“Here’s our policy on restraining patients. We haven’t had to do it in years, but due to policy, we have to inform you of it just in case.” I shuddered inside. If you’d ask me during graduation where I’d be during the second month of college, you could get a variety of responses — receiving a restraint policy after being admitted to the Mental Health Unit of Cheshire Medical Center, however, wouldn’t be one of them. My name is Joseph and I’m a first-year student at Keene State College. For years I was always considered a bit different, the one in a friend group that was the most unique. I wasn’t a complete weirdo, but even as I began to make friends during my transition here, others’ descriptions of me usually fell along the lines of, “he’s just Joe.”
That’s why, when I started getting into really strange states of mind, people just put it off as just me being who I am. I would have periods of time with no energy at all — I couldn’t do anything. Other times, I felt as if I could take on the world and would make damn sure nothing got in my way. Being in the most exhausted and hopeless mood you could ever imagine, I reached out to the counseling center. After a referral to the medical center, I found out there was a two-week waiting list and I had suddenly switched over to feeling extremely wired and energetic, as if I had downed a gallon of espresso. Then, the collapse. The feeling of everything falling apart and knowing that help was too far away. I had known that if I continued on untreated, I would not survive to see Halloween. It was then, after almost breaking down in the counseling center and a quick trip to the ER, I found out I was being admitted. So there I was, on a locked floor no bigger than a movie theater lobby, with a Bipolar 1 diagnosis and a release date that was a week away. When people think of a psych ward, the image that pops in their head is usually one of two possibilities.
The first is the funny farm, otherwise known as that place where people that have gone a bit too off-their-rockers can mutter to themselves in peace, while the nurses are constantly giving out medication and keeping people in line. The second is an asylum, where patients are strictly disciplined with harsh punishments and a few whom are incredibly violent and frightening. In reality, a psych ward is essentially like a rehabilitation center with more interesting patients. There are however, a few subtle differences — like how the staff treats you in a maternal manner in making sure you get dressed and showered every day. You also have a list of contraband items you can’t bring in, ranging from the obvious (shoelaces), to the debilitating (cell phone). The most interesting though, was the running gag of the food staff always messing up at least one person’s order, which got to the point of someone receiving a roast beef and tuna fish sandwich. At the same time, you can meet some of the most amazing people and though we were all at different walks of life and levels of recovery, we all seemed to mesh extremely well. It wasn’t all a piece of cake though; a bipolar patient came in experiencing severe mania, which, outside of testing our patience, also taught me the severity of my condition. For possibly more years than I can recollect, I had been struggling with an unknown ailment, one to which I often attributed to health or personality. With fear of mental illness stigma, lack of proper healthcare and just an ignorance of its symptoms, many people suffer for years with a psychiatric condition, wasting years of their life, or worse, having it cut too short. Though receiving a hefty load of makeup work and having to deal with multiple doctors and medical adjustments, I left the Mental Health Unit with many new things — like a great support group of people including fellow patients, friends and family. The most important, however, is understanding. I finally grasp who I am and though I might not be your average Joe, I’m fine with that. Because in life, excellence isn’t measured by how long you were on top, but how you climbed up from rock-bottom. Perfection never made for interesting stories anyway.
Joseph can be contacted at email@example.com