The antidepressants seemed to work, at first. I didn't have the looming heaviness that seemed to continually be there, even if in the background. But lately, I'd been having an increasing amount of, what seemed like at least, anxiety. The feelings of needing to desperately release anxious energy had returned. I was starting to have an increasing number of what I thought were anxiety and panic attacks. Finally, on Labor Day 2009, I could no longer stand it. I knew something was wrong. My then-fiance took me took me to the ER. We thought perhaps they could give me some sort of an answer, or at least point me in the right direction. In a round about, convoluted way, I suppose they did.
At the time, they were of absolutely no help. They told me they could do nothing. When I said something was quite wrong, they replied that I could stay overnight if I wanted, but they didn't have room so they'd have to send me to a sister hospital. I was at Virtua, so while I didn't love to have to go elsewhere, I figured there were enough Virtua hospitals and it had to be nearby. Why I didn't ask, before I signed the papers, which one, I am not sure. In the throws of a severe anxiety attack, I simply agreed. I needed someone to help me, and if that meant I had to sleep there overnight to be seen further so be it. What they did not tell me, in my confused and ill state, was what that actually meant. They simply gave me some papers to sign and dutifully, I did. As the process for me to move began, I realized something was terribly wrong. We asked for the location, so we knew where we were headed, and they told me that they had to take me themselves. In an ambulance, on a gurney. They assured me it was procedure. My fiance followed in his car, thinking he'd be able to stay with me, or at least see me settled in if he wasn't allowed all night.
When we arrived, I was given a set of instructions:
- Visiting hours were strict, and not often.
- No cell phone use was permitted, at all. To call anyone I needed to use the house phone.
- I had the right to leave, if I chose, after two nights, because I was a voluntary check-in.
- I learned that there were a lot of people there just like me. There were people misdiagnosed or undiagnosed but seeking some help; persuaded against their will by the hospital; people battling extreme grief (luckily this was not me). Most of us were drastically far from what the movies portray as "mental hospital patients". We were "normal" people battling something medical, known or unknown and looking for help in treating and living with it.
- I had the experience of group sessions. While it's not something that I traditionally do, it gave me a different perspective, and I got to know the others there.
- I reconnected with my therapist on the outside world, and began seeing her again. It was she that realized shortly after that my antidepressants had thrown me into hypomanic episodes, not anxiety or panic as I'd thought, and that I actually had the rare diagnosis of rapid cycling cyclothymia. She weaned me off of the antidepressants, and slowly introduced me to a mood stabilizer. I've been seeing her regularly, and taking the mood stablizers ever since.
- Ask questions. It doesn't matter how silly you feel, or how many you ask. Never assume.
- Insist on a diagnosis, prognosis, or at least next steps. If they don't have a diagnosis yet, make sure you know what they plan to do every step of the way until they have one. Ask for a plan in advance before agreeing to anything.
- Have a plan for your mental health care and make sure that a few trusted loved ones know of it. You may not be in a state to ask questions, to properly sign documents, to discuss your plan with the doctors or medical professionals at the time. Have people assigned, in advance, who know what you want. Make sure they know who each other are, and what each person's role is. You don't want them to guess or put them in the position of arguing against each other, each suggesting what they think you'd want them to.
- There are other people out there like you. You are not alone, no matter how rare your disorder is (the prevalence of rapid cycling cyclothymia is something like .04% of the US population). Seek out those people, who can give you something to hold onto, when nobody else can understand what you're physically and mentally going through, no matter how hard they try.
- You can get through a hell of a lot more than you think you can. This was not an easy time for me- the hospitalization, the diagnosis, weaning off one med, starting another that made me horribly ill initially, adjusting to learning that I have a life long mental health condition. But I got through it.
- It is worth it. By it, I mean pushing through these episodes, these awful times. My life has changed drastically since then, in just about every way. But I am still here, and I decide to wake up every day because it's worth it, no matter how hard it gets.
- Being diagnosed with a mental health condition does not take away your voice. It gives you one.