helping. What am I supposed to do; I’m out of hope”. “Nurses have done most of the work here, but the in-patient doctor is scarce and I am fortunate if he visits every 3rd or 4th day”.
In spite of the mood fluctuation and hospitalizations, her boyfriend is tolerating this exceptionally well. He is very compassionate and supportive, and that is crucial for recuperation. As Carolyn describes it, “depression is so consuming and burdensome, sometimes I wonder why he stays with me.” Also, “to perform my duties at work is becoming impossible”. She is employed at a fast-food restaurant and works bizarre hours.
This is not her career job, but for the moment it pays the bills. Her employer has been incredibly empathetic and has guaranteed her that the job will be there when discharged.
Three weeks later: Carolyn has definitely made progress and meds appear to be helping. Discharge may be next week, but will wait until stronger and well enough to return to work. She found that the in-patient doctor’s more recurrent visits made a difference. Why couldn’t this doctor be as accessible for the first few weeks of her stay I ask?
Written by: Deb