I first walked through the doors of my local psychiatric hospital over two years ago. I felt so terrified I could barely speak as I asked the friendly woman at the front desk if I could admit myself for suicidal ideation. Within an hour, I found myself walking through the unit doors and settling in for a five day safety stay.
Since that day, I have racked up a total of four inpatient stays in this same hospital. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t learned much during those visits. I learned about medications, assertive communication and proper self-care. In addition to all the expected “psycho-babble” though, each stay taught me unique lessons about life and about myself.
Here are 6 things I learned through my mental health hospitalizations.
I learned how to genuinely live in the present moment.
The world outside the hospital quickly faded from my mind as I settled into the highly-structured routine of the psychiatric unit. While I initially worried over the disconnection, I soon found ways to mindfully fill my time.
I allowed myself to fully observe and participate in the group sessions, as well as unique therapy offerings like art and music. I opened up to the other patients over card games and hilarious rounds of Pictonary and Name That Tune. I started listening to my body and identifying my emotions the moment they first cropped up. By genuinely living in the present moment during each of my hospital stays, I reduced my anxieties and boosted my overall outlook on life.
I learned I wasn’t alone.
Living with severe mental illness often leaves me feeling lonely and misunderstood. However, after spending just a day in the hospital, I learned I’m actually not alone at all. There’s something inexplicably comforting about hearing people say they understand your struggles and can relate to your words. Although the days I spent with my fellow patients quickly passed with each hospitalization, I appreciated finally feeling seen and understood.
I learned how little I care about myself.
I knew I pushed myself hard, even before I entered the hospital. However, I never realized just how awful I treated myself every single day. Not only did I physically exert myself beyond my limits, I poisoned myself with self-doubt and negativity. During my hospitalizations, I learned valuable lessons in self-care, validation and ultimately self-love.
I learned to let go of control.
When you enter a hospital for mental health care, you surrender many things. You let go of many of your possessions, you admit you cannot care for yourself safely and you temporarily let go of the outside world.
Through my mental health hospitalizations though, I learned surrendering to the process can often lead to an increased sense of serenity. When I let go of control and just allowed myself to exist in the hospital, I found myself feeling less anxious and less stressed. I simply followed the schedule, took my medications as the nurse provided and ate when food was placed in front of me. Now, I’m trying to carry that release of control into other areas of life that cause me excessive worry, like finances or the future.
I learned to appreciate the little things.
Before my first hospitalization, I reached a place where every aspect of my life felt unbearable. As I spent days in the secluded security of the psychiatric unit though, I found a new appreciation for the tiniest of things.
The tiny containers of ice cream at evening snack made me smile. Hearing my best friend’s voice on the other end of the phone for even five minutes made my heart sing again. I laughed with other patients over card games and television reruns, and I absorbed every moment we listened to music during group therapy. It may sound silly but the simple things just taste sweeter when you’re hospitalized for your mental health — and I learned to appreciate every bit of it while I was there.
I learned everyone needs help from time to time.
I learned many things while in the hospital, but I believe the most impactful lesson revolved around the other people who joined me on the unit. I met elementary school teachers, college students, ER nurses and everything in between.
From the 19 year old who had never seen Baywatch to the sweet lady we all just called “Granny,” I realized everyone needs help from time to time, no matter their age, education or background.
Getting help when your life is in danger isn’t selfish or ridiculous. In fact, it’s more than OK. I no longer hated myself for seeking help when I walked out of those hospital doors, and I didn’t feel as ashamed during each of my subsequent visits.
I never thought mental health hospitalization would be so educational or inspiring. However, I feel incredibly blessed for each of these life lessons and all the other random knowledge I picked up along the way. Every breath we take provides an enriching opportunity if we allow it, even the breaths we take inside the walls of a psychiatric hospital.
I’m glad I took the terrifying steps into my local hospital and asked for them to check me in. My life wouldn’t be as bright as it is today without those new enlightening experiences.