Shame
. . . is what I felt in the Emergency Room telling them I needed psychiatric help.

Shame
. . . is what I felt in the psychiatric section of the ER with a minder to make sure I didn’t harm myself.

Shame
. . . is what I felt being admitted to the Behavioral Health Hospital and being strip searched.

What happened? How did I end up here? Let’s go back.

My baby was six months old. When I was pregnant with him, I told my OB about my problems with depression and insomnia. I was afraid that a new baby would be just what it took to make those issues rear their ugly head.

No matter. I had a supply of sleeping medication and anti-anxiety medication that I hadn’t taken during my pregnancy. If it came to it, I could just take that.

I plugged the dam with bubble gum. I fed the baby, took a pill and went to sleep. I wasn’t under the care of a psychiatrist. I could totally do it all myself. And I did. Until I didn’t.

My baby was six months old. I ran out of pills. I stopped sleeping. The gum popped out of the dam and with it a flood of anxiety. I had my first ever panic attack. My breath was short but I was breathing so hard. My heart was pounding but surely it had stopped.

Ten days. That’s how long I went without sleep. I had, perhaps, an hour or two of sleep tossed in here and there so I didn’t die. I had amazing support but finally, my family had done all they could.

If you didn’t know, you can’t have a mental health breakdown and expect to see a doctor in this country within three weeks if you weren’t already under the care of one. That’s how a college-educated middle-class woman ended up in the Behavioral Health Hospital. That’s also how I discovered that being committed voluntarily didn’t mean you could leave whenever you wanted.

Four nights. That’s how many I spent in the hospital with a person shining a flashlight in my face every fifteen minutes. They had to check to make sure we were still breathing after dosing us with heavy medications.

Four days spent in programs for drug addiction, art therapy, and way too much downtime. Family members came to visit. My mother-in-law told me a friend wanted to come visit.

“No,” I said flatly (everything I said during that time was flat). “I don’t want anyone to see me in here.”

“You can’t think like that. That’s Satan making you feel shame,” she replied. “You needed help and you got it. It doesn’t matter that it was the Wal-Mart of psych hospitals.”

Shame. It’s what people with mental health problems are made to feel. I still feel it sometimes. I’m under the care of a psychiatrist and taking antidepressants with no immediate plans to stop. Sometimes I still have sleeping troubles but I can call my doctor and adjust my medication.

There needs to be a middle ground. There needs to be a place people experiencing mental health emergencies can go without fear of being committed to a hospital and unable to leave. There needs to be less stigma surrounding mental health. There needs to be change.

You may also want to read:

My Anxiety Makes Me Feel Like I Fail Over and Over Again

Postpartum Psychosis Is No Joke: Why I Won’t Be Seeing the Movie “Tully”

New Mom Takes Her Own Life After Silent Battle With Postpartum Depression: Why All Of Us Must Share Her Friend’s Plea

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Jen Mearns

My name is Jen Mearns and I live in NC with my husband, three boys under four, a geriatric cat, an enormous dog, and two chattery parakeets. My work has been featured on Scary Mommy, Pregnant Chicken and Babygaga. I am a former microbiologist turned writer, pet sitter and stay-at-home mom.