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Six and a half year itch- Part One

Scott Walker

On Wednesday, December 11 of 2013 I ended up somewhere I never thought I’d be again...in a psychiatric hospital unit room in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  After having a manic episode.  It was also the exact same unit that I was in during my last manic episode in May of 2007.

How did I end up in here again?!

I had been admitted to the hospital around breakfast time the day before and to be honest had mostly rested that day.

Since May of 2007 I had done a ton of work on myself through meeting with various professionals in the medical and non-medical fields, taking different courses, and doing a vast amount of personal research.  In April of 2012 I was told by my family doctor that my bipolar disorder was medically in remission.  With his support I had been medication-free since August of 2010.  For all the aforementioned reasons I was very optimistic that I would never have another manic episode again.

After getting up that Wednesday morning in the Calgary hospital I was in a bit of a brain fog, a feeling not unlike that of being hungover.  My thoughts were not very clear and I was convinced that I was an utter and total failure.  I walked around the unit for about thirty minutes thinking the same recurring thought:  AFTER ALL THE WORK I’VE DONE I’M BACK IN HERE!  I sat in a chair and said to myself “Scott, you’ve got two options”:

1.  Feel sorry for myself and take many, many major steps backwards in all aspects of my life.

OR

2.  Proactively move ahead and view this experience as something to learn from and be grateful for.

I chose #2.  I chose to get back up quickly.  I chose to view this experience as that of a major lesson to learn from and be grateful for, instead of angry.  

I went back to my room and lay in bed to do a short meditation.  Meditation is something that I’ve built into my life since November of 2010 (I start each day with a 5-10 minute meditation while still lying in bed).   After meditating I then did a mental inventory of the events that led up to me being admitted to the psychiatric unit.  When going through that mental list, I could clearly recall nearly everything that brought me here...I was able to connect the dots looking backwards.  In my previous manic episodes I had not been able to do this.  Once I could see the events in the preceding four days that linked together to this point I felt an immediate sense of calm and relief. That is something I’ve never experienced so early in a hospital stay before.  It gave me immense hope and to be honest lit a fire under my butt to get better as quickly as possible so as to resume my normal life outside of the hospital.

At that point in time I made a prompt decision to be as proactive in my hospital stay as possible.  I made a mental checklist of things I could do to speed up my road to recovery.  From my past experience I knew the action items that would greatly assist me.  In addition, unit staff seeing me completing those items would show them that I want to get back to a normal life outside of the hospital as quickly as possible.

My mental checklist based on my experience consisted of:

  • Not talking with other patients the first day
  • Focus on basic grooming and cleaning (showering, keeping my room tidy and clean, eating three meals a day, and getting to bed early)
  • Moving at a leisurely pace to slow my thoughts and thought process down
  • Attend as many staff-led group and activity sessions as possible
  • Limit contact with staff as much as possible
  • When talking with staff be clear, concise and grateful
  • When asked to do various tasks by staff (eg-moving my belongings into another room), do them as quickly as possible
  • Make sure to thank staff when they do things for me and/or help me out
  • Not spend my time on the unit watching TV or movies, instead start writing out a plan as to what I intend to do when I get out of the hospital

In my experience, talking with other patients too soon has been a hinderance for my recovery.  I realize that may sound cold.  The reason is that in psychiatric units there are a wide variety of patients with different perspectives on their hospital stay.  Some see it as very short term and do everything they can to heal and get back to their normal life, some believe they’ll be in there a very long time, some have no apparent desire to get out of the hospital, and others feel angry and/or think irrationally in believing as though the staff are keeping them there for no reason.  During the first day I chose to figuratively “feel out” the other patients to get a sense of who they are and where they are on their road to recovery.

You might be wondering how I could so quickly choose to be grateful for this experience so early in my hospital stay?  For two main reasons.  The first is that I’ve consciously focused on gratitude for the past two years of my life.  I do my best to always be grateful for whatever is happening, both good and bad.  When it’s bad I’m searching for the lesson as to why it’s happening in my life at that point in timer.  The second reason is that if I did not choose to be grateful for this experience I would most likely have been angry, and in my experience that would have led to me having a victim mentality.  That of poor me, I’m in the hospital.  Poor me, I’ve had another manic episode.  Poor me, I’ll never be normal again.  Poor me, my life sucks because I’ve had another manic episode.  Poor me, it will just be a matter of time before I’m in the hospital again.  I spent pretty well ten years of my life being a victim...the first ten years in my bipolar disorder journey after being diagnosed in January of 2000.  I did NOT want to retreat to having a victim mentality!

I chose to focus on my mental checklist and as a direct result I was released from the hospital on Friday December 13, 2013.  I am very grateful for my quick turnaround and for all the lessons that I learned from this experience.  The psychiatrist at the hospital told me it’s not very often that someone leaves the hospital so quickly after a manic episode.  I spent the weekend of December 14 & 15 most taking it easy at home as per doctor’s orders, and then resumed working on December 16.

There will be a series of future blog posts related to this manic episode covering various other aspects related to this experience and the lessons learned. 

Scott's website is www.scottinsideout.com.

Be well,

Scott

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