My Experience With Behavioral Health Units

Author: Kim Barnett

I’ve had my share of stays in various Psych Wards over the past 17 years.  In California, where I live, they are now called Behavioral Health Units. The things I’ve experienced and the people I have come across in my stays have changed me, mostly for the better, but have also left me with scars.

On June 25, 2011, I married my husband.  It was a beautiful wedding with about 75 guests, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  We had a blast that day and the following week, as we honeymooned in Vegas.  I even won $2,000 that week on penny slot machines.  It was a magical and lucky week.  In November of 2011, just 5 months after the wedding, I finished the process of changing my last name and took on my husband’s last name.  No big deal right? A lot of people who get married change their last name.

Weddings are very stressful and when you have a disorder, which is triggered by stress, this can be a trying time.  Two days after I changed my name, it was Thanksgiving Day, and I was in the middle of a major bipolar manic episode. Mania, for me, causes major mood swings, heightened energy and senses, delusions, both auditory and visual, delusions of grandeur, and many sleepless nights. Once it starts, it’s completely out of my hands.

I was at my mom’s house with my husband and my family.  When I’m in a manic episode it’s like I’m sleepwalking, so I only remember bits and pieces of what is actually happening.  I remember dressing up for Thanksgiving, in a skirt and high heeled boots, with a low cut top, which is something I would never have worn to a Thanksgiving dinner if I wasn’t in an episode.  I was talking a lot, and saying things I wouldn’t normally say, and basically hogging every conversation, because I couldn’t stop talking.  I’ve talked so much in episodes before, that I’ve even lost my voice, and still tried to keep talking.

My husband and I went home that night, and we started to watch the movie Scarface.  Because my senses were heightened, all of the gunshots and fights seemed so real to me.  I even believed that what I saw was real, and began to get very scared.  I remember leaving the room to go to bed, but could not fall to sleep.  After the movie ended, I came back out to the living room with my husband.  There was a commercial on the T.V. for Bosley for hair loss.  I picked up the phone and tried to call Bosley.  I had all of my hair, and none of it was falling out. What was I doing?  I say “tried to call,” because I was so out of it, I couldn’t even dial the numbers that were posted on the T.V.

Thank God, I realized there was something terribly wrong with me.  I told my husband we needed to go to the Behavioral Health Unit.  He had never seen me in this condition, so he didn’t completely understand.  He thought I just needed to sleep, but I’ve been in this situation before and knew better.  I had him call my mom, so he could confirm that I needed to go to the hospital.  She confirmed and we left. On the way there, I remember singing all the songs that were playing in the car, at the top of my lungs.  All the traffic lights seemed so vivid, and I thought all the songs were about me and my life.  So weird to think I could be like this, and sit here right now, and feel pretty normal.

We got to the hospital, and went through the admission process.  From here I pretty much blacked out and only remember bits and pieces.  Remember, I was basically sleepwalking at this point.  My husband later told me that I told the nurse that we were there because he was bipolar and needed to be admitted. It’s hilarious now, but I’m sure at the time, it was no laughing matter.

Once they verified that I needed to be admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit, they made me strip down my clothes, and remove my bra, due to the wires, my shoes, due to the laces, and made me put on a hospital gown.  How demoralizing!  I couldn’t even wear my own clothes.  When I got into the unit, I realized what was going on. The staff tried to put me to sleep, since I hadn’t slept in 4-5 days, and came at me with a needle, to inject me with some sort of sleeping aid.  I thought they were trying to kill me, and proceeded to run.  I didn’t make it very far.  I broke down an office door, and then the staff caught me and literally dragged me back to the room I was in.  As they grabbed me, I said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Apparently, I thought I was Jesus at this point, and that they were trying to use me as a sacrifice of some sort.  So sad to think of now, but also a little bit comical in retrospect.

They injected me with the sleeping aid, and I slept for 2 days or so.  I obviously need it.  When I woke up, I was still off my game.  I was still talking a lot, waking up in the middle of the night over and over, singing at the top of my lungs randomly, and bothering people with my excessive energy. So much so, that I had a basketball thrown at my head by another patient, and milk poured on my head by another.  Even the staff told me how much of a bother I was, and at one point strapped me down to a bead for leaving my room in the middle of the night.  It was a traumatizing and dehumanizing moment in my life, one that I may never get over fully.

I explain all of this, because for those of you who know this disorder, know that this is not the real me.  Mental illness can consume you and turn you into something and someone you are not, if left untreated.  I ended up in this condition because I was not treating my disorder properly, and not taking my medication daily.  I wasn’t taking it seriously.  Yes, I went through a stressful time, with getting married and changing my name, but if I’m being honest, it probably wouldn’t have happened, or the episode would have been more manageable if I had just taken my 3 little pills on a daily basis.  It’s not really that hard to do. Medications can be daunting as well, and may feel like they change who you are, but I’ll leave that for another post.

I stayed in the hospital for 11 days, probably the toughest 11 days of my life! I thank God that he let me come back mentally.  Some people never come out of it or are not the same afterwards. I am lucky and grateful. I was once told that I would be gravely disabled for the rest of my life, and that I would have to have someone take care of me.  I am so grateful that that is not the case today! I lead a full independent life and have a husband to share it with.  Getting over and moving on from these hospital stays, are what I have to deal with now.  It’s a long journey, but I know I will get through it. I’m a very strong and resilient person, and will never give up on myself.  I deserve all life has to offer as do all who suffer with Bipolar Disorder and mental health struggles.

Translate »