I tried to go inpatient, but they wouldn’t take me

Mental healthcare hasn’t been as accessible for me as they make it out to be.

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

Update — I’m 16 days in and finally sleeping. Today is the first day when I’ve felt calm, dull even. I’m so used to the luxury of an alcohol buzz, that I still want to drink at 9:00 am. But, my new psychiatrist had a cancelation and I can be seen tomorrow. I’m eager to start a new medication that can stop the rapid cycling I’ve experienced this year.

In late February 2021, I began the climb into my worst manic episode to date. My psychiatrist was slowly titrating me up on Lamictal, a mood-stabilizing anticonvulsant, known for causing rashes (one of which can be deadly). This method proved to be wholly ineffective.

Between February to June, I slept an average of 2–3 hours a night. Trazadone, Clonidine, and Ambien were prescribed for sleep. Each of them granted me 5–6 hours of rest for one night before they stopped working altogether. I began adding milligrams of melatonin and Unisom to my prescriptions, to no avail.

I’d spend the wee hours of the morning writing that the outside world felt dangerous. Only my bed was safe. Or crawling around the corners of the closets looking for the mice I was sure I’d heard. During the day, I’d write multipage documents about the sins of the pharmaceutical industry. I’d drive 2 hours each way to pick up something as small as a sim card and drink as often as possible. My husband would come home to find me downing spiked lemonade and dancing to ‘killing boys’ by Halsey, on repeat.

I jumped from paranoid topic to paranoid topic. I’d lose my train of thought midsentence. I contemplated skipping my meds, and lying to my husband.

So, last Monday, when I talked to my therapist, she took me seriously. And then my husband took me seriously. And then my mom took me seriously.

Suddenly, my whole support team wanted me in the hospital.

I took a shower. I cried. I cursed. I sent my husband angry texts that, if I’d just lied, I wouldn’t have to abandon him and the kids. I was sure my therapist would force hospitalization if I didn’t comply.

Reluctantly, I packed a bag. It has been 11 years since my first and only hospitalization, but I knew what I’d need.

Skincare that isn’t in glass containers.

A few makeup products to make myself feel human.

Two pairs of my husband's sweatpants.

Two sweatshirts. A long sleeve shirt.

A t shirt.

Two pairs of short pajamas.

Undies.

Bras.

A book.

My husband left work early and picked up happy meals for the kids and a milkshake for me. He didn’t want me to go alone. Since we didn’t have childcare, the four of us loaded into the car to head to the ER.

We hoped for an as-needed antipsychotic or sleeping medication, just until I could see my psychiatrist. But inpatient would be plan b. To try and prevent hallucinations. The paranoia.

Enter the ER

I told no less than 4 people that I was entering a manic episode and hadn’t slept for 44 hours by this point. They asked, repeatedly, if I was suicidal. Did I have plans? Did I know how I’d do it? Did I intend to do it?

No, yes, and no.

Still, a young guy in scrubs entered the room and dutifully removed all the electrical components and tubes from the walls. He locked them into a cabinet and promptly lost the key. Another nurse-led me down the hall, where she stood by the door while I peed into a cup.

Back in the room, she stood with her back turned to me as I stipped down to nothing but my underwear and donned a hospital gown with snaps in the back and the notorious grippy socks.

I sat for no less than an hour waiting for the ER doctor. Who, upon entering, immediately asked if I planned to kill myself.

No, I repeated.

I’m just manic and need sleep. Just for two days. Until I can see my psychiatrist.

He made eye contact while he said, repeatedly, and in multiple ways, that it was hard for him to help me. You’re on an antipsychotic that I use to subdue violent patients. It should be knocking you out. I don’t know what to do. Anything else I could prescribe has a lot of side effects. I don’t want it to interact with your Geodon. The Geodon should be making you sleep.

Finally, he settled on a solution.

Unisom.

The OTC sleep aid you can pick up for $3 down the road at the Rite-Aid pharmacy. You’re not suicidal, so it isn’t like I can keep you here.

I was stunned. My therapist had heard my desperate rebuttals. I didn’t need the hospital. I just needed sleep. “This isn’t a should moment, this is a have to moment. Before you stop trusting your husband.”

I’d been coaxed into coming to this place, to see a doctor who wouldn’t even help me.

My ER copay is $300. I’m 9 days into this episode and have only started sleeping better since I quit my Geodon without my psychiatrist's permission. During the day I am still staying busy 16+ hours a day. I’ve sold my MacBook, iPhone, and Apple Watch (all of which I bought in spring because I was going to write a memoir in 3 days), to replace them with google and Samsung products. I’m self-medicating with alcohol until I can see a new psychiatrist as I feel my current one is inadequate.

I’m just hoping this doesn’t get worse.

Mental healthcare has always felt like a letdown.

Between 2010 and 2012, I had a few good psychiatrists and one horrendous one. I would find myself showing up at their office between visits, begging to be seen. I’d sit in the waiting room for hours, waiting for them to find a few minutes to listen to my woes. Despite throwing medications at me, nothing stuck. I gave up on medication.

In 2021, I had a therapist tell me about how she drinks on the job then tell me to start meds before ghosting me for weeks.

I had a therapist tell me that my mom’s religious beliefs have saved her from her episodes. It never worked for me because I didn’t believe hard enough.

I’ve had a decent psychiatrist become useless because the platform he works for (Teladoc), only lets him prescribe 5 or so bipolar medications.

I’ve had a psychiatrist nurse tell me I’m manic, before telling me the earliest they could see me is 4 months out.

I’ve had insurance deny claims for medications that retail for $1,200 a month. Medications they still don’t pay for after approval, because my deductible is $7,200.

I begged two physicians’ assistants to prescribe me an antipsychotic during my spring manic episode, only to be told they couldn’t help me before offering the same generic sheet with local psychiatrist phone numbers.

And, now, I’ve been sent home from the hospital with a $300 bill and an OTC recommendation, when I really need to be knocked out.

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