Our Friend is in the Pysch Ward: Now What?

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide and depression and may trigger a strong reaction. Thanks to Cristi Comes at Motherhood Unadorned for providing this list of crisis resources:

If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, please call:


This is for all the friends in my computer who are praying so hard for our friend; she went to the hospital voluntarily. I did that, too, so I’m going to write down what I wish my friends had known, when I went Inside. I obviously don’t know what our friend needs, specifically, but I’ve seen and related to enough books and movies to know that there are some universals about this experience.

Dear Friends,

First, stop feeling guilty. The perspectives have changed; the nurse who refused to give your friend headache medicine should be feeling guilt. Did you not pick up the phone one time? Doesn’t matter. This was not an involuntary commitment. Rather, a grown woman looked at the state of her mind, understood that she couldn’t get better on her own, in her house, with her current doctors, whatever it was, and took her grown self to the Emergency Room. She said something like this: “I need help. I need to stay here.”

Now, feel proud. In order to walk yourself into an ER and ask to stay there, to sign a paper giving so much power to doctors you’ve never met, you have to be one Brave Human. No one gets brave all by herself. It takes friends to build that courage. All kinds. These kinds:

The Listener: If you always listened, to everything, no matter what, but didn’t know what to say, except maybe “hugs,” then that’s huge. It let your friend spit all that stuff trapped inside out.

For about a week, I was stupid. I didn’t want to go to the hospital, but I wasn’t ok on my own. It’s a long story, but there were friends sleeping over with me, so that I wouldn’t “be alone at night.” Which meant, of course, that at night, I was most dangerous to myself. At night, I sometimes thought about hurting myself or even ending my life. I still can’t believe that my friends stayed with me and listened. Made me laugh. Pretended we were having sleepovers. I love them for that so hard. Especially the cousin in her first year of college and the best friend who hid her terror so well. The Listeners didn’t know what else to do. They didn’t know what to say. They just stayed.

The Class Clown: If you always made jokes, gave pep talks, changed the subject, then that’s huge. It let your friend escape for a minute or even a second.

One of my most faithful visitors was a frat boy with an enormous heart. (I know, I know, but it’s true!) We had been drinking, trading sarcastic barbs, flirting, pushing me outside my comfort zone (aka going to totally tame parties) for years. When I was transferred from the ER to the inpatient ward, I showed up in my hospital gown. They had given my clothes to a friend, who had taken them back to my dorm. Showing up to a psychiatric ward without the proper attire is pretty hard. I managed to do it. And get stared at. It was enough to get me special permission to stay in my room (normally not allowed during the day) until clothes showed up. Well, guess who dropped everything to come bring me clothes? My frat boy. Bless him, he showed up with a huge damned grin on his face, gave me a hug and then tried to argue when they said he couldn’t stay. It lifted my spirits when I really needed it.

The Speaker of Hard Truths: If you stopped a conversation, admitted that it was too hard to hear something, asked that a professional, not you, be consulted, then that is huge.

During my Week of Stupid, one friend wrote me a letter. She said she couldn’t see or talk to me until I went to the hospital and stayed there until it was safe to come home. She had been through this, before, and found that it didn’t help anyone to enable the pretending. I was pretending that it was ok, now. I just needed someone to stay over at night. It was fine! Obviously, it was not fine. She was the one who was brave enough to say that. And oh boy, was I mad. LIVID. Pissed off. And then, I looked at the Listeners differently. I could see the fear behind their smiles. I understood that being responsible for me for a night was too much to ask of any friend. I agreed to go and stay in the hospital, because I finally saw the situation from her perspective. It scared me straight.

Being an inpatient in a psychiatric ward is not the hard part. Getting yourself in there is the hard part. Remembering the skills you learned, there, and applying them to life outside the psych ward, is hard. Right now, our friend is in really good hands. We should all feel so proud that she made this decision on her own. I can tell you from personal experience that it is the most terrifying thing: all in one moment, you give up so much power and take on so much responsibility. You also make a promise to get better. To stare down the darkness. You go to a place where you can’t end your life, so that you can finally feel all of the scary feelings that made you think you might want to end it, before. (We weren’t allowed full shampoo bottles, by the way, because one young woman tried to drink hers. They make it really, truly, absolutely impossible to hurt yourself in there.)

Yes, it’s scary to think that someone we love wants to hurt herself or end her life. It’s heartbreaking to empathize, if you’ve been there. It’s terrifying to contemplate, if you’ve never been there, maybe even unimaginable. But right now, she is in one of the safest places on the planet. Send love, prayers, hold her in the light. And take a deep breath. Because for a time, all of us, including our beloved friend, can breathe easier, knowing that she is safe. All of us helped her take responsibility for her own safety. She gets to know now, forever, that she was brave enough to take that step. We helped. She has to do this part on her own, now.

We love you, honey. We are here. We always will be.

Out of the psych ward, on to graduation parties: My Listener. Me. My Frat Boy. (Because everyone asks: the Frat Boy and I never dated. Just friends.)
Out of the psych ward, on to graduation parties: My Listener. Me. My Frat Boy. (Because everyone asks: the Frat Boy and I never dated. Just friends.)


  1. Susan @learndhappiness said:

    And I’m crying now. Thank you for this, AM. I’m so glad you’re a part of our tribe.

    May 10, 2013
      • Anne-Marie said:

        I’m so grateful to be part of this tribe! I was so sure I would never find that kind of friendship after college ended, and friends scattered across the globe. But it’s inside the computer, and every time I have visited a new city, I have met, in person, another member of one or another of my tribes. I have sought and found some FIERCE humans.

        May 10, 2013

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