I have a few dark secrets only a few people know, those that know may be shocked to see that I’m finally letting them spill out of the closet. For years I’ve kept these silent because…..well because no one talks about this type of stuff. So today, I’m going to go with the wildest of confessions yet. Are you ready for it? No, seriously are you ready because I don’t think you are. Okay here goes, I was in a mental hospital at the age of 12. There, that is done. Holy crap, why did it take so long to tell ya’ll?
Now before any of you start hurling those comments such as “Oh you went to a loony bin or I thought only crazies or psychos went there” I want to talk about my time there and why I was there. Why am I just now (or finally) coming forward and admitting this to you all? I’m not really sure, maybe it was the Facebook game everyone is posting about “Escaping a Mental Hospital” or maybe it is seeing those cartoons that makes reference to it being a loony bin, or maybe I just want to let it out so others that may be hiding behind a closed door can come out too. Hey, it’s dark and lonely when you are hiding from everyone, but when you let out small little secrets it takes them away, you feel good about yourself and it opens the doors to others that maybe be doing it too. You kind of throw out this rope or sign that says, “Hey join the club.”
I was only 12 years old when I went to the mental hospital. Why did I go? Two reasons. 1. I had thought of committing suicide because of my past but my sister stopped me. I thought it was a great thing at the time because I didn’t do it. I shared the news with my psychiatrist and he thought it was a good step in the right direction too. 2. My psychiatrist at the time had shared news about another patient with me and I questioned him. I let him know I didn’t think they were suppose to tell other patients about each other. (I was worried he might share my stories with others) After that he was talking about sending me to the hospital.
In the past I had put my biological mother in jail because of my testimony of what she had done to me. (Lets just say she is the type of person you wouldn’t allow to babysit your children….EVER, but that’s another post) While the newspaper wasn’t suppose to release names of minors in the papers back then (or even now) they did mention the daughter of, so it was kind of obvious and when my friends and acquaintances caught wind of it they couldn’t understand it. The story hit a tri-county area, so you can picture the coverage. Eventually hearing “How can you live without yourself?” or “How could you put your own mom behind bars?” to the extreme one, “Why haven’t you killed yourself, I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.” well it eventually got to me.
The Mental Hospital:
It was a long drive to the hospital and I didn’t really know what to expect. I was scared, excited, sad all at the same time. I remembered hearing how everyone talked about crazies and imagined something like patients walking around with drool hanging from their mouths or the others that would try killing you. Neither of which did I see. I was 12 so I got to pick if I wanted to go to the teen side or the younger, I picked younger. Inside everything is secure, you have to get beeped in to come into the main place, then each floor you need passwords, passes, etc. I shared a room with a girl the same age, so that made me feel even better as I would have someone to talk with. I wouldn’t have to be alone in this place and someone else was going through it. The room had reminded me of what you’d see in a college dorm, only it had bars on the window. I guess they were afraid of the patients trying to jump. Our room did have a shower but you couldn’t have anything you could hurt yourself with so all your shampoos, toothpaste, razors (weren’t permitted), etc were kept at the front desk.
When my parents left it felt so strange, I remember watching out the window from where I was as they drove by. This was it, this would be my new home until I was released and I had no clue how long that really would be. I was immediately introduced to the staff and other floor-mates, believe it or not there were really young children. I remember a 7 year old there because his grandmother believed he was high strung. I remember the time he waited for his family to come and when they didn’t he tried using a spork to hurt himself. Many of the kids that were there were because they couldn’t adjust to split families, others were just always in trouble period and I can’t remember now why my roommate was there. But it wasn’t because they’d tried killing someone else or that they heard voices in their head. We were kids, 12 years old and younger.I won’t say we were perfect, we each had some type of issue that brought us there but we were not your cartoon version “loony.” We laughed, cried, shared stories, gave each other support just like anyone else.
Saturdays were fun days, this was when family members were allowed to come up and visit us. Sometimes we actually left the hospital with our families, I remember mine took me to a mall once. For those that stayed behind they made sure to have games in the game room and outside visitors such as a DJ, clown, etc. They wanted us to feel normal, special, loved and safe. There was a television where we could watch shows or a movie or two. Counselors were there in case you needed to talk with someone too. Saturdays were also the day we would get to go on field trips, I remember one time we went to the beach. You had to stay with your group and yes you wore a badge/sticker in case you got apart from the group. Even seeing we were from a hospital no one treated us badly at the beach, we even had some toss a Frisbee back and forth with us.
The Padded Room:
Yes, there was a padded room and I did go in. Actually I had discovered my biological mother was getting out of jail and I had got worried she’d try finding me and killing me. A counselor brought me into the room to show me if I saw her I could run into there because there’d be no way she could hurt me because she’d need the codes. I felt safe in there. The staff always made you feel better, that I remember. In fact one of the ladies found out that I loved the Archie’s comics. Do you remember those? Well she had the Archie movie and brought it in so I could watch it. With that being stated I did see a friend once have to get in the white jacket and placed in the room because he’d got some bad news and was trying to hurt himself. They left him out once he calmed down, other than that I never saw anyone else in it.
School & Food:
Curious about the hospital food? Oh I loved it, in fact once I got out I kept trying to find someone to make me stuffed shells. haha. Now you did have to eat the 4 basic food groups and couldn’t get seconds (ie on stuffed shells) unless you ate everything on your plate. You stayed in your seat until the whole floor was ready to go up, which was normally when the teens came in. They were a friendly group, always greeted us and asked how our day was. We did have school and even an art class. I remember being ahead of the class I was leaving behind and working independently in math. I loved using the clay in art class, especially when we got to see the person that upset us and pound it. But I loved making things, so the ceramic was fun, trying to make a clay pot was …umm interesting but so was tossing the clay at each other because we just wanted to be goofy. None of us wanted to be reminded of what we were in and tried hard to make it feel like school.
The truth is, we weren’t crazy but we all needed help in some way. I know for me it helped a lot, I was surrounded by kids that had an issue or two and didn’t judge me for mine. Yes, I’d put my mother behind bars but they got it, they understood because they’d seen the ugly side of life just like I had and could relate. I loved the fact I wasn’t judged and could just be me. If I cried arms went around me or left me alone, if I wanted to scream I could, etc. No child can understand why a parent would harm them or make them do things they shouldn’t do. To me this place was a great place, of course once out you have to decide if you will tell people or not. It was introduced to me that I should NOT tell people, so this became my secret. When kids made jokes about mental hospitals or crazy I just kept quiet, it wasn’t like they knew I’d been to one. They’d only think I was a nut if I shared my stories, eventually I learned to ignore comments. I never laughed about the hospital or made fun of those that went into one. I knew the truth, if they went there, there was a reason and just because you don’t understand doesn’t give you a reason to hurt them. All they want is help, some understanding. You don’t know the road they’ve been down. So yes, I was in a mental hospital and no I’m not crazy. Have you ever been to a mental hospital? Are you willing to admit it?
Edit: Not everyone has a great experience in a mental hospital and I realize that. For me, I did and I know I got lucky. But I don’t think it is right to automatically assume someone is “crazy” or “Nuts” just because they’ve been to one. I went there for help and got it. I’m not saying this is the solution for everyone, as I get more into my past with ya’ll you will understand how this was a desperate point where I needed the help.