Early Thursday morning my life went chaotic. Which happens sometimes when you have a mental illness/illnesses. I don’t want to go into the details but the final result was that I found myself back in the familiar lounge of the psychiatric hospital I have been in countless (literally, I can’t count them) times before. This was unexpected. There weren’t behavioral signs leading up to this and the psychological ones were a combination of factors that hit all together and all at once. The good news about this is that I think my meds were already correct and I have the therapeutic issues figured out that sent me in so I’m pretty sure this isn’t something that has the ingredients to repeat itself.
The stay itself was productive in that it gave me time to focus on some issues that I’d been avoiding and ‘chill’ out while I reevaluated where I was at. I often find being at the psych. hospital harder sometimes than being at home. Mine has groups that are fairly well ran and a great art studio but on the weekends there is only one group and a whole bunch of time to sit around and be be bored or find something, anything that is allowed to do. I was having to use self-soothing skills that I really hadn’t been practicing for awhile and I was feeling the effects from being out of practice. That was one major thing I realized. I’ve GOT to get back to using my self-soothing skills and also integrate some healthier habits into my life.
For me self-soothing skills are essential to my life. They keep my mind regulated and at peace. I define self-soothing skills as literally what it says something that “soothes me”. This is a little different from a coping skill for me. Coping skills are used in times of distress. Self-soothing skills are used all the time to keep me going. Also known as self-care I guess. So what are some of mine? Well, it’s little things. Coloring is a big one. The repetitive motions and the ability to zone out happily gives me great relief. Crosswords are another one. And so is reading. Ah yes reading. When I’m at home I’ve been neglecting reading. I’ve been on the computer as opposed to reading a book. And the computer does NOT soothe me. It activates me. It’s time for me to take some space away from the computer. Set up some boundaries with it in my life. Not gone – just less time with it.
As for healthier habits. Any exercise has dropped off the face of the earth for me. I throw the ball for Gus to wear him out instead of walking him and that would be so easy to add back in. Or play the Wii for just a little bit of time to get up and moving. Anything, that gets me off the couch. Another is allowing myself to go to bed when I’m sleepy and if that’s at 8:30 so be it. No more sleeping on the couch and waking at 12:30 to move to my room. Others are little things such as meds on time and with food, being direct with practitioners and a few other little things.
So the stay although unexpected was productive. I’m glad to be able to go to a good hospital that allows me to bring Gus and goes out of their way to accommodate us. I feel safe there and they make it as tolerable as possible. The staff by and large is good. And this is sometimes hard to find at a psych. ward/hospital so I’m grateful. But I’m very glad to be out and plan to go back to my life now while implementing some of the things I was reminded of. It’s good to have reminders but I think I’ll take them other ways now, thanks.
So I recently wrote that I had been admitted to the psych ward twice (the first time just short of three days and the second time just short of a week). What I failed to mention was what I did with my service dogs, Benny and Shona, while I was admitted. This was deliberate. There is so much criticism in the service dog world about how people treat their dogs and represent service dogs as a whole. In fact, there is a whole Facebook page dedicated to finding “fakers” or people they deem irresponsible or misrepresenting service dogs and publicly exposing them. I was reluctant to share my decisions in how I handled my stay and my dogs in fear of judgement and bullying but I am choosing to in order to perhaps help someone else think through how they would like to handle a similar situation.
First, I need to say that I always consider my dog’s needs first before my own. The hospital I go to is a safe environment with a well trained staff. In addition, it sits on a large area of grounds and easy access to these for potty breaks at anytime. In addition, I could take my service dog for short ten to fifteen minute walks. Staff was more than accommodating day or night in allowing me to take Ben or Shona out. Before staying at the hospital I considered my dog’s temperate. Ben is a dog that is not easily effected by other’s emotions. If Ben is a dog that naturally picks up and feels all the feelings around him a psych. hospital would not be the place for him. But Ben is very emotionally stable and stern. He loves people but their emotions don’t effect him negatively (Shona struggles with this more) so Ben was the dog I chose to take with me.
Ben did not remain “on duty” the entire time he was at the hospital. He was allowed to visit with the other patients, play and act like a dog. If he had remained “on duty” the entire time he would have become worn out and burnt out. Instead he had time to just be Ben and be a dog. There were times I needed him on duty but I also made sure he could be Ben. I deliberately made sure I spent time in my room during the day so he could sleep just like he would at home and wouldn’t be overstimulated. This way he got enough rest.
I considered the population of patients. I was not in a severe mentally ill unit. For the most part there were not psychotic patients. Most were struggling like me so Ben was in no danger. He in fact provided much needed relief to these patients and when not working was allowed to be petted, cuddled and hugged. He served as a therapy dog as much as anything. This is important to note. If you are considering taking your dog inpatient you need to be clear to yourself before going in what your boundaries will be. Will you enforce the no petting rule? I did when Ben was on duty but when he was not I allowed him to be petted like a normal dog. This will require interaction. People naturally want to pet your dog. They will ask questions. You will have to be near them. This was hard for me. But Ben craved their attention and in order for me to make the stay positive for him I allowed him to have the attention he desired.
Another factor that made the hospital stay feasible was my parents were able to visit every night. My dad took Ben out for a thirty minute walk each night. So Ben got plenty of exercise and a chance to run. Each day when they were there I evaluated his mood, attitude well-being, exhaustion and stress level to see if he was able to stay another day. If he had indicated he was stressed at all I would have sent him home immediately.
To sum up my experience with Ben I made the right decision to take him with me. It worked for us. It’s not going to work for every situation. It’s a combination of having the right hospital, the right population of patients, the right timing, the right access to resources and the right dog. Ben has come out of his stay a better service dog. His behavior is more focused and concentrated. He learned a lot from his time there. And how do I know he was not harmed from his stay? Every-time I return there for outpatient Ben wags his tail and becomes increasily excited thinking we are returning to the hospital. He would like nothing better. Sorry buddy if I have anything to say about it we are staying far away.
Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of my psychiatric illnesses are largely due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. My psychiatrist and I have been messing around with my medications for the past two months or so after taking me off one that was causing more side effects than it was worth and it has been causing havoc with my life, messing with my anxiety and depression. After four plus years of treatment I’ve gotten pretty good at using coping skills. And I have been using coping skills out my ears but nothing was touching the level of anxiety I was having. Nothing. This caused me to be starkly reminded that while there are some things I can do to effect my mental illness there are times when sometimes I can’t because when it comes right down to it – it’s just that an illness. A biological illness similar to diabetes or cancer except this illness originates in the brain.
This has become more and more apparent as we try and find the right combination of meds for me. It’s a balancing act as we try to find meds that stop nightmares, help with sleep, catch my anxiety and combat my depression. And part of this balancing act is sometimes stays in the psychiatric hospital. I had a short stay right after Thanksgiving where we made some changes to my meds. These changes unfortunately resulted in me being extremely sedated and sleeping for 16-17 hours a day. Not good. And didn’t help my depression at all. In fact it made it worse. Therefore, resulting in a second stay last week lasting until Christmas Eve.
I am blessed to have access to a good facility about 40 minutes away. And I am lucky that my regular psychiatrist (who is a genius with medication) was the doctor on call. During this second stay I stayed longer while we messed with my medication and I dealt with some side effects. And there are usually side effects to medication. Some more benign than others. I was relieved that this time the side effects weren’t so great as to pull me off the new medication. It seems to be helping. *crossing my fingers*
So back to the beginning of the post – my depression and anxiety is at least partly chemical. Honestly, this scares me more than if it was simply attributed to my trauma. If it was only due to trauma I could “get over it” but a biological basis? Well, I can’t control my brain anymore than someone can control their blood sugars or the number of cancer cells in their body. I’m having to surrender my control. Take each day as it comes and hope and pray that this medication change is at least a temporary fix.
I had a psychiatrist appointment this past Wednesday. Since seeing this psychiatrist shortly after retuning from CFC I have seen him consistently every other week. My meds were being adjusted yes, but it was more of a “just in case Kate needs to be hospitalized” kind of thing. For the first time at the end of the appointment he announced that he didn’t think he needed to see me for a whole month.
This doesn’t seem like much I suppose to the outsider looking in but it’s huge to me. I couldn’t quite put it into words until someone in our CFC alumni group said “doesn’t it feel great to be STABLE”. And that’s what I am. I’m stable.
Whoa, I’m stable.
I’ve been medically and eating disordered stable for awhile now. In fact, since returning from CFC. But psychologically? Not so much. In the year I spent waiting for Ben I was hospitalized for sucidial ideation, self-harm thoughts/behaviors or other psychiatric problems probably around eleven times. That’s a lot of time spent in hospitals and psych. wards.
Since receiving Ben I’ve been pretty stable psychologically. I struggle with the effects of my trauma and my therapist would probably say that I’m not quite stable in that area in the terms of dissociation and related behaviors But self-destructive behaviors and thoughts? By and large those are gone or well managed. In fact, it has confused me lately because I have been having trouble sleeping due to some trauma stuff and I haven’t felt like doing anything (meaning hurting myself). I shuffle around my apartment crafting, messing around on the internet, watching netflix, lying in bed, talking to Benny or just generally doing stuff to pass the time but self-destructing I am not. I’ve never done this. I’ve never felt the fear, experienced the trauma without everything going to hell in a handbasket.
It feels really, really, really weird to say the least. Foreign. Wrong but yet very right at the same time. Is this what living is like? Is this what moving on feels like? Is this what I have to look forward to?
I know I face struggles ahead. I know I probably still face some times when I won’t be as stable and may have a few short stays in the lovely PV resort as AL fondly (or not so much) call it but right now I am stable and I’m getting a taste of how life can be managed without self-destructing, wasting way or wondering around in a fog. And it feels pretty good.
Filed under Ben, coping skills, depression, eating disorder, eating disorders, Hope, Independence, life events, New Life, PTSD, Recovery, survivor, trauma